This new Korean Netflix series aims for a naturalistic portrait of young love, but finds mostly charmless tedium.
This One Spring Night Episode 1 recap contains spoilers.
Along with Abyss, Ahn Pan Suk’s One Spring Night is another weekly offering of Korean television from streaming giant Netflix, and while it isn’t as unashamedly bonkers as the former show, that’s half the problem — it’s so distressingly mundane that it’s difficult to care at all about its naturalistic story of young people falling in love.
Across a glacial opening hour, we meet Lee Jeong-in (Ji-min Han), a librarian, and Yu Ji-ho (Hae-In Jung), a pharmacist, who meet randomly and fall for each other pretty much immediately. There’s a bit more to it, obviously. Lee Jeong-in spent the previous night getting drunk and eating takeout with a friend, in part to avoid her smarmy careerist fella Gi-seok, and stumbled into the pharmacy looking for a hangover cure. After having been provided with one she realized she didn’t have her wallet, at which point Yu Ji-ho allows her to leave without paying and then lends her money to get by in the meantime. That’s either very romantic or indisputable proof that he’s a complete sucker, but the jury’s still out.
Anyway, Yu Ji-ho lives really close to Lee Jeong-in’s friend and plays basketball with her boyfriend, so it’s a bit of a wonder they’ve never met before. (There are two relatively lengthy scenes of basketball in One Spring Night Episode 1, both set to music.) But nevertheless, they hadn’t met until that morning, and then can’t stop thinking about one another, which is obvious because we get montages of the two of them going about their respective days and then glancing at their phones or staring wistfully out of a window.
This show has a funny idea about romance if I’m honest. During the initial exchange at the pharmacy, Lee Jeong-in negotiates her way into getting Yu Ji-ho’s phone number, and instead of inputting it in her phone or getting her to put hers in his, he just weirdly recites it out loud. She doesn’t bother to note it down at all and then gets in a cab, where she inputs it from memory, extremely impressed with herself for memorizing it without meaning to. But if she wasn’t expecting to memorize it, why let him dopily recite it in the first place?
Later, Lee Jeong-in has a conversation with a colleague in which she wonders about destiny and love at first sight, which is apparently out of character for her since she “doesn’t even believe in horoscopes”. We’re expected, then, to believe that Lee Jeong-in’s entire worldview has been altered by this chance encounter with an unassuming pharmacist.
I can’t say I’m buying it. Also woven into One Spring Night is an obvious undercurrent of sexism, with Gi-seok’s workaholic father determined to marry him off “for business”. The implication is clear: Women are expected to provide support for the very important careers of their respective husbands, which is something that Lee Jeong-in — as evidenced by an awkward family dinner — has no interest in doing. There’s some meat to this subtext and I hope it continues to reoccur, since the central romance is, unfortunately, quite unengaging.
Some naturalistic performances notwithstanding, One Spring Night Episode 1 is so determined to be laidback about this falling in love business that the whole thing comes full circle and ends up feeling rather contrived. Where the show will go is anyone’s guess, but if all it has to offer is these two gradually realizing that they really do feel how they thought they felt at first glance, I can’t imagine it’ll be the most engaging show of the year. Let’s see.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.