Although Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all", anyone who has endured the breakup of an intense relationship would not necessarily agree. Certainly not Lee Sang-woo, the young sound engineer from Seoul, Korea in Hur Jin-ho's exquisite second feature One Fine Spring Day (literally Spring day goes). In the film of quiet power, two young people meet, fall in love, then gradually pull back and withdraw, but the film is not about their circumstances, but about the impermanence of life and how we must learn to ride the roller coaster. Like Hur's 1998 film Christmas in August, it is a realistic and intimate work, filled with a touching lyricism that never succumbs to manipulative devices.
Working to record sounds of nature for a radio station, Sang-woo and radio disc jockey Han Eun-su meet at a bus station in a most unusual way. Unable to wake her from a bench in the waiting room, he calls her on his cell phone even though she is sitting right next to him. As they work together, their relationship develops slowly. She has recently been divorced and he lives at home with his father, aunt, and grandmother. The joy of discovering a new relationship is conveyed against a background of nature its mountains, forests, and streams and, as we listen to the two recording the sound of the wind against the bamboo and the wheat fields, we are struck by the mood of serenity created by the cinematography of Kim Hyeong-gyu and the original music of Jo Sung-woo, based on the French ballad, "Plaisir D'amour".
Impermanence is a constant theme in the film and the seasons represent various stages in the character's relationship. To underscore the fleeting nature of love, Sang-woo's grandmother denies that her deceased husband was ever unfaithful to her and, barely in touch with reality, goes to the train station everyday to wait for him. Though Eun-su lives in the provinces, she and Sang-woo begin to meet each other after work and spend some nights together. On the surface, they are an attractive couple - warm, sensitive, and very cute together. But Hur drops hints that each, in their own way is eager to pull away from what looks like it might become a lasting relationship. Though the reason for their growing coolness toward each other is not specifically defined, she may be reacting to the fallout from her last marriage or may be put off by his tendency to cling. In his first real relationship, he may be having thoughts that it is too soon to close off other possibilities in life.
Neither, however, communicates their fears and, like a flower that is not being nurtured, their relationship is allowed to wither. As she withdraws, he pursues her even more, giving her the upper hand and placing her in a controlling position and Sang-woo is run by his expectations and disappointment, drinking and hiding out when things start to turn sour. In "One Fine Spring Day", we learn that, as in the Buddhist tradition, life has the characteristics of instantaneity, impermanence, and decay and that the three realms are deceptive and illusory in nature. We share Sang-woo's discovery of the joy of love and also its confusion and pain. Literally, not too much happens in the film, and, on paper it sounds ordinary, but, like the poetry of Walt Whitman, if we look beneath the surface we can easily see the divine in the commonplace.