South Korean independent film “Hot in Day, Cold at Night” is a little modest character drama about one young couple who try to live one day after another despite their apparently difficult economic status. Although it is a bit too slow and dry at times, the movie is often engaging and even humorous while never overlooking their hard daily struggles, and you may admire it more if you come to learn more about how it was made under its tight production budget.
The early part of the film gradually establishes how Yeong-tae (Park Song-yeol) and Jeong-hee (Won Hyang-ra) live day by day in their small residence. While Jeong-hee is a schoolteacher currently unemployed, Yeong-tae has earned their meager living via a part-time driving service job, but things do not look bad for them because they are still happy to be together even while recognizing their economic hardship at present.
Naturally, you may expect something bad to happen to them sooner or later, but the movie simply focuses more on their strong relationship for a while. While often sharing the increasing frustration with their lack of money, Yeong-tae and Jeong-hee also enjoy having some little comfort together from time to time, and they sincerely hope that everything will be fine for them in the end once any chance for a good job comes to them.
However, such chances do not come easily. Via a friend of his, who incidentally borrowed a video camera from him, Yeong-tae comes to have a seemingly good job interview, but he later gives up just because he has a bad impression from his interviewer. When she subsequently comes across a chance to work as a substitute teacher instead of a friend of hers, Jeong-hee does not hesitate at all, but she makes one big mistake on the day when she is supposed to go to a school where her friend works.
And there are also some potential dangers around them. At one point, Yeong-tae has a meeting with some other old friend of his, and it does not take much time for him to realize that this friend is attempting to lure him into a pyramid scheme of his. As their lack of money becomes more evident day by day, Jeong-hee finds herself tempted about getting some necessary money via a local loan shark mentioned by her friend, and she becomes all the more tempted than before when she and Yeong-tae visit her mother’s residence for her mother’s birthday along with her several siblings and their respective spouses. All of her several siblings are clearly much more affluent than her and her husband, and they are certainly embarrassed when they belatedly see that they do not prepare anything in contrast to her siblings and their respective spouses.
In the end, Jeong-hee contacts with that local loan shark, but, to our little surprise and amusement, the loan shark turns out to be a bit more generous than expected. Besides gently and thoughtfully explaining what Jeong-hee will have to do in exchange of the money she is going to get, the loan shark even shows a little generosity just because Jeong-hee is deemed trustworthy on the whole, and Jeong-hee is confident that she will soon take care of this matter without telling her husband at all.
Of course, the situation subsequently becomes more problematic for both Jeong-hee and her husband. While they continue to be short of cash everyday, Yeong-tae remains stuck in his part-time job, and he also comes to have a problem with that friend who borrowed his camera but has not returned it to him yet. When the time to pay the interest comes, Jeong-hee tries to handle this problem as soon as possible, but, alas, there comes a point where she cannot possibly hide it from her husband anymore.
Nonetheless, the screenplay by director Park Song-yeol and his wife Won Hyang-ra, who also assisted her husband in several other parts besides appearing along with him in front of the camera (They previously worked together in Park’s feature debut film “Can We Just Love” (2018), by the way), does not resort to more misery and conflict even at this narrative point. While it is rather amusing to see how the matter between Jeong-hee and the loan shark is resolved in the end, the subplot involved with Yeong-tae’s untrustworthy friend has a nice comic payoff later in the film, and, above all, the movie keeps its leisurely spirit intact as its two main characters struggle to keep going together via their mutual affection and respect. No matter how much they will be frustrated again and again, Jeong-hee and Yeong-tae will still have each other at least, and there is a little poignant moment when they come to restore the trust and love between them around the end of the story.
Due to its small production budget, “Hot in Day, Cold at Night” frequently looks cheap and shabby on the screen, but its low production quality somehow fits with its story and characters, and it is also supported well by the unadorned chemistry between Park and Won. Even when they seem to be merely occupying the screen together, their plain but earnest interactions throughout the film convey to us a lot about the long history between their characters, and their good acting is surely one of the main reasons why the movie is worthwhile to watch. In short, the movie is one of better South Korean films of this year, and, considering their considerable potential shown here in this film, it will be interesting to watch what will come next from Park and Won.