The Layover (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): Their one accidental night in Busan

South Korean independent film “The Layover” gives us three different two-handers unfolded within a limited background at one accidental night. Although it is rather plain and simple in terms of story and character, the movie is engaging mainly thanks to its good direction and the solid performances from its small main cast, and I appreciate some unexpected emotional moments during each of its three acts.

The movie opens with introducing its six main characters one by one, who are on the same airplane leaving for US. Due to some serious engine problem, their airplane has to land in Busan, so all the passengers eventually have to get off and then stay for one night there, and the six main characters of the movie happen to check in the same local hotel.

The first story is between a lad named Seon-woo (Lee Han-ju) and a young woman named Soo-jeong (Jung Soo-ji). Although they are total strangers to each other, Seon-woo cannot help but attracted to Soo-jeong, and Soo-jeong does not seem to mind this at all. After he clumsily introduces himself to her, they come to spend some time at a hotel bar, and, what do you know, they come to reveal themselves to each other more than expected as they continue to spend more time together.

This is certainly not so different from Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” (2003), and there is even a brief moment which will remind you of the last scene of that sublime masterpiece. Regardless of whether it is just a short nocturnal romance between them, they will probably never forget that night between them – even though their respective life courses will never converge again. Lee Han-ju, who was hilariously obnoxious in “Unboxing Girl” (2020), and Jung Soo-ji are flawless as their characters tentatively revolve around each other, and Jung is particularly good when her character tells a bit about her complicated feelings about a recently diseased family member of her.

In contrast, the second story focuses on the growing friction among one recently engaged couple: Gyoo-hyeong (Kang Gil-woo) and Ji-won (Kim Si-eun). They are going to meet Gyoo-hyeong’s parents living in US, and they look comfortable to be with each other on the surface, but we cannot help but notice some tension between them right from their first scene in the film.

As they check in their hotel room, they seem to get more relaxed for a while, but there suddenly comes a serious issue about which they really need to talk right now. Without telling Ji-won at all, Gyoo-hyeong made a rather selfish decision for his life and career, and Ji-won is not so pleased about that for good reasons. After all, she also has her own life and career, but her fiancé did not show much consideration about that, and this consequently makes her question whether she can really go on with their relationship.

During that crucial moment, the camera simply observes them from its mostly static position, but their increasingly tense interactions feel more palpable to us. Although you can already guess what will eventually happen between them, the movie keeps holding our attention to the end, and Kang Gil-woo, who has appeared in a number of notable South Korean independent films such as “A Distant Place” (2020) and “Chorokbam” (2021), and Kim Si-eun, who was one of the main characters in “Black Light” (2020), do not take any misstep as their characters come to let out more frustration and resentment between them along the story.

The third story is about a middle-aged woman named Eun-sil (Byun Joong-hee) and her daughter Yoo-jin (Kang Jin-ah). Eun-sil is going to have some big medical surgery in US, and Yoo-jin accompanies her mother for providing emotional support, but Eun-sil cannot help but become anxious in addition to often complaining about how she has frequently been neglected by her children.

And this goes on even as they try to have a rest and then sleep in their hotel room. In the end, Eun-sil suggests that she and Yoo-jin should spend some time outside, and that leads to a long private conversation mainly revolving around old disappointment and resentment between them. No matter how much Yoo-jin tries for her mother, Eun-sil still thinks she is not appreciated enough by her children despite everything she did for them for many years, and she also keeps pointing out her daughter’s currently unmarried status.

Of course, their conversation comes to reveal more of themselves to each other in a melodramatic way, and it is interesting to watch how they push and pull each other during this part. While Byun Joong-hee is relatively showier, Kang Jin-ah, who was wonderful in “The Slug” (2020), ably complements her co-star from the beginning to the end, and their effortless interaction on the screen is the main reason why the third story is the most satisfying one in the bunch.

On the whole, “The Layover”, which is incidentally the fifth feature film by director Choi Chang-hwan, is a modest but enjoyable work, and I admire how it succinctly and intimately presents its three different stories within its rather short running time (81 minutes). I have not yet seen Choi’s previous four feature films including “Back from the Beat” (2018), but, as far as I can see from “The Layover”, he is another promising independent South Korean filmmaker, and I guess I can have some expectation on whatever will come from him next.

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