Coming from the team of last year’s successful Something In The Rain, One Spring Night became highly anticipated among K-drama fans. It turned out to be a considerable improvement over director Ahn Pan-seok’s last drama, despite having its frustrating moments. It’s a very slow-paced romance series that might bore fans of romantic comedies with a ton of fluff. For fans of slow burn and mature romances with oodles of realism, however, it will tick all the right boxes.
The story begins with a chance meeting between Yoo Ji-ho (played by Jung Hae-in), a pharmacist, and Lee Jung-in (Han Ji-min), a librarian. From a night of partying with friends, Jung-in stumbles into his pharmacy looking for hangover medicine but isn’t carrying her wallet, so the two exchange numbers so that she can pay him later on. Seems like a pretty straightforward story of love at first sight, right? Nope, because when has true love existed without complications?
It is revealed that Ji-ho is a single dad, while Jung-in is caught in a loveless long-running relationship. Ji-ho battles the stigma of being a single parent whenever he tries to date, while Jung-in can’t simply end her relationship because her boyfriend is obsessive, and her family is pushing her to get married.
I would have loved for the drama to focus on how Jung-in and Ji-ho handle their differences, but most of the time the show deals with Jung-in having to free herself from the clutches of her relentlessly persuasive boyfriend Kwon Ki-seok (Kim Jun-han). Right from the first episode to the very last, Jung-in has to deal with the invasive expectations Ki-seok and her father, who works with Ki-seok’s father, have of their relationship.
While watching the same tug-of-war got frustrating after a while, the show made it up to us by delving into some really feminist observations through Jung-in’s ordeal. Gems like her announcing that she will marry when she wants to marry, and not because society expects a woman of her age to be married, was so very satisfying. The show also realistically portrays how financially well-off people treat marriage as a transaction between families of the same social standing. It’s incredible to watch Jung-in refuse to be a pawn and only pursue marriage for her emotional satisfaction.
Han Ji-min does a great job of tackling Jung-in’s character, who is restrained because of her age and very stubborn. She manages to embody the anger and annoyance of a woman who is forced to endure the whims and fancies of a boyfriend who won’t let her go but also doesn’t love her, and a father who tries to force her into a marriage she doesn’t want.
Meanwhile, Jung Hae-in plays the character of the sometimes nervous, sometimes competitive Ji-ho with stunning vulnerability. Here and there, the show provides hints about how Ji-ho used to be a top student and extremely outgoing, but years of enduring stigma has taken a toll on his self-esteem. This is not to say he doesn’t rise to the challenge when he’s required to, because he stands up to both Ki-seok and Jung-in when it looks like his son might get hurt. It’s not easy to toe the line between acting both insecure and protective, and this is where I think Jung proves himself a great actor.
The difference between Jung-in’s relationship with Ji-ho and with Ki-seok is also worth noting because it makes you want to root for this struggling couple. Where Ki-seok is always ignoring her feelings and doesn’t even try to understand her, Ji-ho always keeps an open mind and treats her feelings with respect, even if she sounds ridiculous to him. Sometimes I think One Spring Night is more of a meditation on relationships than a plain romance drama.
The standout performances for me, besides the leads, were Jung-in’s little sister Jae-in (Joo Min-kyung) and her older sister, Seo-in (Lim Seong-on). The arc of these three sisters is probably one of my favorites in Korean dramas. Seo-in is introduced as a role model for every young woman—she has a successful marriage and career, and is loved by both her parents and the public. Behind the scenes, however, her marriage is physically and emotionally abusive, and her husband refuses to divorce her. Some of these scenes are very difficult to watch, but I was glad they’re shown because domestic violence isn’t something K-dramas usually tackle.
I was blown away by how Seo-in’s sisters and mother came together to protect her from her violent husband as soon as they realized she was being abused. Sure, there was a fair bit of “why don’t you just compromise” too, but mostly it was just pure, unbridled support. And I’m not kidding when I say I watched the majority of Seo-in’s scenes sobbing. It also made me think of how important representation in media is, because imagine watching this show as someone who might be in the same situation? A plot like this has the potential to actually change lives.
One Spring Night is one of those shows with a lot of frustrating moments, but the lessons you can learn from it make the entire experience worth it. Only a series like this has the guts to go where K-dramas never go—the negative impact of marriage expectations on single women and those stuck in unhappy marriages alike. A huge part of it dealt with how society’s prejudices and stereotypes around love and marriage hamper people’s abilities to both find love and leave toxic marriages. Thankfully, One Spring Night concluded by resolving both the main characters’ stories in favor of the happy endings they deserved.
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