London Korean Film Festival: The First Lap

The First Lap
The First Lap
Directed by Kim Dae-hwan
Starring Cho Hyun-chul and Kim Saebyuk
Screening at LKFF November 8th, 2017

by Richard Hamer

A wonderful exploration of cross-generational attitudes to love and life, Kim Dae-hwan’s The First Lap makes for a delightfully low-key closer for this years’ London Korean Film Festival.

The film follows Su-hyeon and Ji-young, a twenty-something couple that have been together for nearly a decade. They’re travelling on auto-pilot; happy enough but going nowhere. Neither has much in the way of a career, they live in a squalid little apartment, and when Ji-young discovers she might be pregnant, the question of commitment arises. After all this time, shouldn’t they be getting married? And if they can’t commit, then why – after all this time – are they even together?

It’s a difficult question, made even harder to answer by their respective parents. We follow Su-hyeon and Ji-young as they take a road trip to each of their homes, both offering a unique perspective, and conflicting advice: Ji-young’s parents are stable, committed, but concerned: Why isn’t their daughter getting married? Having children? What future is there with a man who just about makes ends meet as an art teacher? Su-hyeon’s parents, on the other hand, are separated; the mother bitter, and the father an alcoholic. The one family dinner they attend erupts into a drunken feud. Neither family offers a picture of an easy future.

The questions raised by The First Lap are those faced by a whole generation of young people. For their parents, the next step after the ‘first lap’ was obvious: Get married, settle down, and while what comes after may not guarantee happiness, it does at least offer direction. Cho Hyun-chul and Kim Saebyuk carry the weight of these huge questions through fine, understated performances: They have an easy chemistry, and an almost lackadaisical manner, like the warm bubble of their simple, changeless days might carry on forever. Their anxiety when they realise it won’t – that they must choose something, even if it is to be apart – lives just under the surface, appearing through cracks usually too small to notice.

But as a generational study, The First Lap is not entirely bleak: Played out against the backdrop of the recent impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, director Kim Dae-hwan draws clear parallels between the country’s political change, and his characters’ personal one. If the events in South Korea proved one thing, it was that so-called Millennials could be engaged, could demand change in their lives, and find a way distinct from their parents’. The First Lap suggests that perhaps, if there truly is an apathy – political or personal – among twenty-somethings like Su-hyeon and Ji-young, it is only because all the old paths have crumbled away, and the process of finding new ones has just taken a little time.


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