The First Lap

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

The pressure and worry bearing down Su-hyeon and Ji-young (Cho Hyun-Chul and Kim Sae-byeok) manifests in slumped shoulders, heavy eyes, and hushed conversations; they may be mild-mannered by nature, but their nervousness about being abruptly thrust into the next phase of their adult lives and relationship seems to also be quietly sapping their strength. The unmarried couple of seven years at the center of Kim Dae-hwan’s emotionally rich, movingly true-to-life drama, Su-hyeon and Ji-young are in their early thirties, and they’re startled into a state of reflection about marriage, family, and careers after Ji-young hesitantly shares that her period is late. Unfolding in the days immediately after Ji-young breaks the news and the two of them together take trips to see each of their families, The First Lap finds as much feeling in its extended moments of silence (captured in exquisitely tense long takes) as it does in its soft-spoken dialogue. For instance, after a night with Su-hyeon’s family ends with his father becoming drunkenly nasty (that helps to explain why Su-hyeon’s mother privately urges Ji-young to not rush into marriage), Ji-young sits alone in her and Su-hyeon’s car, the camera fixed in the middle of the backseat to reveal just a third of her face in the rearview mirror. As Ji-young watches the sky turn a light pink from the sun rising over the boatyard just in front of her (an unadorned but gorgeous shot), is it a fear that she and Su-hyeon might turn out as unhappy as his parents that makes her eyes look so defeated? Or is it a more general melancholy about not having any map for how she and boyfriend ought to move forward? It’s largely thanks to beautifully subdued performances by Cho and Kim that such moments of ambiguity are ripe with unspoken thought and emotion.

The First Lap Trailer

The First Lap is currently available to stream on MUBI.

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