Do what you love and never work a day in your life is what everyone says, but turning your passion into a job can be a soul-destroying process. The hero of Shim Chan-yang’s Da Capo (다시 만난 날들, Dasi Mannan Naldeul) is beginning to wonder if it’s all worth it and whether the reason he’s not getting ahead is his own pig headedness or the increasingly soulless music industry apparently only interested in “catchy tunes” and “simple love songs”. Feeling maudlin he’s beginning to dwell on what it was he loved about music in the first place and realising perhaps it wasn’t about the tunes after all.
Approaching 30, Tae-il (Isaac Hong) has recently returned from abroad and is currently slogging it out as a singer-songwriter in Seoul. Handed a potential opportunity in a card from a powerful A&R woman best known for managing a top idol, he ponders trying to write a generic pop song but keeps stumbling over a simple lyric about the sea thinking back on his days in a high school band and the friends he may never see again. Taking a visit back to his home town for inspiration brings him into contact with former bandmate Ji-won (Jang Ha-eun) now working as a guitar teacher at her uncle’s music academy, and a collection of nerdy yet passionate kids hoping to hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts with their innovative fusion of nu-metal, post-grunge, and traditional Korean instrumentation (to be added at a later date).
Though perhaps harbouring a little resentment over Tae-il’s apparently abrupt departure overseas, Ji-won allows him to stay on her sofa while helping him figure out how to finish his simple pop song, a plaintive ballad about lost love and regret. Secretly, he may be looking down on her a little, thinking she’s failed in someway slumming it as a guitar teacher in their old home town but unlike him Ji-won has maintained her passion for music while honing all her skills. She later reveals that she once had a recording contract but eventually decided against it, having realised it wasn’t all about the music and apparently not wanting the rubbish that goes with chart success. Tae-il, however, isn’t so sure especially after the song they wrote together is optioned by the A&R woman though attending the meeting means breaking a promise to the kids he helped to mentor to be there for them at their big concert.
Like Ji-won, the kids are all full of the joy of music even if they’ve slightly contradictory ideas, lead singer Deok-ho (Seo Young-jae) simultaneously penning grisly death metal lyrics yet wanting mainstream acclaim. Deok-ho apparently decided rock was his thing because the girl he liked liked it, but now she likes hip hop and an older, thuggish sort of boy. He doesn’t take kindly to Tae-il’s taking their metal beat and reconfiguring it as coffeeshop lo-fi, but eventually comes round and takes his advice about authentic songwriting, allowing each of his buddies the chance to shine in putting the track together as a team.
Meanwhile, Tae-il finds himself relegated to the back of a music video in a garish New Wave outfit, standing in front of an inflatable flamingo, and handed a guitar with no strings in a pointed piece of symbolism especially as he realises they’ve added a rap section just to spice it up a bit. Observing the kids at the beginning of their musical journey and thinking back on his days in a high school band he begins to realise that what he liked about making music was the excitement of collaboration and the gentle camaraderie of after-jam dinners. Perhaps Ji-won has it right and all the rubbish isn’t worth it when you can just stay home and make music with your friends without caring too much about pleasing the commercial aspirations of A&R execs looking for the distinctive generic. Not quite a romance and surprisingly uninterested in the band’s concert journey, Shim’s soulful drama allows its two old friends the space to find new equilibrium brokered by their shared love of music while gleefully ceding ground to the eager youngsters as they too bond through common endeavour discovering the pure joy of creative connection and emotional harmonies.
Da Capo streamed as part of the Glasgow Film Festival.
Original trailer (English subtitles)