Kim Bo-gyeong and Yu Jun-sang in The Day He ArrivesCircularity
There's nothing more enjoyable for the inveterate cinephile than a film in which nothing happens -- where everything is self-reflective: a movie about movies and movie-making. And that is what the Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo provides. His films concern filmmakers. There's nothing solemn and pretentious about this. On the contrary, it's all pretty humble, anecdotal, even jokey. Hong's filmmakers are not making films. They are by themselves, or with lovers, or getting drunk, or among students. They're looking foolish. Hong looks at himself as an ordinary man whose reputation comes back to haunt him -- because he's just a man. But Hong Sang-soo's films aren't confessionals. They're a refraction of "reality." His protagonists aren't him but guys who might be him in an alternate universe. Looking at his films is looking at how films see things, how they distort them beyond recognition. But that sounds pretentious, meta-meta talk, whereas Hong Sang-soo is a maker of social comedies. His movies are down to earth. His scenes are simple encounters, dialogues in a room, a cafe, or the street, like the films of Eric Rohmer, one of his models, though his obsession with drunken, overbearing, womanizing filmmakers is his own. If Eric Rohmer was like that, he kept it out of his films.
On the other hand though Hong's film directors may be losers, or no longer making films, like Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang) in his new The Day He Arrives,
they're usually better looking, sexier, younger, and thinner than he is himself. Seong-jun may be goofy, drunk, weepy at times, and lacking in self-awareness, but there's also something dashing and cool about him. He made four films once, but doesn't any more, he lives in the provinces and teaches. It doesn't sound impressive. But he's fine in the here and now. To make things more hermetic, he goes back to a former girlfriend Gyeong-jin (Kim Bo-gyeong) who still pines for him, and then keeps going back to the same bar, Novel, with his one friend in Seoul, Yeong-ho (Kim Sang-jung), where the owner looks like the girlfriend (and is played by the same actress). In the street he keeps running into the same actress friend (Park Su-min), the same three film students, and so on. Round and round it goes. Is this his imagination, his failing memory, fate? Or Hong taking pure pleasure in the game of screenwriting, its ability to reflect itself? By some lights, this is a slight effort, but I'd say Hong juggles the roles of artist and entertainer with a sure hand here (the translator could have produced a better version of the title). Making the film in black and white and setting it in a very specific milieu, the rather old-fashioned Bukchon district of a wintry Seoul area having its first snow, makes everything even more cozy, self-reflective, and cinematic. Hong's last two films, Like You Know It All
, seemed off form. Now he's back. And the acting by all the principals is fine, whether it be in bedroom, street, or bar. The Day He Arrives
debuted at Cannes last year and included in various other festivals, with a South Korean theatrical release in September 2011. Cinema Guild bought the US rights and ti will be released in NYC April 20, 2012. It was screened as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival for this review. Public SFIFF screenings were at two venues, the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Apr. 20 and 23 and Apr 25, 2012l.
The film was released in NYC April 18. It will be shown in a limited theatrical release at the SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street , May 4–10, 2012, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, 9:00 pm. Some further showings in other cities have been announced by its US distributor Cinema Guild here
I've relied on Derek Elley's review
in Film Business Asia
for name transliterations, as I did for Lee Kwang-kuk's Romance Joe