One thought came to my mind several days after I watched Hong Sang-soo’s new movie “The Day He Arrives”. I am a lot different from his characters, but, has been my daily life on weekdays monotonously repeated with little variations noticeable enough to help distinguish Monday from Friday, like 4 days and 4 nights depicted in the film? I get up in the morning, I go to my lab, and then, after work and some exercise, I return to my dormitory at late night for movies and sleep. It sounds boring, but small things sometimes happen in my mundane daily life, and, whether they are good or bad, I am not bored much thanks to them.
And I was also not bored while watching “The Day He Arrives”. Like his previous films, Hong Sang-soo tells his story in his minimalistic style with his familiar stock characters. Their names are different, and the actors playing them are different, they are the same kind of men and women we have met from his other 11 works in the past. Again, they are associated with the filmmaking, and they spend their time with drinking and talking.
Seong-jun, played Yoo Joon-Sang, is a movie director who comes to Seoul for meeting his mentor/friend Sang-joong(Kim Yeong-ho), who works as a movie critic. It is not clear about what he is doing now, but it looks like Seong-jun is teaching movie in some university instead of making movie. While his movies were not particularly successful considering the conversations between him and others, the people he comes across know him and some of them say they like his movies.
Day 1 begins with Seong-jun trying to reach Sang-joong’s cell phone in the afternoon. He does not answer. Seong-jun does not know what to do while walking around the streets and alleys of Seoul. He encounters an actress he met before and they have a brief conversation. After that, he goes to the bar and drinks some rice wine. Coincidentally, there are the film students who recognize him, and Seong-jun soon joins in their drinking party.
Late at night, in inebriated state, Seong-jun suddenly runs away from his bewildered juniors. He goes to the apartment where his former girlfriend lives. She does not welcome him much, but soon they have a talk with beer at her small place, and Seong-jun, still drunk, keeps telling her he is sorry with pathetic self-pity. It sounds embarrassing, but it is funnier than you think, and the audiences around me frequently giggled while watching how they eventually share the bed at that night and…
In the next morning, they behave as if nothing serious had happened during last night. Day 2 begins, and Seong-jun is wondering around the same area. He meets the same actress and has some conversation with her again. In this time, he meets Sang-joong, and they go to the bar named “Novel” together with the film school professor Bo-ram(Song Seon-mi). They have a long, jolly conversation while drinking. Seong-jun even plays a piano for them, though he is not so good as Sang-joon says.
When the owner of “Novel” appears in front of them, Seung-jun looks a little confounded by her appearance. She is played by Kim Bo-gyeong, who also plays Seung-jun’s girlfriend. Are they the same person? No way, because there is a scene where one is with Seung-jun while the other talks to him through his cell phone. Are they related? Not so possible in my opinion.
When Day 3 begins for Seung-jun, we start to see that Hong Sang-soo is having a fun with the repeated situation for his characters; again, the drinking begins with another character joining the group. After having some conversation at the campus with warm cups of coffee in their hands, Seung-jun and Sang-joong meet Joong-won(Kim Ee-seong), a former actor who has recently come back from Vietnam where he did some business. Their drinking begins in the early afternoon, and, again, they go to the same bar with Bo-ram. And, yes, we are not surprised to watch Seung-jun play the same piece with the same piano.
Are they conscious of their days and nights of alcohol being continuously repeated to some degree? I don’t know, but I was amused by the actors’ droll, naturalistic performances. Hong Sang-soo repeats almost the same dialogues at the same places with the same compositions. The characters talk like they have never uttered the same words before. Lots of alcohol must have influenced their memory banks, I guess.
Though he is one of the leading South Korean directors and has been in the same league with Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sang-soo’s films have been usually acquired taste to me. They are surely interesting, but I was not sure about whether I loved them or not. However, I think I am now on the way of getting used to his films while being both relaxed and amused by what is going on the screen. While I did not particularly love “Woman on the Beach”(2006) or “Night and Day”(2007) or “Like You Know It All”(2009), I enjoyed the conversations between his flawed characters with small good laughs. His two previous works in 2010, “Hahaha” and “Oki’s Movie”, were more playful and charming than his other movies, and I gladly added them to my list of the best South Korean movies of that year.
Like “Oki’s movie”, whose characters are juggled in the four different situations possibly related to each other, “The Day He Arrives” provokes the same question. Is its narrative linear or repeated? Or, are we looking at the story progressing over 4 days or the one being revised day by day? I have no idea. To be frank with you, I do not think I understand some of things in the film. Anyway, I want to say it is not often to watch the works of the director who knows how to write an engaging conversation between the characters sitting around the table(and drinks) – and Hong Sang-soo is one of them. In addition, he is good at drawing good performances from his actors. As usual, his actresses are lovely, while sharing the screen with the fellow male actors as your average petty (and drunken) South Korean males.
As a guy who knows several things about the drinking in South Korea, I was amused enough to like this pleasant movie. When you drink, you may embarrass yourself while talking a lot. You probably try to take care of your problem, but, with your brain influenced by alcohol, you just make yourself more embarrassing. In the end, the new day will begin for you – and there is always new night for drinking.