Directed by: Sang-soo Hong.
Written by: Sang-soo Hong.
Starring: Jun-Sang Yu (Sungjoon), Sang Jung Kim (Youngho), Seon-mi Song (Boram), Bo-kyung Kim (Kyungjin / Yejeon).
Sang-soo Hong’s The Day He Arrives is a quietly moving film. In many ways, I suppose, it is autobiographical. It is about a filmmaker Sungjoon who returns to Seoul for a few days visit from his teaching post in the country. He directed four films, but apparently no one saw them, so he has taken up teaching. He has no plans while in the city except to visit his old friend Youngho, a movie critic. But he spends the first night alone, not being to get in contact with his old friend, and instead going drinking with a group of film students before confusing them by taking off on them. He then visits an old girlfriend, and begs forgiveness.
Finally, he will meet up with Youngho, and the rest of the movie plays like variations on a theme. In each, Sungjoon and Youngho go to a bar with Youngho’s attractive female friend Boram, a film professor, where they spend their time drinking while the owner is away. Eventually, the owner Yejeon, comes back – and Sungjoon is struck by how much she looks like that old girlfriend (since they are both played by the same actress, he’s right). But what happens in each of these variations changes slightly. They have similar discussions, but they take on different meanings as one character will say or do something different. Twice they will meet up with a former actor of Sungjoon’s – once he is angry with Sungjoon for abandoning him for a bigger star after their first movie, and one time he is a lovable, drunken oaf. In all of them, Boram seems to be attracted to Sungjoon, even though he thinks she should be with Youngho, and she flirts with him, oblivious to the fact that he is more drawn to the bartender. And the way Sungjoon expresses that attraction to the bartender – and the results – is also different each time.
The movie is both funny and sad. As with other films of Sang-soo Hong that I have seen (and I feel I should see more), the film is made up of a series of scenes where the characters drink and talk – and then go somewhere else to drink and talk some more. The film is shot in beautiful black and white, which gives an element of sadness to the proceedings. Sungjun seems lost and aimless. He has nowhere to go – either in Seoul or in his life – so he just keeps repeating his day ad nausea. The film students recall what he once was – young and idealistic – and while its fun to look back at that for a while, eventually he must flee. His relationship with his girlfriend is over – but he has to go back and revisit that as well. And then, when he meets the barmaid, who looks just like her, he must repeat the pattern all over again. Some people have criticized Sang-soo for simply remaking the same film over and over again – and I can’t help but think that The Day He Arrives is a slight shot at those critics, as he has made a film about a filmmaker who keeps living the same day, with slight variations again and again.
The movie is filled with Sungjoon’s longing for something more – something he will not discover, at least not during the film’s fleet 79 minute running time. At the end of the film, he’s still wandering around in circles, still melancholy, still doomed to repeat his mistakes again and again. The Day He Arrives is a deceptively simple little film.