Friday, May 11, 2018

Movie Review: The Day After

The Day After *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Sang-soo Hong   
Written by: Sang-soo Hong.
Starring: Kim Minhee Kim (Song Areum), Kwon Haehyo (Kim Bongwan), Kim Saebyeok (Lee Changsook), Cho Yunhee (Song Haejoo).
Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo’s films are all seemingly a variation on a theme. He is among the most prolific directors currently working – he has 25 directing credits according to IMDB – when he only made his debut 21 years ago (he has three credits listed for 2017 alone). At their best, his films – all about romantic longing, and partnerships that often turn sour – slowly sneak up on you in ways you don’t quite realize until the film ends. His best film of those I’ve seen – Right Now, Wrong Then – uses a nifty storytelling trick, of essentially telling the same story twice, with minor variations, than lead to major differences in how things turn out. His films are deliberately low-key – and feel minor – but taken as part of a whole, they do end up feeling bigger that way. His latest, The Day After, feels minor even by his standards though – even if it does feel satisfying in its own way.
The biggest change in The Day After compared to other Hong movies is that the sad sack male protagonist in the film this time is not a film director – but rather both a critic, and the head of a small publishing firm. This is Bongwan (Kwon Haehyo) – who is married to Haejoo (Cho Yunhee) but has been having an affair with Changnook (Kim Saebyeok) for a while now. She was the publishing firms only other employee – but things ended badly recently, leaving him without a mistress or an assistant. This is when Areum (Hong favorite Kim Minhee) shows up to take the job. Most of the movie is the pair of them, sitting in a series of two shots, talking about life, faith, infidelity – as Bongwan, like many a Hong protagonist before him, gets drunk. Eventually, both his mistress and his wife will come in and have their own scenes with Areum and Bongwan.
The film is shot in beautiful black and white – not as beautiful as say Hong’s The Day He Arrives, with its snowy black and white streets, but beautiful in their own way. The film is simpler visually than many Hong films – it doesn’t even make too much use of his trademark zooms. The film gets great mileage out of the face of Kim Minhee – who is such a skilled, subtle actress (she can also play bigger, as her work in last year’s The Handmaiden proved all too well). She starts out admiring her new boss – a writer she admires – and cannot wait to work at this exciting new place. You can see her become slowly disillusioned throughout the film though, as his weaknesses and failing become all too clear to her. Bongwan, it becomes clear, is really rather a pathetic little character – a man who lives to be in his messy, book lined office – a place where he can command ultimate respect, and have ultimate power – if only because so few other people are around to question him. This becomes readily apparent in the film’s final scene – which, in classic Hong style, is a repeat of the first one – although set sometime later, where Areum shows back up at the office after some period of time and he doesn’t even remember her.
I admire directors how try and spread their wings – who go out there, and attempt something completely different each time out. But there’s something to be said for what Hong does, which is to make similar films, on the same scene, again and again – often repeating scenes in the same movie – and seemingly movie over movie. Most of the films of his that I have seen, I’ve seen in various formats of home viewing – I’ve only seen two of his films on the big screen – both at TIFF. There is a comfort to his films, even when they address some rather difficult subject matter. It’s interesting to see him find new ways – or not – of addressing the same issues. If Hong keeps on churning them out, I’ll keep on watching.

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