However, when that filmmaker is Hong Sangsoo, any assumption is made at one's own peril, because Hong is a filmmaker extraordinarily adept at manipulating the ideas of time and perception. In Hong's universe, nothing is ever what it seems on first glance.
In his perhaps his finest film, 2000's Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Hong tells essentially the same story from varying points of view, deftly articulating the notion of different perspectives on one single relationship. "What is truth?" He rhetorically asks, refusing to give an answer. It is that sly sense of subversion that Hong brings to each film, and he has brought it once again to his latest work, The Day He Arrives.
|Song Sunmi (Boram), Kim Sangjoong (Youngho) and Yu Junsang (Seongjun) in "The Day He Arrives." |
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
There is the plucky young actress who seems desperate to work with him. There is the group of young film students with whom he shares a drink. By the time finally meets up with his friend, Youngho (Kim Sangjoong), it might be the same day, it may be the next day. It doesn't matter. They meet up with a film teacher, Boram (Song Sunmi), and share drinks at a bar where the proprietor seems to be perpetually absent. Seongjun plays the piano and asks the bar proprietor out for a drink. As these seemingly mundane events take place, time seems to dissolve away and events begin to repeat themselves and blend together. Whether it is a day or the impression of a day no longer matter, as Seongjun begins to take stock of a life that isn't going quite the way he planned.
|Yu Junsang (Seongjun) and Kim Bokyung (Yejeon) in "The Day He Arrives." |
Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
It is part of Hong's genius that The Day He Arrives doesn't really reveal itself in the moment. It is a film that reveals itself upon reflection, in hindsight. The cyclical events of the film play out life day-to-day trivialities, small talk and fleeting encounters. But when the sum of the film is totaled it becomes something far greater than its parts. Hong is beguiling us, lulling us into a kind of complacency akin to the character's own, before revealing its treasures in a revelation that its protagonist may or may not ever have. It handles a surprising amount of thematic richness in its bare bones structure, and Hong conveys it with both elegance and grace. On the surface it may seem like a trifle of a film, a throwaway exercise in naturalism that ultimately leads nowhere. But in true Hong fashion, its simplicity is the ultimate deception, and for those willing to take the challenge, exploring its riches yields great rewards.
GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)
THE DAY HE ARRIVES | Directed by Hong Sangsoo | Stars Yu Jungsang, Kim Sangjoon, Song Sunmi, Kim Bokyung | Not rated | In Korean w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, April 20, in New York City.