With latest film, Hong Sang-soo makes a return to the familiar

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With latest film, Hong Sang-soo makes a return to the familiar


In this still from Hong Sang-soo’s new film “The Day He Arrives,” the central characters talk over a drink at the bar Novel. Provided by Sponge Entertainment

Is director Hong Sang-soo making the same film over and over again?

My answer to that question would be equal parts yes and no.

Take his leading men - creative, burnt out intellectuals who enjoy philosophical musings cleverly disguised as jokes over drinks with friends. The women in his films are oftentimes gullible and flighty but enjoy existential conversations with the male lead.

Usually, the man goes on some kind of trip in Korea, meets women, engages in long conversations, mostly about romantic relationships, sleeps with them and then the two part ways.

Hong’s twelfth film, “The Day He Arrives” is no exception to this central plot line. Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang) is a has-been director teaching in Daegu. He arrives in Seoul for a brief trip and meets close friend Young-ho (Kim Sang-joong), who introduces him to Bo-ram (Song Sun-mi), a film studies professor. The three frequent a bar named Novel where the pretty owner (Kim Bo-kyung) resembles Seong-jun’s ex-girlfriend. Seong-jun plays piano to get her attention but ends up attracting Bo-ram instead. In the end, Seong-jun manages to woo the bar owner and they sleep together.

With this simple premise, Hong is playing with repetition and the notion of accidental encounters versus fated relationships. From the first day of his trip, Seong-jun keeps bumping into an actress he used to know during his filmmaking days. Seong-jun’s ex-girlfriend and the bar owner are played by the same actress, underlining Seong-jun’s feeling that they are the same person, but are portrayed as two different characters. Both women are quite naive and accommodating of Seong-jun’s rather pathetic parting rhetoric. Both text him with the same words expressing their longing for him.

As the name of the bar suggests, the plot feels like a partly fictionalized account of someone’s memory, a male fantasy of sorts, in which he remembers what he wants to remember. For all we know, Seong-jun’s four- or five-day trip could have happened all in one day, with the events reassembled inside his head.

As for the film’s visuals, the director’s refined style shows through, as he manages to match the tone of his plot to the imagery. Set in Bukcheon, an artistic part of northern Seoul, during winter, his shots feel stark, uninviting and distant, like the nature of the relationships between his characters.

To the uninitiated, Hong’s films may feel like one long film about intellectuals contemplating everything and nothing all at once. But if you argue that point, the same could be said about films by directors like Eric Rohmer or Woody Allen.

For others, however, the director’s seamless and subtle use of his main themes - fate versus coincidence and romantic love versus commitment - woven into the witty dialogue, may be enough. “The Day He Arrives” is not a masterpiece, but for fans, the movie won’t be a disappointment either.

It opens Sept. 8 nationwide.

The Day He Arrives

Drama / Korean
79 min.
Coming soon

By Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [뉴시스]

홍상수 '북촌방향' 국제영화계 눈독

홍상수(51) 감독의 열두번째 장편 ‘북촌 방향’이 밴쿠버 국제영화제와 시체스 국제판타스틱영화제에 초청받았다.

해외배급사 파인컷은 “북촌방향이 9월29일 개최될 밴쿠버국제영화제의 ‘드래건스&타이거스’ 섹션과 10월6일 시체스국제판타스틱영화제 극영화 공식경쟁부문인 ‘뉴 비전’ 부문에 진출했다”고 밝혔다.

‘북촌방향’은 영화감독이었던 ‘성준’(유준상)이 서울 북촌에 사는 선배 ‘영호’(김상중)를 만나기 위해 서울에 머무르면서 기묘한 우연들을 겪는 이야기다. 시간관념이 무한정 무너지는 내러티브 속에서도 웃음을 잃지 않는다.

밴쿠버국제영화제는 토론토국제영화제와 함께 캐나다의 2대 영화제이며 ‘드래건스&타이거스’ 섹션은 그 해 가장 주목할 만한 아시아 영화 60여편(장편 40여편, 단편 20여편)을 선정한다. 홍 감독은 1996년 ‘돼지가 우물에 빠진 날’로 이 부분 상을 수상한 후 ‘잘 알지도 못하면서’, ‘하하하’, ‘옥희의 영화’ 등으로 역시 이 부분에 초청됐다.

시체스국제판타스틱영화제는 브뤼셀 국제판타스틱영화제, 판타스포르토와 함께 세계 3대 판타스틱 영화제로 통한다. 장르영화 외에도 세계 영화계의 최신 흐름에서 가장 혁신적이고 독창적인 작품들을 ‘뉴 비전’ 섹션을 통해 소개한다.

‘북촌방향’은 9월8일 국내 개봉한다.
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