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November 14, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - The Day He Arrives


Book chon bang hyang
Hong Sang-soo - 2011
Cinema Guild 35mm film

While it's always a possibility of liking a film without knowing exactly why, if you put yourself in a position where you are obligated to write about such a film, there may be a problem. Maybe what I'm responding to might be a comfort level, a familiarity, now that I've seen several of Hong's films. It's not the story, or even the storytelling that is important as much as the repetition. And in a strange way, Hong has made me think of Randolph Scott.

Most of the Randolph Scott films follow a template of the loner coming to town, trying to mind his own business, finding himself as the one person who cleans up the small town corruption, has lost his wife or former love to the guy who is his arch-enemy, and usually winds up, if briefly, in the arms of a woman young enough to be his daughter. It doesn't matter if the director is Andre DeToth or Budd Boetticher, you pretty much know what to expect from a western starring Randolph Scott.

Likewise with Hong Sang-soo, there are certain things that are axiomatic. Two guys claim to be friends, but maybe their friendship isn't quite as deep as one or both might state. Men and women will fall in love, though usually the relationships are brief, and end badly. There's lots of drinking and eating in restaurants, usually drinking. For many of Hong's characters, the way to deal with the uncertainties of life is to remain uncertain.

There are a couple things to distinguish The Day He Arrives from other Hong films. This is the first of Hong's films that I've seen where there is occasional first person narration. Also, except for the opening and closing titles, the film is in black and white. There is also more use of the zoom lens for several close ups.

Just as Hong's films seem to follow repeated patterns regarding the characters, The Day He Arrives shows the main character, a film director named Yu, repeating himself in his goodbyes to would-be lovers, and in continually running into the same people - an aspiring actress and a trio of young filmmakers, all within the same neighborhood in Seoul. The two women Yu gets involved with are played by the same actress. Hong's films may be said to exaggerate real life, where guys seem to get involved with similar looking women, and where people repeat the same lines to different people.

Yu, his friend Young-ho, and a woman who teaches film, Boram, are conversing in the small bar where part of the film takes place. Yu is asked what kind of woman he is attracted to, and Boram replies that she fits Yu's description. Perhaps the best way to describe The Day He Arrives is as a wistful comedy about people both seeking and rejecting validation from each other. And yet . . .

The owner of the tiny bar, Kyung-jin, announces that she will go out to buy some food for her three customers. Yu goes to walk with her on that snowy night. Impulsively, Yu embraces Kyung-jin, and the two kiss. In retrospect, one might not be certain about Yu's sincerity with Kyung-jin, but the image of the two, a straight full shot, with no musical embellishment, might be the most romantic moment in film at this moment.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 14, 2011 07:38 AM