By Janine Gericke.
Korean writer and director Hong Sangsoo’s new film The Day He Arrives follows a former filmmaker and now professor, Seongjun, who seems to be stuck in every sense of the word. It’s a stark film that shows how tedious and repetitive life can sometimes feel. Seongjun arrives in Seoul for a brief visit and, while he waits to meet his friend, film critic Youngho, he continuously runs into people from his past or people who remind him of his past. While eating at a restaurant, he is invited to join three young film students, who are obviously in awe of him and his work. Seongjun quickly turns on the three students, screaming at them for copying him. As he pulls out a cigarette, they each pull out cigarettes too. He ends up running from them, leaving them all completely dumbfounded. He also pays a visit to an ex-girlfriend, whom he hasn’t seen in two years. Even though he tells her that he can’t live without her and that no one is like her, they agree to say goodbye the following morning. We don’t learn too much about her or their relationship but, like everything else in this film, their relationship bears a clear undercurrent of complications.
Seongjun finally does meet up with his friend Youngho, and from this point on the film takes on an extreme feeling of déjà vu. Each day seems to closely resemble the last and it appears that none of the characters seem to notice. They eat at the same restaurants, drink at the same bar and wake up the next day to do it all over again. Dialogue also seems to repeat itself. Seongjun, Youngho and Boram, a film professor, spend each night drinking at a bar called “Novel.” They are always the only ones in the bar and seem to help themselves to whatever they want, since the bar owner is never there when they arrive. The bar owner, Yejeon, who also happens to be the same actress who portrays Kyungjin, Seongjun’s ex-girlfriend, arrives late and apologizes to the table. Seongjun remarks that she looks uncannily like Kyungjin, and is immediately drawn to her. Every night Yejeon apologizes, and then offers them something to eat. Each night Seongjun plays the same song on the piano. Even the bottles of beer are the same, night after night. In a way, this repetition is almost comforting, since many of us are creatures of habit. How many times have you eaten the same meal day after day or hung out with your friends at the same bar, night after night?
The characters in The Day He Arrives seem preoccupied with the questions of fate and coincidence. Boram recounts a day, telling everyone that in the span of 20 minutes, she encountered a filmmaker, a film producer, a music video director, and a student of hers. She thinks that it is strange because they are all related to film, and chalks it up to coincidence. Seongjun disagrees, telling her that “random” things do not happen for a reason. “We choose a few (instances) and form a line of thought. Made by all these dots, which we call a reason.” Is he right? While in Seoul, he continues to run into different people, all people that he knows or people who remind him of who he once was. Is there a reason, or is it just what happened? Does he really believe this, even though the bar owner looks so much like his ex-girlfriend?
I enjoyed The Day He Arrives, though it does tend to meander. This is not helped by the fact that Hong keeps his camera static. There is little movement, except for when a scene changes. The film has its funny moments and makes you think about why certain things happen in our day-to-day lives. I would recommend seeking this film out. At only 79 minutes, there is really no reason not to.
Janine Gericke is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.