[Herald Review] Hong Sang-soo pokes fun at love affair in ‘Day After’

By Rumy Doo

Hong’s latest tale of romantic faux-pas stars an ironic Kim Min-hee

  • Published : Jun 23, 2017 - 15:04
  • Updated : Jun 23, 2017 - 15:04

A love affair with a sort of ironic passion, drunken pseudo-philosophical conversations poking fun at the clueless male lead, and a timid but keen female character -- these are the ingredients for Hong Sang-soo’s 21st feature, “The Day After.”

The film had its local press screening on Thursday after competing at the Cannes Film Festival in May, one of two films by Hong -- the other, “Claire’s Camera” -- which screened at Cannes this year.

While few events propel Hong Sang-soo films, which center on boozy confessions and awkward responses, the plot becomes even sparser in this simple dramedy. Even the colors are muted to black and white for the entirety of the film, which, again in line with many Hong features, juxtaposes the past and the present, knitting memories and present-time occurrences.

Monochrome but brightly lit, the photography (led by Kim Hyung-koo) makes it difficult to tell whether it’s dawn or dusk, which may be why the camera gazes squarely at the office’s wall clock to indicate the time, sternly ticking by above the characters’ tangled love lives. Only the wintry chill is palpable in this lack of hue; the passage of time and the distinction between past and present remains playfully unclear until the very end.

Still from “The Day After” (Jeonwonsa)

Still from “The Day After” (Jeonwonsa)

Kwon Hae-hyo stars as another one of Hong’s self-absorbed but entirely self-unaware male leads, this time as Bong-wan, writer and owner of a tiny publishing company.

The film kicks off as Bong-wan is being interrogated at the dinner table by his wife Hae-joo, played by Cho Yun-hee. There’s something different about him these days, she points out: He has lost weight and leaves home early to head to the office at the break of dawn. “Is there a girl you like?” she asks. He laughs uncomfortably and feigns indignation, but averts her glance and continues to eat wordlessly.

Meanwhile, Bong-wan is tormented by the breakup of an affair with co-worker Chang-sook, played by Kim Sae-byeok. Chang-sook has quit, and a new employee Areum, played by Kim Min-hee, comes to fill her spot at the publishing house.

The typical Hongian male character reveals himself during lunch with the new employee. Almost in spite of himself, Bong-wan attempts to teach and make stabs at intimacy with Areum, who is timid, keen and devoutly religious, and questions his logic and worldview.

Still from “The Day After” (Jeonwonsa)

Still from “The Day After” (Jeonwonsa)

Bong-wan’s suspicious wife Hae-joo, meanwhile, visits his office and finds Areum there. Mistaking the unknowing newbie for her husband’s lover, she slaps her -- a fight and an awkward tete-a-tete ensues.

In this film, actress Kim Min-hee, famously in a relationship with the married director Hong, is a wry observer rather than participant of the affair. The film was shot in February amid a flood of media attention on Kim and Hong. The irony then becomes clear, seeing that actress Kim, who subsequently openly expressed her affection for director Hong at international press events, stars in the film as someone who looks with something akin to exasperation at the extramarital couple who continue to declare “I love you!” to each other.

What follows is a string of befuddled soju-filled scenes where the members of this story bicker, indulge in self-pity, stand up for themselves and reach an odd conclusion. The ending is neither comic nor tragic but one character does reach a kind of comfort.

The film, produced by Jeonwonsa and distributed locally by Jeonwonsa and Contents Panda, will hit local theaters on July 6.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)