Director: Hong Sang-Soo
Writer: Hong Sang-Soo
Actors: Joon-Sang Yoo, Sang-Jung Kim, Seon-mi Song
Out of all the countries in the world, South Korea has definitely been my favorite when it comes to films outside of America. Obviously studying there helped a lot with exposing me to their culture and way of life. Furthermore, I took a course specifically on Korean Cinema where I managed to get an insight into their whole industry. From that course I acquired many recommendations. A key one being Lee Chang Dong who is easily in my top 3 favorite directors of all time. However, another person I heard a lot during the course was Hong Sang Soo. Although I heard about him many times during class, I never really thought of giving him a try because of all the other films that peaked my interest way more. Anyway, fast forward to yesterday where I was dead tired after a long week of work and I just felt like watching a simple film. I remembered Hong Sang Soo and though "Why not?". Boy was I glad I watched this film. Because not only was the film simple, it was exactly what I needed at the time. Furthermore, it has lit a fire in me again to go back and dabble in Korean cinema because I truly feel like it needs more love.
The Day He Arrives on the surface seems like a very simple film. A film professor comes to Seoul to meet up with his director friend, and ends up spending three days. That's basically the whole film. However, obviously there is much more than that. Hong Sang Soo structures this film as sort of a variation on Groundhog day. Sungjoon lives out what seems to be very similar days except for the very first one. Each one with slight variations on the events. It usually ends up with going to a bar called "Novel" with his friends and drinking. That is basically it, but in actuality there is much more than that. The film gives us a glimpse of life. It lets us know that we sometimes have these days that you feel like you've done and relived over and over again. This feeling is achieved with many techniques. One of my favorites being using the same actress for Kyungjin and Yejeon. When I first saw Yejeon I was like "Didn't we see her before?". That feeling is the same one we experience in our daily lives as well. We constantly encounter people that seem familiar to us even though we have never met them. Furthermore, Hong Sang Soo doesn't really give the viewers a sense of chronology with the story structure. You don't know what day we actually are at but it all doesn't matter. Because it plays into this notion that Sang Soo is drilling home, that life for the most part is a set of similar experiences with slight variants. Think about it, in your life, how many "normal" school/work days have you experienced. You wake up, shower, go to school/work, do your daily routine, go back home, watch a movie or play a game, have dinner, and sleep. Each of us has had hundreds of such days. Yet we never remember them, we only remember the unique days. The ones that break the cycle. Hong Sang Soo doesn't want to focus on the unique, he shifts our attention to the normal and mundane, and makes it engaging. That is where the strength of this film lies.
I want to focus a bit on the techniques used by the director to further enhance the film and give us a complete experience. First off, the visuals. Obviously the film is in black and white, which I think is a great choice by the director. The reason being is as I explained previously, this film focuses on the mundane and normal. It disregards the unique and special. So the choice of using black and white color shading fits that whole feeling. It removes the color from the film. It confines us only to the basic things we need to focus on. The audience doesnt need to see a screen popping with colors from all directions. The film wants us to focus on the conversations and the characters, and this was achieved by the color palette. Another technical aspect that intrigued me was the way the film was shot. Hong Sang Soo throughout the film uses fairly simple static shots to showcase the story. A simple well placed static shots that lets the viewer focus on what is currently happening. However, he also utilizes the zoom in a very strange way. At first I did not like how it made me feel. There are times when a conversation is happening and the director would just zoom in on one side of the conversation, and that keep it still, as if he changed to another static shot. It annoyed me because I wanted to know what the other characters were doing or how they were reacting at the time. But then it hit me. I may be looking too deep into this. But this feeling that I had mimics real life as well. Sometimes when we are having conversations with a group of people, we cannot focus on everyone at the same time. Hong Sang Soo mimics this feeling with the aid of the zoom in his film. Although at first I really didn't like what he was doing with it, I know understand why he chose this technique and it makes sense in the context of the film.
So what does it all mean? The Day He Arrives is meant to mimic mundane everyday life, but what is the overarching message or theme? What does the director want us to come out of the film with? Nothing. I truly think that. I don't there is a deep underlying message in this film. I think we just have to accept that life really is as mundane as is portrayed in the film. That may seem dark or harsh. But that feeling is what we are left with when we watch the final shot. The shot of Sungjoon just standing there with a somber look in his eyes as this stranger takes his pictures is what we are left with. Life isn't filled with unique and wonderful days that you will remember. Most of life is the same. A repetition of a cycle that we live out over and over again. Although that is not what Sungjoon is thinking, the viewers have been feeling that throughout the plot. And it is that somber shot that hits like a truck, and makes you realize what the director has been wanting to say. That elephant in the room that no one is willing to talk about. That life, is plain, and we just have to live with that.