Cannes 2017: Hong Sangsoo’s The Day After

On Film / The Daily — May 23, 2017

“To premiere one film at Cannes is an honor,” writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Times. “Being granted two slots in the lineup is a major distinction indeed. But for the prolific South Korean director Hong Sangsoo, the two new films he is showing at the festival, The Day After and Claire’s Camera, do not even comprise his entire output in 2017. Earlier this year, Mr. Hong’s On the Beach at Night Alone was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival, where its lead actress won a prize. . . . ‘Nobody probes deeper into the ways that men and women misread each other’s feelings than Hong Sangsoo,’ the critic and programmer Tony Rayns, an authority on Mr. Hong and Asian cinema, has written. ‘The Korean Woody Allen’ is the way Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes festival, referred to him.” And a conversation with the filmmaker follows.

Daniel Kasman in the Notebook on The Day After: “Fidelity, time and choice are the subjects, introduced in the remarkably condensed opening, where small book publisher Bongwan (Kwon Haehyo) is accused over breakfast by his wife Haejoo (Cho Yunhee) of cheating. He responds with nothing more than defensive, derisive silent chuckles. When he leaves for work we see scenes of him flirting with this possible lover (Kim Saebyuk), but when he arrives at the office, he discovers another woman, Areum—Kim Minhee again, now consecrated as a figure of strong independence and sensibility in Hong’s world. She's the beautiful new hire starting on her first day and, we quickly find out, is filling the position left vacant by Bongwan’s lover.” This Competition entry shows “yet again that this director too often dismissed of making similar movies in fact contains in himself as many clever possibilities and proposals as his plots.”

The A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd: “Gorgeously shot in black-and-white and featuring the usual long, baggy, revealing conversations that are Hong’s speciality, The Day After gets by on the farcical nature of its entanglements—in moments, it plays like a delightful comedy of misunderstanding.”

Variety’s Guy Lodge calls The Day After “a loquacious, Rohmer-kissed comedy of missed chances and misunderstandings, in which matters of the heart are drawlingly discussed over lashings of soju. Lacking the emotional and structural complexity of some recent Hong outings, it’s minor even by his minor-key standards, though regular acolytes will drink up.”

“In terms of the mise-en-scene,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter, “the setups are straightforward, with many of the conversations taking place over tables with the characters facing each other and the camera simply panning left or right from an initial two-shot to emphasize either a sentence of dialogue or a reaction on either side of the table. The zooms here are less brusque than in his last couple of features, lending the films a more wistful, almost French New Wave quality that is further reinforced by the repeated use of a short piece of melancholy, electronic-sounding music credited to the director as well. This is cinematographer Kim Hyungku’s fifth collaboration with Hong and his first since 2013’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, though The Day After is closest, because of its fine use of black-and-white, to their The Day He Arrives (2011). In Hong’s oeuvre, even the titles start to sound alike.”

“The narrative consists of several long-running conversations, sometimes broken up by moments we sometimes assume are flashbacks but are eventually slyly revealed to be a continuation of the present sequence,” notes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “A major upset occurs in the rather violent face-off between Minhee and Cho Yunhee, which reveals a bit more physicality than we’re accustomed to in a Sangsoo feature.”

“Kim Minhee gives an excellent performance as the assistant who shows every sign of being far cleverer, and more committed to writing and literature, than the complacent mediocrity who has hired her and even now shows every sign of wanting to abuse her trust and break her heart the way he did to her predecessor,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. All in all, The Day After “feels like a chapter from something bigger.”

Writing for Screen, Wendy Ide suggests that even “the most dedicated fans of the director’s work might find this story a little too diffuse and meandering, its rewards too deeply buried beneath the evasive wordiness.” More from Pierce Conran (ScreenAnarchy) and Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com).

“When I finish a film, I tend to fix a time to shoot my next film,” Hong tells Lee Hyo-won in the Hollywood Reporter. “I’m thinking that October of this year might be a good time to shoot something. As to what I’ll shoot, I have no idea.”

Updates, 5/24: Ioannis Kanonakis for the International Cinephile Society: “The climactic sequence, Areum’s kind-hearted attempt at reconciliation, initially feels like another intriguing meta-inversion, a regular Hong technique that either presents a scene from a different point of view, enabling an entirely new reading of the plot’s intricacies and philosophical construct, or playfully reverses and subverts the text thus creating a parallel universe for its characters to (re)act and live in. Surprisingly, Hong does not restrict himself to a mere intellectual trick this time round, but infuses his final scenes with a sense of regret and melancholia while also highlighting the possibility for change.”

“Hong Sangsoo is doing some of the best work of his illustrious career,” declares Nikola Grozdanovic at the Playlist.

Updates, 5/26: “Hong’s first monochrome movie since releasing the exquisite The Day He Arrives in 2011, The Day After might seem poised to pick up where that film left off, but anyone who follows Hong’s career closely enough to care should know better than to expect a sequel,” writes David Ehrlich at IndieWire. “On the contrary, his beguiling but relatively insubstantial new feature—a strange choice for a Competition slot at Cannes considering the strength of his recent output—is the most straightforward and self-contained thing that he’s made in quite a while.”

For Sam C. Mac at the House Next Door, this is “a film that wallows cynically and fairly shallowly in familiar relationship issues, and without adding new dimensions to them. . . . This prototypical Hong production just doesn’t have enough to differentiate it from the filmmaker’s other ones. In fact, the only thing that feels slightly new in The Day After is the degree to which the film allows for things to go the way that its pathetic, self-pitying central character wants them to. And by the end, that level of indulgence isn’t sufficiently interrogated.”

“With its drab interior settings, cinematographer Kim Hyungkoo’s uncharacteristically unforgiving black-and-white photography, brutally honest subject matter, and rare moments of catharsis, it’s not the easiest watch,” writes Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage. “Of course, it’s this very slog that makes bigger moments all the more powerful.”

“If, in previous films,” writes Mónica Delgado at desistfilm, “the resource of variation inside a variation allowed for an unfolding of time in two ways to discover the possibilities of the narrative and the characters, like an extrapolated literary exercise, in The Day After, this revisit of the same scene doesn’t deal with what ‘could have been’ but with the indifference to memories. The characters aren’t submitted to this double play of reality, but to confirm that the past is a certain fact of the flexible, forgettable or fragile.”

Update, 5/27: “Funny and light-hearted versus pensive and mournful, Claire’s Camera and The Day After represent the comic and tragic poles of Hong’s cinema,” writes Giovanni Marchini Camia for Sight & Sound. “While both films function perfectly well as independent works, they are greatly enriched when considered together. This complementary quality extends to the director’s oeuvre as a whole, which only grows more rewarding with each new chapter—in this regard, his prodigious productivity is a veritable blessing.”

Update, 6/2: “Compared with Hong's other two films this year, the dark, soul-baring On the Beach at Night Alone and the deceptively quirky Claire's Camera, The Day After feels surprisingly slight,” finds Michael Sicinski. “It’s not that Hong isn't dealing with substantial matters of the heart here. But there is a straightforward approach to form that borders on normalcy, if not transparency. It’s easy to understand why this was the film selected for the Cannes competition line-up, since it hews most closely to the recognizable rigors of art cinema, with a minimum of stylistic curveballs.”

Update, 7/4: “Hong may be working too quickly for us to fully grasp the intricacies of a body of work unlike any other, a corpus both seamlessly coherent and sneakily unpredictable,” writes Dennis Lim in Film Comment. “In addition to a startling, very Hongian occurence of déjà vu that in fact involves amnesia, The Day After includes one of his most remarkable soju-soaked long-take two-shots, in which boozy flirtation and flattery suddenly turn into a disquisition on the limits of language and the nature of reality. ‘Why do you live?’ Areum asks Bongwan, as Hong’s camera zooms in to sharpen the question.”

Writing in Cinema Scope, Andréa Picard finds that The Day After’s “outsized, booze-fuelled passions are consistently cut by the sly subtleties of Hong’s writing and editing and the film’s restrained formal elegance, all of which do not constitute minor Hong.”

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