NYFF 2017: Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After

The Day After is one of two films by Hong Sang-soo screening as part of the New York Film Festival’s Main Slate (the other being On the Beach at Night Alone) and, as Zach Lewis notes at In Review Online, the “initial setup is familiar: Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo), an independent book publisher, hires a new assistant, Areum [Kim Min-hee], after his previous one, Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byuk), quits. Bong-wan’s wife, Hae-joo (Jo Yoon-hee), then discovers a love affair between Bong-wan and his assistant, only to mistakenly castigate Areum instead of the real culprit, Chang-sook. The rest of The Day After manages to slightly break form, playing similar notes but in a slightly different key. Instead of ascertaining a casual, slow-building relay of drunken infidelity, the women here immediately grasp Bong-wan’s sins and put him on an endless kangaroo court trial.”

“As with most Hong films,” writes Chuck Bowen at Slant, “The Day After engages in intellectual gamesmanship while courting emotional pathos, representing its hero’s own attempt to rationalize behavioral chaos with tidy structures and neat justifications. Hong uses a distinctive formality that’s designed to highlight its own inadequacy—a daring, self-interrogating hat trick that he’s managed to pull off with stunning consistency over the years, forging a cumulative tapestry of the frailties of the creative male ego.”

“Hong doesn’t bifurcate the film into mirroring sections as such; still, events rhyme,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov. “This isn’t my favorite Hong hall of mirrors — it’s a little too trapped in a familiar pattern of events without any truly startling punctuations, save the jaw-dropping final scene, in which Bongwan takes a really long time to recognize Ahreum and the fact that they’re having a conversation, verbatim, they had at the beginning of the film. This scene’s been called unrealistic, but I’d suggest that’s actually totally right-on for a dude who’s half out of a bag more often than not.”

The Day After is a light snack presented as a meal,” finds Cosmo Bjorkenheim at Screen Slate. “The ‘bourgeois frustration’-genre can be done a lot better, perhaps by giving the professional-middle-aged-male protagonist less cliché problems than a jealous wife. The risk that a filmmaker takes when baring his vague feelings of existential vacuity is that of transmitting them to the viewer, which Hong has unfortunately done here.”

The Oklahoma Museum of Art’s Michael J. Anderson couldn’t disagree more, calling The Day After “a very strong contender for the best film of twenty-seventeen . . . It is a work of both summation and specificity, both for its novel structural interventions, à la French New Wave master Jacques Rivette, and the concrete particularity of the film’s self-acknowledged qualities of natural light (Hong’s long-standing relationship to Rohmer again becomes clear), along side the sleepy, dreamlike impressions of day that is unfolding after far too little sleep.”

For the National Post,Calum Marsh, who’d been trying for years to score an interview with Hong, has finally got one: “It’s obvious from his answers why he doesn’t do them very often.”

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Update, 10/12:Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot: “I count neither On the Beach at Night Alone nor The Day After as among the strongest of Hong’s films—the latter at least has a potent kicker, where the former only trails off—but the nature of his practice makes these sorts of value judgments seem almost superfluous. Is Hong building a house with his films, as another famously prolific filmmaker, R.W. Fassbinder, once said? The incremental adjustments he makes from film to film give little sense that the 56-year-old is working toward his chef d’oeuvre or building to anything in particular. In fact, the movies seem to turn away from the very idea that there is anything to build toward, in either life and in art: things happen and then more things happen. . . . Because his self-defined goals are so modest, it is almost impossible for him to fail in a conspicuously catastrophic manner. And if greatness is defined by impressing onto an audience your own set of terms for judging the success of your work, then he is very great indeed.”

Update, 10/27: Both The Day After and On the Beach “honor a woman’s wrath, exasperation, incredulity, and contempt at male entitlement, while acknowledging that men are sometimes fueled in their misbehavior by a stupid wistfulness (and, of course, strong drink),” writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. “Screening at the festival in the midst of l’affaire Weinstein, these humane, clear-eyed, heartbroken comedies seemed more than a delight: They came as a relief, and a welcome act of conscience.”

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