AAP Film Review
By Diana Cheng
Of the 25 selected features in the Main Slate of the 55th New York Film Festival, two are from the acclaimed South Korean director Hong Sang-soo.
Organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center the NYFF55 kicked off Sept. 28, offering cinephiles a smorgasbord of delights with a variety of styles and themes for 18 straight days.
“The Day After” is a feature that is a reminiscence of Hong’s 2015 feature “Right now, wrong then.” But unlike his previous film, the repetition of event at the latter part of “The Day After” suggests not another chance of correcting one’s misconduct, but a comical re-enactment of a bizarre incident.
Kim Bongwan (Kwon Haehyo) is a famous author and manager of a small publishing house. As we soon find, he is deep into a torrid affair with his young secretary Lee Changsook (Kim Saebyuk), with a suspicious wife probing on the sideline. When Changsook leaves her job and terminates the affair, a new employee, Song Areum (Hong’s muse Kim Minhee), comes into the picture.
Arenum’s first day of work right away presents Bongwan with a series of existential questions. It looks like the new staff is an intellectual gal who openly expresses her views as well as eliciting his. What is reality? Why do you live? Do you believe in God?
The comedy of manners in marriage and extra-marital relationships, office romance, guilt and the lack thereof, are comically captured with a stationary camera placed directly facing two characters sitting across each other immersed in dialogues. Shot in black and white, the film allows viewers to observe the characters like a visual document, but at the same time, entertaining them with humorous nuances.
No sooner than the amused Bongwan ponders his relationship with this new employee, his wife Haejoo (Cho Yunhee) shows up at the office. Mistaking Areum as her husband’s lover, she attacks her and a scene of slapstick, violent fight erupts. It is a comedy after all, and the resolution comes quickly. Areum feels she needs to quit after all this, but Bongwan persuades her to stay on. He also lets her take home all the books the publishing house has printed, much to the delight of the intellectual gal.
However, the next day comes a twist. Changsook shows up at the office and wants her job back. What is a boss to do? Well, the former staff / lover knows exactly what to do. She tugs at the heartstrings of Bongwan, who quickly agrees to hire her back while letting Areum go. As well, such an arrangement can also act as a ploy to deflect his wife.
In the last act of the film, we see Areum comes into the office to congratulate Bongwan on winning a literary award. The time span since Areum’s firing is unknown. For Hong Sang-soo fans, “The Day After” is “Groundhog Day” yet again. In typical Hong style, Bongwan and Areum sit facing each other and conduct the same conversation as Areum’s first (and only) day at work. From their conversations, we find Bongwan is either a forgetful boss, or that he is too sly for his memory. Viewers may as well come up with their own interpretation. Such is the intriguing feeling one could get while watching a Hong Sang-soo film. The Q & A with the director at the end of the screening should not be missed.
“The Day After” has its U.S. Premiere at NYFF55 on Oct. 7, 8, and 15. Q & As with Hong Sang-soo and Kim Hyungkoo on the first two dates. For more info go to the webpage