Hong Sang-soo‘s first black-and-white film since 2011’s The Day He Arrives (which is indeed quite a while, considering the rate at which he works), The Day After comes at a time when Hong’s films have garnered unprecedented levels of attention. Veteran festivalgoers are by now plenty familiar with Hong’s set-ups and punchlines, and neophytes have at least heard of what to expect. Hong can’t even prevent his private life — specifically, his affair with actress Kim Min-hee — from hemorrhaging into both his films and the hand-wringing conversations surrounding them. How much of his next film will be autobiographical? How should we feel about the central male characters, given that Hong is asking us to both pity and judge him? The Day After does not breathe new life into the mythos surrounding Hong Sang-soo, but it may be a solid indicator of where the director could go from here.
Hong never develops a clear portrait of Bong-wan, who’s simply the collected lies, hopes, desires, and pity-parties of a middle-aged life.
The film’s setup sounds familiar: Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo), an independent book publisher (instead of a filmmaker, this time), hires a new assistant, Areum (Kim), 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 breaks form a bit, as if playing familiar notes 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. However, Hong places emphasis on identity rather than guilt: When Bong-wan turns from servile husband to stern new boss, the anticipated Hong camera zoom finally manifests and calls attention to this shift. After a fifteen-minute session of slurred accusations and admittances, Bong-wan goes right back to Chang-sook, having learned nothing, and the camera patiently poises itself in stasis, to await the next tribunal. Hong never develops a clear portrait of Bong-wan, who’s simply the collected lies, hopes, desires, and pity-parties of a middle-aged life. But these “court” sequences still tease-out his various personae, giving Areum and Hae-joo not answers per say, but glimpses of a better possible future.