The Day He Arrives: Listen, the Snow is Falling…
I watched Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives (playing at the Northwest Film Forum through Thursday) with some trepidation, fearful that the skillful but narrow South Korean auteur would unleash another film about a frustrated, horny film director who can’t decide which way to go in his life and drinks way too much at all hours.
Imagine my mild surprise at a film about a film director so frustrated he’s given up directing, and not so much horny as emotionally destitute, emptied like a hot water tank in winter (the film’s season). The drinking part, though, that was right on. Does everybody in South Korea drink this way, or only impassioned, struggling artisans?
So the director (played by Yu Jung-Sang) wanders around Seoul with no particular plan and gets drunk a lot, while traces of his former life (“I used to be somebody!”) keep catching up with him. He confesses his love for his former flame Kyungjin (Kim Bo-Kyung) but leaves her, having wiped up his tears, and from that inexplicable and therefore powerful scene, the movie slowly deflates. Everything else the man does, he does for rote reasons. Even the arrival of a bar owner who’s Kyungjin’s dead ringer doesn’t stir him into awe.
This is a world where people save what they really think for their interior monologues, or occasionally for their texts, but never say anything important out loud without drink. The black-and-white digital HD at first creates a pleasant contrast between the bright gray of the winter-lit street and the black of the character’s clothing, like flakes of chocolate scattered through your mint ice cream. As the nights out multiply and repeat themselves, sometimes almost verbatim, nature, or at least its intrusion into the city, becomes the only thing worth watching. No, nobody will every say what s/he really means, and yes, that’s too close to the real world for comfort. But the snowflakes…the snowflakes….