The ICA is a very fitting venue for a Hong Sangsoo film. Packed with coffee-drinking hipsters and trendy arty types, this place epitomises London indie culture. And despite his popularity, Hong’s film-making remains firmly in the Korean indie realm.
The Day He Arrives absorbs the audience in a black and white Seoul Groundhog Day. Protagonist Yoo Joon-Sang has returned to the city for a short visit, and his past (in the form of friends, love, experiences, life…) starts to repeat itself, despite his meeting new people and going to a never-before-visited bar. What follows is a huge web of repetitions, photocopies and coincidences, some more subtle than others, with witty in-jokes intertwined (yes, the film is repeating itself, and yes, it is making reference to the fact that it is repeating itself!)
Unlike this rather cool trailer, The Day He Arrives has no gimmick:
The trailer shows visually what the film itself does thematically. Without the use of special effects, CGI, quirks, narrative twists or even colour, The Day He Arrives creates an intoxicating, dark and strange world from the mundane and familiar. Somehow, its monotony is surreal but not unusual. The more the characters think they are going forwards, the more they are actually moving backwards.
Speaking of characters, these really drive the film. We get to know and easily relate to each of the clearly defined and deeply examined personas that appear. Yet are any of them particularly likeable? If they are, it is the main character who is the least so, which is another genius aspect of the film, as it causes us to question our own personalities.
The movie does have a narrative, which is more akin to a never-ending journey than a story per se. Yet to me, the themes that it evoked, explored and questioned were more interesting and important.
If this premise does not sound particularly attention-grabbing, then it is a testament to Hong that I was completely engaged and entertained the whole way through. The thoroughly enjoyable dialogue, acting, direction and mise-en-scene enabled this grey, monotonous world to come alive and kicking!
I walked away from the film feeling equally confused and satisfied. I was left puzzled about what was going on, just like I often am with real life! And aren’t all of our everyday lives equally as repetitive, bizarre and baffling as Yoo Joon-Sang’s?
So… I don’t claim to have fully understood The Day He Arrives, but I definitely got it!
- The ICA has been hosting Korean films throughout this year’s LKFF, with tickets for Suicide Forest and Late Autumn still available. For more information, visit the website