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Boram (Song Sun-mi), Youngho (Kim Sang-joong), and Seongjun (Yu Jun-sang) examine their lives in fascinating ways in Hong Sang-soo’s THE DAY HE ARRIVES

THE DAY HE ARRIVES (Hong Sang-soo, 2011)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema
1886 Broadway at 63rd St.
Opens Friday, April 20

For most of his career, South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has been making films about filmmakers, although not always about the filmmaking process itself. In such works as Woman on the Beach, Like You Know It All, Tale of Cinema, and Oki’s Movie, he’s delved into the more personal side of lead characters who are established or emerging directors. Hong reaches a career peek with his latest, The Day He Arrives, a deeply intuitive, vastly intelligent, and surprisingly existential exploration of a young man at a crossroads in his life. After having made four little-seen films and deciding to become a country teacher instead, director Seongjun (Yu Jun-sang) returns to his hometown in Seoul to visit his friend Youngho (Kim Sang-joong), a film critic who has just left his wife and is hanging out with a film teacher named Boram (Song Sun-mi). Seongjun stops by to visit his old girlfriend, Kyungjin (Kim Bok-yung), keeps bumping into an actress who appeared in one of his films, goes drinking with a trio of fans, and meets Yejeon (also played by Kim Bok-yung), the owner of a local bar where Youngho and Boram take him. As all of the main characters examine their lives, each one lacking something important, Hong has several scenes repeat multiple times with slight differences, as if they are alternate takes imbued with new meaning as the audience continues to learn more about the protagonists. Each revised scene contributes more insight and develops the characters further, even if the story seems to have backtracked in time. The nonlinear narrative and beautiful black-and-white cinematography evoke aspects of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day, and François Truffaut’s Day for Night, exceptional films that, like The Day He Arrives, carefully balance fantasy and reality, fiction and nonfiction while depicting the inherent dual nature of cinema and humanity. Earlier in his career, Hong seemed to have trouble ending his films, which would linger on well past the two-hour mark, but with the outstanding, poetic Oki’s Movie and its follow-up, The Day He Arrives, both of which run approximately eighty minutes, he has found an excellent length for his work — one that now almost feels too short, as he clearly has so much to say.

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