Seongjun, a film director who's uneasily transitioned to teaching, is listless in a way that seems to impact not only his everyday, but also that of his friends and lovers. In the course of 79 minutes, Hong Sang-soo's film lays out several days (but how many?) starting with Seongjun's visit to Seoul. The character keeps running into the same people, going out for drinks at the same place and romancing women in the same way. Intentional? Naturally, but "The Day He Arrives" pulls off something unusual: by deftly tweaking the encounters while maintaining the same camera angles and screen space, Hong Sang-soo's film embodies deja vu and makes us question the veracity of what we are seeing. Now if only the film was generally enjoyable outside of that successful experiment.
Toying with the bar piano for kicks, Seongjun ponders the possibility of igniting a romance with bar owner Ye-jeon (Kim Bo-kyung). The thing is, and here spoilers may abound for the less attentive, Ye-jeon bares more than a passing resemble to Kyung-jin, a former lover at whose feet Seongjun went to pieces earlier in the film. There’s nothing really resembling a plot herein, and the connection is never noted, but it is poignant since it seems the director and the bar owner go through the same emotional rollercoaster we glimpsed at the very beginning of the film – as lovers, invisibly scorned and always longing.
The ideas at the heart of "The Day He Arrives" are worth puzzling over and the discussion to follow may be the real reward, but the experience is muted. Some will mistake the subdued tone for hollowness, as this writer did early on, but if you stick it out and take the film in, a more genuine frustration may set in – not because of the filmmaking but rather because you are moved to see Seongjun unknowingly fall into unchanging straits. Or perhaps he does know what his life has become reduced to and chooses to remain. Food for thought, anyone? [B-]