In the opening scene of “The Day After – 2017” Hae-joo (played by Jo Joon-hee) has noticed a suspicious change in her husband Bong-wan (played by Kwon Hae-hyo). Today, he is unusually happy. So Hae-joo moves to the logical conclusion- Bong-hwan has found an attractive woman. Normally such an absurd supposition would be the grounds for a farce. Then Bong-wan scoffs, continues to awkwardly eat his breakfast,and rather ominously avoids directly refuting any of Hae-joo’s comments.
Writer/director Hong Sang-soo has come out with yet another filmabout sad people who are somehow simultaneously depressed and self-absorbed. Breaking the milleu this time is, of all people, Hong Sang-soo’s current extramarital flame Kim Min-hee, who plays Ah-reum. Who is Ah-reum? Why, she’s a person with absolutely no relation to Bong-wan’s personal life at all, except to the extent that in Bong-wan’s loneliness, he considers basically anyone to be a potential conquest salve for his feelings of chronic insecurity.
Ah-reum is a legitimate perspective character, which normally do not feature in Hong Sang-soo films. This makes her initial countenance toward Bong-wan neutral, so the way that degrades throughout the film’s runtime is a surprisingly harsh indictment of who Bong-wan is as a person. Ah-reum’s disgust is less a matter of personal offence or weakness and more wondering, who are these sad pathetic people and why do they torture themselves like this?
I almost never have positive reads of Hong Sang-soo protagonists but “The Day After -2017” goes even farther than most in that department because Bong-wan doesn’t even show much propensity for professional competence, let alone attractiveness. He’s just a publisher- a gatekeeper for more obviously talented writers, one who seems wise because of age but who, in reality, doesn’t actually seem to know much of anything of substance. If Bong-wan was smart, after all, you’d think he’d be better at managing his personal affairs.
…So, have you detected the irony yet? You should. While “On the Beach at Night Alone” got the most press attention for being a parallel to Hong Sang-soo’s personal life, “The Day After – 2017” was the one he made after that had actually become a public issue. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “The Day After – 2017” then proceeds to make its characters look even worse than the previous film. They’re all selfish losers, incapable of communicating except over alcohol, and even then they don’t say all that much.
Except for Ah-reum anyway, and I must say, even if she’s not a terribly explosive character, Ah-reum is very low key in a way that’s hard to reconcile with any current public image of Kim Min-hee. I can almost see Hong Sang-soo making this movie as a kind of mental challenge to her. It’s like he’s telling her, OK, put yourself in the shoes of the people who think we’re awful people for having this affair, and consider the fact that they’re probably right. Do you still love me? Answering “yes” to a question like that, though certainly demented, is admittedly romantic in the same tone that characterizes “The Day After – 2017” overall.
Review by William Schwartz
“The Day After – 2017” is directed by Hong Sang-soo and features Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok and Jo Yoon-hee.
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On the Beach at Night Alone