While watching Hong Sangsoo’s The Day He Arrives for the second time on the first day of its exclusive run at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema in the basement of the New People building in the Japantown district, I had a twitch of shame when I discovered I was wrong in my recollection of a particular sequence I relayed in my review of the film for Koreanfilm.org. When I wrote of the discussion between characters regarding how you can fool someone into thinking you have keen insight into their personality by noting two contradictions about them, I said the character proposing this theory was Young-ho, the professor friend of our main character, the no longer directing film director Seong-jun. I now know it wasn’t Young-ho who proposed this theory, but a more minor character, the grudge-holding actor Jung-won. And the woman Jung-won explains this theory to and upon whom he then immediately successfully applies this technique, and therefore supports his theory, is not Young-ho’s colleague Boram, but the bar owner Kyung-jin. In my defense, I can say that I didn’t have the privilege of a reviewer’s copy to check my claims, but I still hang my head in shame.
Yet I can recover fairly quickly from this embarrassing moment when I remind myself that failed memories are a major part of Hong’s narratives. The Day He Arrives is full of run-ins where Seong-jun clearly can’t recall how he knows various characters. He knows he’s supposed to know the actress he keeps bumping into, but it’s not clear if he knows her (or had a fling with her he’d like to forget). He meets a musician near the end who asks for his number and he leaves the run-in unable to recall the name of the man who now has his digits. Hong also likes to have characters bring past happenings or relationships into doubt. This is done directly, such as in The Day He Arrives, when Kyung-jin briefly discredits Seong-jun’s romantic presumptions as they return again with food for Seong-jun’s friends at the bar. Or by bringing into question the sincerity of a character’s words, such as in Turning Gate when Sun-young’s hand-fanning in the heat is picked up on as a means for failed actor Kyung-soo to recover from an awkward moment between potential romantic partners. A few scenes before we witnessed Kyung-soo try to escape from being caught gazing at a woman’s legs by claiming he was really looking at the picture above the patron. His claim that the hand-fanning by Sun-young sparks memories of how we should doubt Kyung-soo’s words, and thus doubt his memories, holding Kyung-soo in suspicion due to his past actions and past insincere declarations. Furthermore, Hong messes with our memories by having one character say something and then having similar words repeated by another character later. There’s the classic double-proposition scene in the Chinese restaurant in my favorite scene in my least favorite film by Hong, Woman Is the Future of Man. We have the art teacher and director each take turns (but unbeknownst to the other) to hit on the Chinese-Korean waitress in their professional variant of the same lame hook-up tactic. The Day He Arrives continues this game of grapevine with Young-ho repeating Jung-won’s theory later to Boram. This is likely where my memory got mixed up.
But I have six more days of screenings of The Day He Arrives to better solidify this meandering narrative bounds of Bukchon into my memory, hopefully avoiding such review lapses in the future.