My friend Brian Darr, proprietor of the San Francisco film blog Hell on Frisco Bay and
regular (past) essay contributor to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival program, accompanied me for my second trip to the San Francisco Film Society cinema to see Hong Sangs00’s The Day He Arrives. This was Brian’s second screening, but his first on film, having caught a digital screening previously. The texture of celluloid enabled Brian to note things he hadn’t the first time around, such as one scene where Boram’s lighter clothing was positioned against the darker clothing of Young-ho and Seong-jun as she shared her sorrow about her lost dog.
This had me thinking about how the positioning of the characters was another reason I likely made the mistake in my Koreanfilm.org review noted in my earlier VCinema post ‘The First Day He Arrives’. Part of my confusion was enabled by the fact that Kyung-jin (whom I mistakenly wrote was Boram) was sitting next to Young-ho in the bar Novel in a position normally reserved for Boram. This, of course, leads to another correction I need to make. It’s not Kyung-jin, it’s Ye-jeon. See, Kyung-jin and Ye-jeon are two different characters played by the same actress (Kim Bok-yung), so one can understand that mistake too. Plus, Yeo-jeon’s name is only mentioned at one time in the subtitles, but Kyung-jin’s name is mentioned a great deal. So I messed up there too, not only in my review, but in my correction of my review in ‘The First Day He Arrives’. As a result, there’s a lot wrong with that paragraph in my review, since I also no longer agree with the argument I was making about the (lack of) strong women characters in The Day He Arrives. But rather than make each of these daily screening posts at VCinema mea culpas regarding what I messed up in my review, I’ll leave my penance here and move on to something else I noted in the film this third time around.
I was re-reading the passage on Tale of Cinema in Kyung Hyun Kim’s book Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era just before I jumped on the bus to head down and meet Brian in Japantown. Kim shares how walking in Seoul is very different than walking in Europe because the sidewalks are crowded with either people, construction, or parked cars. One can see the latter example early on in The Day He Arrives. Cars are parked all willy-nilly wherever the driver arrogantly sees fit. Still, it’s not that Seoul is un-walkable. Folks just reclaim the streets, or at least the circuitous streets outside the main streets. (There are even areas of Seoul, such as Hongdae, where a section of the streets are basically pedestrian malls full of activity. This is part of what a person from the U.S. like me, forced to grow up in the isolating, car dependent suburbs, found so wonderful about Seoul and Busan, witnessing all ages laying claim to public space all hours of the day.) These are the streets that Hong’s characters are walking around, bumping into folks they know. These random run-ins might be referred to as coincidences’ in shorthand, but things make sense when you think of the neighborhood, Bukchon, in which the story takes place (and which basically is the Korean title of the film). It is a district full of art galleries and hip bars, so it makes sense that folks in the movie industry might run into each other in such a neighborhood, even three times in just as many days as Seong-jun does with an unnamed actress/professor character.
Seong-jun even runs into a succession of familiar faces at the end of the film, faces familiar to followers of Hong’s films as well. We meet four unnamed characters, one played by the male lead in The Power of Kangwon Province (Baek Jong-hak), one from Night and Day (the great character actor Gi Ju-bong), a third I can’t place if there is a film to place him in, and one from Woman on the Beach and Like You Know It All (Ko Hyun-jung) appearing as if she’s a minor character from Oki’s Movie, but this time a director relents to having a photographed portrait taken, so we are able to see into the deep, darkest fear of Hong’s main male characters, that they will continue these patterns of relinquishing the very thing that might save them, human connection.