Perhaps it’s because it’s a Monday and I returned to the work of my day job, but I found myself focusing on the outbursts between characters today, my fifth viewing of The Day He Arrives on the fourth day of its run at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema in the New People building in Japantown.
I didn’t grow up yelling at people, nor have I taken that into my adult years. I yell at political figures and tools that refuse to work, but not at the people around me, especially those I care about. I remember convincing my parents when I was in high school that it was ok to curse at the computer. My rationalization went something like, ‘People make mistakes, and I should understand that; but computers are supposed to fucking work!’ My parents consented with the caveat of excluding two words from my swearing repertoire. (If you’re curious, those two words were ‘Jesus’ and ‘sucks’, the later giving you a sense of the sensibilities of my parents’ generation, since I didn’t even know why that was considered a swear word.) But this parental appeasement did result in some initially awkward moments when I began working at a software company later in life.
Although I can still be found yelling at computers, I never learned to yell at people in a demeaning, demanding way. And I’ve strayed from folks who do. My close friends and I have developed different ways to confront when such is required. It’s not that we avoid our issues, we just don’t attach each other. And it’s this different experience that has intrigued me about parts of Hong’s films – the awkward moments that erupt on occasion.
For example, when the actor Jung-won confronts our main protagonist Seong-jun about failing to follow through with a role he understood was promised to him, it comes out as a watchful tiger of rage that was waiting for a prompt to attack. Or when Boram lashes out at Yeo-jeon for being derelict with her bar duties for yet a third time, it’s as if her lateness has been the fingernail scraping on the chalkboard of Boram’s nice demeanor. Still, Boram is also displacing some of the anger she just received, and experienced in response, to Young-ho’s drunken judgement aroused by his own proverbial straw with the Boram he occasionally carries on his back.
Yet these outbursts don’t cause the discomfort in me that past confrontations have in Hong’s films. Perhaps I’m just getting older and am able to bear it more. Perhaps it’s because the first confrontation in The Day He Arrives is ridiculous – Seong-jun’s bizarre fit of that ever present curse word in Korean films, shi-bal, at the younger film students for ‘copying’ his gait and smoking habits. Or perhaps its because of the way Jung-won’s outburst is followed after the gon-bae and restaurant signage break by such tender kindness towards Young-ho. (So much confrontation is encouraged to dissipate by an obligatory gon-bae cheers in Hong’s films.) And later, Jung-won even engages in a sweet exchange commending how Seong-jun has grown up, half-joking, half-serious. It’s as if Jung-won had to get this initial grudge out into the drunken open air so he could move on in his relationship with Seong-jun. Similarly, Young-ho’s outburst at Boram is quickly squelched in a drunken recoil of Young-ho’s body.
I’d have to go back and watch Hong’s previous films, but there seems to be a sense of forgiveness in The Day He Arrives I haven’t noted in Hong’s films before.