THE DAY HE ARRIVES (BOOK CHON BANG HYANG) (director/writer: Hong Sang-soo; cinematographer: Kim Hyung-koo; editor: Hahm Sung-won; music: Jeong Yong-jin; cast: Yu Jun-sang (Seong-jun), Kim Sang-joong (Young-ho), Song Sun-mi (Bo-ram), Kim Bo-kyung (Kyung-jin/Ye-jeon) ; Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kim Kyoung-hee; Cinema Guild; 2011-S. Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)

"Off-beat romcom."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Prolific Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo ("Hahaha"/"In Another Country"/"Oki’s Movie") is writer-director of this enjoyable shot in black-and-white off-beat romcom, a melancholy film depicting how funny life can be and how artistic frustration can eat away at an insecure soul. It's an inventive introverted pic that's perhaps best described as a cross between Last Year at Marienbad and Groundhog Day.

Seong-jun (Yu Jun-Sang) is a young Seoul filmmaker who made four films and for unexplained reasons has since retired in self-exile to the provinces to teach for a low salary in the local university. The mysterious lonely filmmaker returns to Seoul for 3 or 4 days to visit his best friend, the university based film critic, Young-ho (Kim Sang-joong). On his first day his friend is a no show and Seong-jun aimlessly wanders around the neighborhood looking for something of interest. He's recognized by an anxious aspiring actress, a fan of his, who is unsure if she can make it as an actress and requests further contact with him. Finally finding a restaurant, Seong-jun is invited over to the table of three nerdy film students, who engage the ex-filmmaker in conversation while drinking together and apologize for not recognizing him. When drunk at night the filmmaker unceremoniously dumps them and screams, while running away, to “Stop copying me!”, after strangely asking them to tag along with him. This leads next to an impromptu visit to the residence of his ex-girlfriend Kyung-jin (Kim Bo-kyung), not seen for a year. The awkward Seong-jun cries and says he can't live without her, and spends the night in her pad. In the morning he tells her to "be strong" and leaves giving her a few smokes and begging her to make no more contact with him--which is agreed upon by both. On the second day, during winter's first snow, Seong-jun hooks up with Young-ho and his attractive college professor friend Boram (Song Sun-mi), a friendly and gregarious woman, and they go drinking in the Novel bar. The bar owner Ye-jeon (Kim Bo-kyung, who also plays Kyung-jin) looks exactly like his ex-girlfriend Kyung-jin, and when the feckless Young-ho lets on she's promiscuous and there's a room she keeps in the bar, our anti-hero on day three begins a romance and tells her how much he loves her. But on the next day he leaves and tells her they shouldn't see each other again.

While walking the streets, Seong-jun runs into a few people in the film industry who recognize him, but he only recognizes a few and seems to take no joy in the encounters. One encounter was with his first leading man, who is now unemployed and bitter he was not used again by the director though promised. There are also several unexpected encounters with the aspiring actress that go nowhere. Seong-jun's existential trip has him going back a number of times to the always empty Novel bar, where everything that happens the first time is repeated but with different twists and seem fuzzy as if recalled like the memory of a drunk. The joke here is that all the days appear alike and are easy to lump together, as the self-absorbed and self-destructive retired filmmaker can't escape from the past and is too frightened of the future to move on.

Supposedly Eric Rohmer is the director most admired by Hong Sang-soo, who is at his best when in a breezy playful mood shows off his dry wit and how his lonely protagonist, or alter-ego, is trapped by his unchanging behavior so things never seem to change for him, as they always seem the same even if different.

REVIEWED ON 11/21/2012       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"