DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
NIGHT AND DAY (aka: Bam gua nat) (director/writer: Sang-soo Hong; cinematographer: Kim Hoon-kwang; editor: Hahm Sung-won; music: Jeong Yong-jin; cast: Kim Young-ho (Kim Sung-nam), Park Eun-hye (Lee Yu-jeong), Hwang Su-jung (Han Sun-gin), Kee Joo-bong (Mr. Jang), Kim You-jin (Jang Min-sun), Seo Min-jeong (Cho Hyun-ju), Lee Sun-gyun (North Korean Student); Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dong-Ku Kang/Ellen Kim/Jung-Wan Oh; IFC Films; 2008-South Korea-Korean and French with English subtitles)

 
"Our muscular antihero protagonist turns out to be the lost soul from Seoul, whose utterances of love and seemingly sincere actions always remain suspect."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Night and Day was commissioned by the Musée d'Orsay, and gets several mentions during the pic. Arguably Korea's best filmmaker, Sang-soo Hong ("Lost in the Mountains"/Vistors"/Woman Is the Future of Man), directs his first pic on foreign turf, as he puts the male psyche under the microscope and comes up with a hangdog subject who turns from likable to unlikable over the course of his two month stay in Paris. Sang-soo Hong is considered by many critics as the South Korean Eric Rohmer. 

It's shot on a leisurely pace, has a droll humor and the twisty psychological drama has an unstable married middle-aged fugitive Korean artist, Kim Sung-nam (Kim Young-ho), fleeing alone to Paris to avoid a possible prison sentence for smoking a joint and finding love with a troubled young art student, Lee Yu-jeong (Park Eun-hye).

Sung-nam holes up in a crowded boarding house owned by the Korean expat Jang (Ki Joobong), where all the guests are visiting Koreans. Unfamiliar with French culture and not able to speak French, the artist aimlessly wanders the streets. Along the way the neurotic, high-strung painter, has several encounters with expats. One is a former artist flame (Kim You-jin) from ten years ago, who is now unhappily married to a Frenchman and is living permanently in Paris. She becomes pissed that he refuses to ball her, and that leads to tragedy. 

Jang introduces Sung-nam to Cho Hyunju (Seo Minjeong), a gentle young art student at the Beaux Arts, who is attracted to him, but he falls for her self-absorbed bad character art student roommate Lee Yujeong. Though he regularly calls his faithful wife (Hwang Su-jung), professing how much he misses her, he obsessively pursues the reluctant Lee Yujeong and will finally break her resistance to do it with a married man and get her pregnant. At that point, the selfish artist returns to Seoul and his wife, who called to falsely tell him she was pregnant. This leads to a surprising third act.

By the end of the artist's long journey into uncertainty and a search for reality, we're left unsure what is fantasy and what is real. In summertime Paris, we're told that it doesn't get dark until ten pm. This leads one character to say, “We can’t easily tell night from day here.” Which is what I guess Sang-soo Hong wants us to do with this hauntingly intense character study.

The overlong film at 144 minutes serves us too many oyster lunches, too many lies and too many tiring long walks along the Seine to keep us fully appreciative of the presentation, but it kept me guessing about where the artist's head was at and what this meandering story line was leading up to. Our muscular antihero protagonist turns out to be the lost soul from Seoul, whose utterances of love and seemingly sincere actions always remain suspect.

REVIEWED ON 1/16/2010       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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