NIGHT AND DAY (2008)
Feelings of exile are combined with notions of global connections, as a painter flees to Paris to escape arrest and discovers the Korean community there
An artist that sometimes finds himself in the wilderness, Hong Sangsoo is in typical self-referential form in Night and Day by depicting an artist in the wilderness.
Not quite a wilderness though, it is the bohemian streets of Paris where a painter should be able to find plenty of artistic inspiration, but instead returns to another common Hong theme – the pitifulness of mediocre men and their single-track sexual minds.
While Night and Day is a continuation of those semi-permanent theme of Hong’s, an expanded runtime and the cobbled narrows of Paris enable a more fulfilling Hong experience.
Kim Seong-nam (Kim Young-ho – Club Butterfly, Blue) is a painter in his forties who has travelled to Paris to evade an arrest in Korea for smoking marijuana. He has left behind his wife Seong-in (Hwang Soo-jung – Yeouido), who he attempts to placate with phone calls.
While you may imagine Paris – home to some of the world’s finest galleries and museums – being the dream escape location for an artist, Seong-nam becomes more interested in Min-seon (Kim Yoo-jin), his ex-girlfriend who is also in Paris.
She introduces him to a wider community of Korean ex-pats in the French capital, including fellow artists. It is not a case of distance making the heart grow fonder though, more ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ as his head is turned by various girls and his worried wife seems of secondary concern.
Seong-nam embodies much of Director Hong’s own anxieties around professional achievements and personal distractions. He exaggerates these notions in the pathetic nature of Seong-nam – a man placed in a form of purgatory and failing to fulfil his potential. Seong-nam needs constant reassurance, but it is never enough.
Location is often a film character in its own right and this is certainly the case with Paris here. A beautiful and inspiration city, Hong shows us plenty of that. But that Hong cynicism is never far away, mixing in the darkness of human nature to such fine surroundings. This all chiefly stems from the key notion of male self-deception – a concept that Hong clearly considers an unmovable premise.
There is plenty of comedic relief here too. Seong-Nam is hilariously pathetic, making every interaction he has curbed with comedy. His hopelessness deserves our mocking laughter.
Hong’s style has often been compared to French director Eric Rohmer and more than just the Parisian setting brings that association closer here, though knowing Hong this might be a deliberate attempt to pair those observations.
Night and Day provides a feeling of exile, combined with the ability to find common connections on the other side of the world, all tied together by the wretched nature of the male state. Hong finds a way to perfectly balance the warm with the cold, the tender with the pain, and offers one his most satisfying outing as a result.