THE DAY HE ARRIVES (2011)
A rift on loneliness and the coincidence-filled nature of the human experience as a film director finds himself wandering around the snow-flecked streets of Seoul
Déjá vu, that often highly convincing feeling that one has lived through the present situation before, is spooled through The Day He Arrives, leaving us viewing a loop of amended interactions and repeated meetings.
As with much of Hong’s work, various clashes and get-togethers are played over several times, each with a minor amendment to see the new direction it takes. While some of Hong’s works have been split in two, such as Tale of Cinema (2005), this is more fragmented still, as timelines leap and situations are pocketed into new forms.
Instagram posts of sunset-framed inspiration quotes like to claim there is something special about coincidences, or that they simply do not exist. That every human moment carries a special meaning. This is nonsense of course, a coincidence-filled world is exactly what we would expect from a randomly ordered existence. If coincidences never, ever happened, then we could start to suspect some special meaning. Until then, bumping into someone you know proves nothing more than you both exist.
Here, our central character, as if often the case with Hong’s films, is a film director of middling note, Seong-jun (Yoo Jun-sang – a Hong regular from other outing such as Like You Know It All and Hahaha). Now a film teacher in the country, Seong-jun has shelved his directorial duties.
Seong-jun heads to Seoul to meet close friend Young-ho. When his city pal fails to pick-up his phone, Seong-jun is left wandering around the streets of Seoul, first bumping into an actress he used to know.
He heads off and drinks by himself, eventually joining up with three film students he met in a restaurant, but as he gets drunk, he darts off to his ex-girlfriend’s house instead.
Possibly the next day, or at some other point in time, Seong-jun bumps into the same actress again and eventually meets his friend and another female professor. The trio head to a bar called Novel where the bar owner has a striking resemblance to Seong-jun's ex-girlfriend.
We then witness a jumble of interactions between these characters, located in various time bubbles, as the coincidences stack upon each other. A feat of soju-filled déjá vu.
Given the black and white treatment, adding to the sombre sense of the film, we witness what loneliness can do to this set of characters. Especially when fuelled with alcohol, which plays a large role in developments, this loneliness leads to new branches of interactions, often regrettable ones.
Wry and mournful, The Day He Arrives can be as cold as the snow-filled winter streets of Seoul we see. It still has its flickers of light-relief and comedy, regularly driven by booze-bitten overreactions. The men are as feckless here as with any Hong film, driven by pettiness and sexual thirst. We find ourselves trapped with these characters, consistency bumping into them and regurgitating past experiences.