TIFF17: The Day After

The Day After is the fourth Hong Sang-soo film I’ve seen and the third of his I’ve seen at the Toronto International Film Festival. Although its formal style and philosophical interests are not softened compared to other Hong films—it has the same long, static takes, use of zoom lenses, and peculiar narrative structure as his other films—it does seem the most accessible of his works I’ve seen.

Obviously, much of this ease-of-comprehension is due to my increased familiarity with Hong, but The Day After is also a more straightforward piece than some of his other films. The laughs are pointed, the structure is relatively simple, and the themes are explicitly autobiographical. In short, this is an easy film to relish in the moment, even if a work like Right Now, Wrong Then would likely reveal far more on repeated viewings than The Day After.

Of course, an accessible Hong Sang-soo film is almost an oxymoron. Hong’s films are the sort that only find audiences at film festivals. The Day After concerns Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo), a literary critic who is having an affair with his assistant, Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byuk). One day, his wife, Song Hae-joo (Cho Yun-hee), finds a love note at home and confronts him about his affair at work. However, she mistakes his new assistant, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee), for Chang-sook, who has recently broken up with Kim and quit her job. This confusion leads to a whole manner of misunderstandings and confrontations, such as you’d find in any comedy of errors from Shakespeare to Wilde to Hollywood’s romantic comedies.

However, while most comedies of error emphasize wordplay and slapstick, The Day After uses the conceit to investigate human shortcomings, a theme he explores in most of his films. Certainly this film is a comedy, but it’s not like a typical rom-com and its central preoccupation is Kim’s shortcomings as a man, which, by extension, explores Hong’s own shortcomings. Thing is, Hong has admitted in press conferences that he is currently having an affair with his muse, Kim Min-hee. Thus, The Day After becomes a humourous look at Hong’s own infidelity and incapacity to change.

Like all his films, The Day After contrasts naturalistic dialogue with stilted camerawork and a time-shifting narrative. For instance, once again he rarely uses close-ups and he only cuts when characters’ movement necessitates a cut, as Hong never uses a handheld camera and never dollies. Although Hong doesn’t repeat the narrative with minor variations ala In Another Country or Right Now, Wrong Then, he does play around with chronology, using time jumps for humourous effect throughout.

Hong Sang-soo will never be a director who is accessible to multiplex audiences. But The Day After’s variations on his usual themes and style are as effective as ever. He still explores gender, relationships, and artistry through archly-restrained filmmaking that favours silence and awkward moments shared over bottles of soju. But with The Day After, his arch style is easier to comprehend; it’s chronology is straightforward and themes explicitly autobiographical. If someone is looking to get acquainted with one of the world’s most prolific arthouse filmmakers, The Day After is a good starting point.

7 out of 10

The Day After (2017, South Korea)

Written by directed by Hong Sang-soo; starring Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byuk, Cho Yun-hee.