The Day He Arrives: Hitting the Bottle in South Korea

The prolific Hong Sang-soo’s 12th film begins with Sungjoon (Yu Jun-sang), a former film director now retired to a professorship at a provincial school, returning for a visit to Seoul, his former home. Failing to connect with a friend, Sungjoon instead gets embarrassingly blotto and drops in unannounced on an ex-girlfriend, Kyungjin (Kim Bo-kyung). He tearfully confesses to his dismal loneliness without her, stays the night, and leaves the next morning without betraying even a trace of the prior evening’s vulnerability. Sungjoon goes out drinking on the three nights that follow, now with his friend Youngho (Kim Sang-joong) and Youngho’s pretty colleague Boram (Song Sun-mi). They frequent an otherwise empty bar where the proprietress, Yejeon, bears a Xeroxlike resemblance to Kyungjin and, soon enough, falls into bed with Sungjoon as well. (Bo-kyung plays the double role.) The name of Yejeon’s bar is translated as “Novel,” an ironic pun, for there is little novelty to the schedule of Sungjoon and his circle, so little progress between their evenings that they could almost be shuffled into any order. Conversational cues are reheated like leftovers. Each night, Sungjoon plays the same piece on the piano and silently takes melancholy text messages from Kyungjin. Sungjoon and friends are mostly beer drinkers, but the cumulative effect of Day is closer to a night with Soju: You empty the bottle and think it has affected you not at all . . . right until it’s time to stand up and head home.