Thursday, January 14, 2010

On-Demand -- Hong Sang-soo's NIGHT AND DAY: a Korean in Paris (no dancing)

According to the final end-credit of NIGHT AND DAY (Bam gua nat), this movie is the eighth in the ongoing oeuvre of South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, shown below, who earlier gave us the much-
heralded, but for me over-rated, Woman Is the Future of Man, and the better, though less seen, Woman on the Beach. Night and Day falls somewhere in between Hong's earlier films in terms of interest and success. While I would not have missed it, I would also not necessarily recommend it to non-film buffs.  It's long (nearly two-and-one-half hours), not much happens (in any conven-
tional movie manner) and there is little character growth or change in our non-hero, Sung-nam, played by the very hunky-but-dumpy Kim Young-ho, who appears in literally every scene of the film.

What the movie actually performs is an unraveling of character, both in the sense of a man coming to the end of his rope and the writer/director making clear how feeble a fellow this is on whom we have just spent our 144 minutes. Initially Sung-nam seems rather lost and sweet; by the finale, his constant waffling, followed by the betrayal of one woman after another, have taken their toll on us -- if not him. He'll continue his bad behavior as long as he can get away with it, which -- given South Korean society's general deference to the male -- should probably be quite awhile.

One of the pleasures of a Hong film is that you learn so much about Korea, its populace and culture, via so little exposition.  Here, for instance, we see the immediate competition between the North and South Koreas, the place of religion, how male/female relationships work (or don't), and especially the importance of art -- in daily conversation, in a visit to a museum, and in one character's stealing ideas from another. At that museum, for instance, Sung-nam spots a certain painting (seen on the poster art above -- a poster, by the way, that you will certainly not see in any U.S. advertising for the film), which he and his lady friend discuss in terms of their reactions to it.  Art is seldom far from anyone's mind in this movie.  Except when sex raises its randy head.

Our non-hero, above, certainly wants sex, and the longer he's away from his Korean wife, the more he seems at the mercy of his libido.  But so incredibly self-involved is he (as he has evidently always been) that he does not even recognize an old girlfriend (Kim You-jin) -- a woman who had six abortions because of his preference for condom-less rutting -- when they pass each other on a Paris street.  He becomes involved again with this woman, and then with then a young art student (Park Eun-hye, shown at right, two photos above) who for awhile manages to give as good -- maybe even better -- than she gets.

Sung-nam has gone to Paris to escape possible ramifications from the arrest of a friend made at the party where the participants were smoking pot. What this rather extreme response to a minor problem says about Sung-nam's character is another tip-off -- or is South Korea possibly even more conservative than the USA regarding marijuana?  Beginning as what seems like a gentle comedy-romance, the movie gradually morphs into something darker and more problematic.  A clue to what is to come may be found as the camera catches a stream of water flowing, curbside, down a typically charming Parisian street.  Then the stream gently encircles a pile of dog-shit, carrying it off in a quick little swirl.

As usual in a Hong film, near volumes -- about desire, need and subservience -- can be seen in a single shot (above for instance, and below).  There are a number of these along the way and they comprise maybe the best recommendation I can make for why you might want to see this film.  Sung-nam is himself an artist, a painter of clouds: a subject as beautiful, amorphous, changeable and untouchable as they come, and more than a little like our slutty, self-deceiving "hero."

After a week's run last year at NYC's Anthology Film Archives, Night and Day, which, if I am not mistaken, contains barely a single scene set at night, is available now from IFC On Demand via many TV reception providers across the country. Check here, then scroll down just a bit, to discover if it's playing in your neck of the woods.


Leonid said...

Dear James,

thank you for this article! I found out about this movie, some times ago and found out more about it through your blog.
As HAHAHA won "un certain regard" in Cannes (and i had to chance to see it) i hope, this one will make it's way to Europe to.

Keep up the good work!


TrustMovies said...

Thanks, Leo(nid)--
Comments like yours give me strength to continue!
I feel fairly sure that HAHAHA will be released in the U.S., as it won at Cannes, and several of Hong's movies have made it to our shores. But I suspect that NIGHT AND DAY has already been released in Europe (in some countries, at least). According to the IMDB (, it was released in France in 2008 and just opened in Portugal this week. I don't know what country you inhabit, but maybe you can find it on DVD with a language track or subtitles that you can use. Good luck! And thanks again for posting.