Night and Day
BERLIN -- A Hong Sangsoo film with no onscreen sex? A male protagonist who can't get any? This is indeed a novelty for the Henry Miller of Korean cinema, whose characters fornicate more often than martinis are shaken, not stirred in Bond movies. To the audience, this is hardly an aphrodisiac.
Set almost entirely in Paris, "Night and Day" is the auteur's first film made abroad. Since Hong has been compared to Rohmer for the umpteenth time, what would he make of Paris cinematically? It's a bit like Hou Hsiao-hsien's approach with "Red Balloon" -- impersonal, and therefore not terribly engaging. A flippant description of Rohmer in "Night Moves" seems apt for Hong's art-related film: "It was kind of like watching paint dry."
Hong has never bothered to court the mainstream, so commercial market returns are hardly relevant. Regardless of critics' assertion of a change in style, Hong core group of intellectual admirers will still find pleasure in his cerebral film language, nuanced dialogue, and droll observations of a Korean abroad.
Sungnam, a painter, spends two months in exile in Paris to let a legal crisis blow over. He experiences the double frustration of separation from his wife, and not getting any flings there. He bumps into an old flame Minsun and casually dates her. But he gets cold feet when her husband is mentioned. In a wry scene, he reads a fire and brimstone sermon to deter her advances. He befriends art student Hyunjo but falls for her flatmate and fellow artist Yujeong.
They sit in countless cafes re-enacting a fruitless flirtation to the score of Beethoven's 7th Symphony, symbolized by an oyster meal that is forever postponed. They make two trips to Deauville, and here is where Hong seems most in his element, in a sister town to the charmless provincial seaside dives where sexual mischief takes place in his works.
The first kiss happens 90 minutes into the film, and it's 20 more minutes of mental dodge ball before an inferred sex scene occurs. The twist-within-a-twist at the end is esoteric to say the least, revealing that Hong is even more of a tease than his heroine. This new chasteness may leave feminists who have complained about his projections of male fantasy, without an ax to grind. But in a Hong film, nothing is what is seems. Yujeon is not who she pretends to be, and indiscreet male lust still has its way, without the consequences all that Bible-reading hinted at.
NIGHT AND DAY (BAM GUA NAT)
Bom Film Productions
Screenwriter-director: Hong Sangsoo
Producer: Oh Jungwan
Executive producer: Michel Cho
Director of photography: Kim Hoonkwang
Music: Jeong Yongji
Co-producers: Kang Dongku, Ellen Kim
Editor: Hahm Sungwon
Cast: Kim Sungnam: Kim Youngho
Lee Yujeong: Park Eunhye
Han Sungin: Hwang Sujung
Jang Minsun: Kim Youjin
Running time -- 144 minutes
No MPAA rating