London Korean Film Festival: The Day After

The Day After
The Day After
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Starring Kwon Haehyo, Kim Minhee and Kim Saebyuk
Screening at LKFF October 26th, 2017

by Richard Hamer

Presented in black and white, every scene amounting to little more than two people sat opposite each other talking, The Day After is a quiet, fascinating little movie. Kwon Haehyo plays Bongwan, the head of a small publishing house. He’s also married, and having an affair with his only employee. When his wife finds out, she comes to his office and physically attacks the first woman she sees. Unfortunately, she gets it wrong: Bongwan’s lover has already left the company, and the woman she’s just slapped is his new employee Areum (Kim Minhee), having a very bad first day at work.

It’s a movie not afraid to flirt with all-out farce. After that first case of mistaken identity, things only get worse: Areum confronts the wife. The old lover comes back looking for her job. Bongwan won’t give anyone a straight answer. In a series of awkward encounters, threats are made, promises are broken, and there’s a lot of confused and embarrassed silence.

With a premise that lives or dies on the strength of its performances, The Day After soars: Kwon Haehyo embodies all that is cowardly and pathetic in an adulterer; his evasiveness and total lack of self-respect sadly hilarious. The always great Kim Minhee more than keeps pace in her fantastic turn as Areum: Intelligent, determined, and level-headed against a tide of selfish emotions. While one must be careful not to draw such large conclusions from so small a tale, there appears to be a definite generational message to its sexual politics: The much older man – hopelessly entitled and immediately flirtatious with every woman that comes into the workplace – versus the young, smart, professional woman, who isn’t having any of it. Sadly, too many offices around the world are poisoned by men the likes of Bongwan; the Weinstein headlines reveal the awful paths they can take when left unchecked for too long.

Whether The Day After is meant to be read as such is of course subjective (For his part, director Hong Sangsoo is oddly uncertain; a man of instinct who either won’t or can’t articulate his creative process). Either way, what you are left with is a well-performed, witty character piece, happy to operate on the low registers of the dramatic form. It’s a story that exists in the space between the words; in the silence after a man or a woman does something cruel, and the other doesn’t say anything at all.


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