Arriving close on the heels of Hong Sang-soo’s two 2010 films, Hahaha and Oki’s Movie, The Day He Arrives continues the director’s recent trend of varying his style and trimming his running times, even as he delivers yet another story about a deluded, self-destructive filmmaker caught in a love triangle. The big change with The Day He Arrives is that the film is in black and white, which gives it a look akin to a ’60s Euro-drama, or one of Woody Allen’s black-and-white comedies. And Hong’s approach to The Day He Arrives suits that look. Yu Jun-sang stars as a director who’s “taking a break” from movies while he teaches at a small college. When he shows up in Seoul to spend time with his sad-sack friend Kim Sang-joong, Yu ends up eating at the same restaurant over and over, and drinking at the same bar, with the same group of people. Even when he impulsively pursues a sexual relationship with the bar’s owner, it’s only because she looks exactly like his ex-girlfriend. The Day He Arrives is a talky movie, full of long, boozy scenes and cosmic coincidences—and in that it echoes Allen, as well as Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, and the best of British kitchen-sink drama.
At times, the allusiveness of The Day He Arrives comes off as a little soft, as though Hong is merely feigning meaning through repetition and rhyming images. But even while The Day He Arrives doesn’t come to much—at least not in comparison to some of Hong’s other films, such as 2006’s brilliant Woman On The Beach—it’s still time well spent. Hong has such a strong feel for the world his hero inhabits: not just the insular society of cineastes, with their never-ending circuit of festivals and receptions and mentorships, but also the passive-aggressive dating scene, where people flirt via self-pity and often end up sleeping alone. The Day He Arrives’ circular storytelling is meant to illustrate how Yu is trapped in a pattern of behavior that gets him nowhere and blinds him to the opportunities all around him. But what makes this movie so funny and sad is that it’s obvious Yu’s main ambitions are to get to the next drink and the next lover, and so long as his limited arsenal of moves lands him what he wants, he has no interest in improvement.