Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adam Hartzell: Night And Day

For those of us stuck in Frisco Bay, eyeing online coverage of the current Cannes Film Festival, a sense of frustration can quickly set in. Often it takes a year or more for even the highly-critically-regarded titles of the world's most prestigious film festivals to make it to local theatres. Some titles never make it here at all. The best way to console ourselves is to...see other films that are new to local screens or rarely shown. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening room is a great place to do just that. Can't wait for Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds to come to Frisco? At least you can watch the 1978 exploitation film that inspired it's title (though perhaps not the misspelling), next week. And this week, the next-to-newest film from another filmmaker with a film playing the French Riviera. Who better than Adam Hartzell to whet the appetite a little? Adam:

Hong Sangsoo’s latest film, Like You Know It All was released this past weekend in South Korea in concert with a screening at Cannes. Although cinephiles in San Francisco will have to wait to know all about that film, we can take pleasure in Hong’s oeuvre of displeasure this weekend with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening of Night and Day, beginning its short run this Thursday.

Those familiar with Hong’s work will see the recurring themes as clear as night and day in Night and Day. Once again we have come hither, go thither gestures between ambivalent lovers, lovers whom we are definitely not intended to find admirable. Carrying onward with Woman on the Beach, Hong brings equal treatment to his male and female portrayals in Night and Day, highlighting the bad in both. In this 8th return to those Hongian themes, we have a painter named Sung-nam (Kim Yeong-ho) who has left South Korea for Paris in order to avoid arrest for the victimless crime of smoking marijuana. Away from his wife, Sung-nam happens upon an old flame. (Hong's films are full of re-encounters.) But rather than the bed-and-retreat, rinse-repeat pattern we’ve come to expect of all main male characters in Hong’s films, Sung-nam strays in ironic ways from this past lover. When he meets a young painter perpetrating talents at Beaux Arts, Hyun-joo (Seo Min-jung), however, that old Hong character pathology rears its pathetic head again.

Tension of the sexual and socially awkward variety is what makes Hong's cinematic worlds go round. Characters behave with borderline nihilistic intensions, which may rile some viewers as Hong’s drunken men rile strangers when drinking. But with every 'repeat' Hongian moment, such as Sung-nam getting something caught in his eye just like Sang-kwon in The Power of Kangwon Province or the obligatory day trippin', Hong has ventured slightly off his well-trodden paths in Night and Day. Sung-nam's aforementioned momentary chastity is one divergence. The drinking scenes are decidedly different as well, blinks of the bug-invaded eye in Night and Day when compared to earlier fixated stares in works such as Turning Gate.

So if you found yourself growing as tired of Hong as Hong's women sometimes do with his men, Night and Day might have you returning to Hong like, well, Hong's women sometimes do with Hong's men. If you have yet to see a Hong film, Night and Day might be the perfect introduction. And for those of you like me who continue to find much to mine in Hong's musings on the pathetic in all of us, Night and Day won't fail to show you how we fail others and ourselves.


  1. Thanks for your insight, Adam. I was thinking of you while watching this at YBCA yesterday, wondering what you might have to say. I, myself, am growing a little weary of Hong's bag of tricks, though I'll concede that Night and Day was punctuated with effective humor. My favorite scene was the armwrestling between the North Korean and the South Korean. It was hilarious.

  2. And thanks for dropping by, Michael. I can understand how the constant revisiting can get weary. For some reason though, Hong is remixing themes that don't I've yet to find tiring. And yes, the arm-wrestling scene is classic Hong.