[Films Review] On the Beach at Night Alone, The Day After and Claire’s Camera (2017)

On the Beach at Night Alone poster

English Title: On the Beach at Night Alone
Original Title: Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja
Year: 2017
Country: South Korea, Germany
Language: Korean, English, German
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Hong Sang-soo
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-ku, Park Hong-yeol
Kim Min-hee
Jeong Jae-yeong
Kwon Hae-hyo
Song Seon-mi
Seo Young-hwa
Kang Min-jeong
Mun Seong-kun
Ahn Jae-hong
Mark Peranson
Bettina Steinbrügge
Rating: 7.8/10

The Day After poster.jpg

English Title: The Day After
Original Title: Geu-hu
Year: 2017
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Hong Sang-soo
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-ku
Kwon Hae-hyo
Kim Min-hee
Kim Sae-byuk
Jo Yoon-hee
Rating: 6.9/10

Claire’s Camera poster.jpg

English Title: Claire’s Camera
Original Title: La caméra de Claire
Year: 2017
Country: South Korea, France
Language: Korean, English, French
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Hong Sang-soo
Music: Dalpalan
Cinematography: Lee jin-keun
Isabelle Huppert
Kim Min-hee
Jung Jin-young
Chang Mi-hee
Shahira Fahmy
Rating: 7.0/10

Your mileage may vary, but for this reviewer’s money, one’s appreciation of South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo is an acquired taste, veering from a vapid non-starter IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (2004), which more or less flounders in its rigid formality where connotations are lost in translation, to RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (2015), a revitalizing two-hander that redefines film’s narratological possibilities, and hits the home run with reverberating impact for all its niceties and relatability.

2017 proves to be the most prolific year for Hong to date, with three films released within a calendar year, ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE debuts in Berlin and Kim Min-hee nicks a Silver Bear trophy for BEST ACTRESS, THE DAY AFTER enters the main competition in Cannes, where CLAIRE’S CAMERA also has a special screening in the sidebar, all in the aftermath of the cause célèbre, Hong’s cut-and-dried extramarital affair with his muse Kim Min-hee, which both acknowledge with rather admirable candor in public.

Therefore, it is particularly intriguing for aficionados to tease out any clues of Hong’s own response to the scandal in these three films, all encompass infidelity with Kim Min-hee playing three different characters in the center, as Hong is astute enough to make hay while the sun shines as far as self-reference is concerned.

On the Beach at Night Alone 2017.jpg

ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE can be easily construed as an explicit response to the explosion of Hong’s private life, but mostly from the viewpoint of Kim, structurally a lopsided diptych, its first 20 minutes takes places in a Mitteleuropean town, actress Young-hee (Min-hee), visits her lady friend Jee-young (Seo), to cool her heads off after the scandal of her affair with a married movie director breaks out, after that, she returns to South Korea and touches base with her old acquaintances, including Myung-soo (Jeong Jae-yeong, who is so adept in inhabiting an anodyne man’s aw-shucks front), Chun-woo (Kwon Hae-hyo) and Jun-hee (Song Seon-mi, who steals a cute girl-on-girl kiss), during dinner, she lets rip her “entitlement to love” statement to a stunned audience, apparently is jilted by the director, a lonesome Young-hee seeks for a closure, and one day on the beach alone, she might find a way to achieve that, Hong struts his illusory sleight-of-hand with distinction.

The Day After 2017.jpg

THE DAY AFTER is shot in a bleached monochrome, Bong-wan (Kwon, promoted to a leading role, whose multifaceted ability, including tear shedding, is as protuberant as his underbite) is a married man who runs a small publish house, who has an affair with his assistant Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byuk, who is extraordinary in showing up a temperamental paramour’s blandness and selfishness), while their relationship breaks off, he hires a new assistant Ah-reum (Min-hee). On the first day of her job, Bong-wan’s wife Hae-joo (Yoon-hee, geared up with a fishwife’s voltage), alights on a billet-doux written by him, rushes to the publish house to confront Ah-reum, whom she mistakes as the mistress. The misapprehension takes a nasty turn when Chang-sook returns later that very day, conniving together with Bong-wan to get an upper hand, at the expense of the innocent Ah-reum, which concludes “the day”, then “after” an indeterminate time, Ah-reum revisits the publish house in the epilogue, plus ça change, a man is eternally obsessed with his “wife, lover, potential lover” circle of fantasies, his self-deception (or short memory) like a cold rapier thrusts into an ingénue’s expectation, for old time’s sake? But one day does hardly amount to an “old time”.

Claire's Camera 2017.jpg

CLAIRE’S CAMERA is the shortest, runs succinctly about 69 minutes, suitably as a digestif after the one-two punch, and reunites Hong with Isabelle Huppert as the titular Claire, a French high school music teacher (here, Hong hints the connection with ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE in the interrelationship), visiting Cannes during the festival season, and habitually takes pictures with her obsolete instant camera, befriends a Korean girl Man-hee (Min-hee), an employee of a Korean film sales company here in town for business, who has justly received a kiss-off by her boss Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee) for being “dishonest” albeit her goodhearted-ness, only through Claire’s photos, who also fraternizes with a visiting Korean movie director So Wan-soo (Jin-young, is assigned with an unthankful job of mansplaining that might get one’s back up) and Yang-hye, the real reason of her abrupt dismiss will dawn on a befogged Man-hee, but nothing is set in stone yet.

Watching three movies in a row, Hong’s modus operandi is destined to loom large: his trademark racking focus shots, the omnipresent facing-off composition, interrupted time-line in the narrative to jostle for a viewer’s attention and comprehension, a keen eye to the background movement, and a curiosity to the sea, all leads to his philosophizing approach, to entangle gender politics, relationship hiccups, emotional complex among coevals and exotic friendship through garden-variety dialogues, often synchronizing with the intake of food and beverage.

While THE DAY AFTER loses some of its luster by emphasizing a treacherous scheme that one might question its credence, and CLAIRE’S CAMERA feels like an extemporaneous dispatch when Hong realizes he has some time to expend in Cannes during his festival junket. It its ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE leaves the strongest impression, not just for Kim Min-hee’s much layered interpretation of a woman’s bewilderment, disaffection and desolation, but also Hong’s absurdist inset that piquantly ties viewers in knots (what is the deal with that mysterious man-in-black?), that is definitely a welcoming sign for any number of established auteurs.

referential entries: Hong Sang-soo’s IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (2012, 4.6/10), RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (2015, 8.4/10).

Oscar 2017 - On the Beach at Night Alone and The Day After.jpg

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