Geu-hu aka The Day After, written and directed by Sang-soo Hong
The fact that The Day After has been nominated for the Palme d’Or makes this film one of the best of 2016.
There is a lot to admire at this drama which told in a slow, meditative pace and involves personal, but also global issues, has an interesting, philosophical at times dialogue that is rewarding and worthwhile.
On the other hand, it can feel somewhat strange and an engagement with the characters might be missing, with an awkward lack of empathy, identification with the protagonists, without feeling antagonized by them to the point of watching what they do, in the hope that they finally get some punishment.
It all starts on a morning in winter, when the hero, Kim Bongwan wakes up at dawn and is confronted, not for the last time, by his wife who has suspicions regarding the reasons for such an early rise and departure.
In the next scenes, we see the man talking to a much younger woman, apparently both inebriated, close to and infatuated with each other, Lee Changsook telling the older man that he is beautiful.
One cannot be sure about the age of the hero or antihero, depending on how we see him, for he takes some pride in the fact that he has no wrinkles on his neck, same way as his eighty five year old mother keeps her figure.
He is the owner of a small publishing house and as the interlocutor says at one point, one of the best critics in Korea- was it the top four?- and he is acclaimed and warded a top, prestigious prize for his work.
Bongwan hires a new girl, who seems much more attractive than Lee Changsook, and the “patron” makes her coffee on her first day of work, has a gentle, likeable manner in his communication with the new employee.
Somehow, Song Areum is the most charming, interesting of them all, even if Min-hee Kim has a supporting role here, as opposed to her part in the brilliant Handmaiden, rated as one of the best films of all time on IMDB and winner of the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Picture at the latest, 2018 ceremony.
The employer talks to the young woman about her family and learns that her father left when she was young, she has a sister that has died recently and when the man expresses his surprise at death at such a young age, he is told that it was cancer of the uterus.
Is this harassment? One would ask in the age of women ’s movements, that require men to stop bullying, prying into their private lives and often parts, but it could also be the need to gather more information.
Besides, maybe the manager is just trying to communicate and make the new employee comfortable with working on the new premises, feel she is to labor in friendly surroundings and therefore be more efficient.
Considering the other young woman, appearing in the first scenes, embracing the drunken publisher, one could be more than suspicious, perhaps circumspect and waiting for the patron to seduce another prey.
However, the conversation between Bongwan and Areum becomes erudite, complex, and superior, with questions about the meaning of life, the importance of transcendence, gratitude for a Supreme Being.
Areum believes in God and says that this belief is despised in today’s world- perhaps in Korea, in America and other places, it is the only way to win the presidency and most other important positions.
Employer and the young woman also discuss about this world and what the words create, for we have alternative dimensions, the critic expressing the view that words are insufficient to describe the reality.
Areum is sure that she cannot control her destiny and she would refer to this conviction later, after there is a clash with Song Haejoo, the wife of the patron, contemplating the fact that this was her fate.
However, before that, we see a dispute between Bongwan and his former assistant, who was also his lover, who shouts at him, after a session of heavy drinking, certain that he is a coward because he does not find the bravery to tell the truth to his spouse.
The wife, Song Haejoo, comes to the office, confronts Areum, starts shouting at her, slandering the girl, then attacks physically, slapping the one she is sure is her rival, the mistress of her husband.
After the series of “bitch, whore and more” the man tries to convince his wife that this is not his lover, it is her first day at the firm and the other one has left, she is not even in the country, maybe she is in England now.
It is an abuse of considerable proportions and it makes sense for the insulted, attacked employee to say that she wants to quit, only seeing her patron supplicate and insist that she must stay on and disregard the terrible confrontation.
In a surprising turn of events, the actual mistress comes at the publishing company and the former lovers are again embracing and pleasuring each other, after which they talk about Lee Changsook getting her potion back, which is occupied by Areum, who is again flabbergasted and appalled by the request to quit her place, after she had just been implored to stay on, a fact that she underlines.