Cannes 2023 Review: IN OUR DAY, Luminous Korean Miniature

Prolific Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo premieres his 30th film in the Director's Fortnight section at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Contributing Writer; New Jersey, USA (@fuzzyyarns)
Cannes 2023 Review: IN OUR DAY, Luminous Korean Miniature
There are only a few sure things in cinema these days: Disney will rake in money at the box office, Netflix will dominate streaming charts, and prolific Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo will put out two or three new movies every year.
In Our Day, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, is already Hong’s second film this year after In Water premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier in the year. These ultra-micro-budget shoestring indies are more likely than not very brief variations on films he has made previously and, invariably, reliably terrific.
We are surely watching one of the most remarkable filmmaking phases in the career of any director, let alone one of the greatest directors in the world, for, make no mistake Hong is that. In his late “late phase”, Hong has streamlined his filmmaking to such sparseness that his films are made with the equivalent of less than $100,000 per film and feature a production crew of two, Hong himself and his partner, actress Kim Minhee.
Kim, whether she’s in front of the camera or not, acts as production assistant and Hong fulfills the duties of producer, director, writer, composer, editor, and increasingly cinematographer and sound guy! Home films and YouTube videos have a larger crew. Yet such is the singular charm of Hong and his actors that his films remain watchable, effective, and, at their best, powerfully haunting.
In Our Day has two storylines running in parallel, mirroring each other in content and context. Both feature masters in the dusk of their careers. The first storyline features septuagenarian poet Uiju (Ki Joobong), while the second has actress Sangwon (Kim Minhee), retired in her 40s.
Both are visited by young admirers looking to ask them questions, young acting student Jaewon (Ha Seongguk) in the case of Uiju and acting aspirant Jisoo (Park Miso) for Sangwon. In the manner of Hong’s late films, the scenarios are extremely commonplace, almost Joycean.
Characters drink, eat, smoke and carry out regular activities like feeding cats and playing rock-paper-scissors. To honor the classic unities of time and space, the stories take plan in a single day and in a single location each. The two stories alternate scenes and can be thought to be occurring simultaneously, though we do see Sangwon at night and when we cut back to Uiju, it is still day.
Besides the conversation between admirer and muse, interest is provided in the form of a third character in each storyline to add variety to the scenario. For Uiju, it is student Kijoo (Kim Seungyun), who is filming him for a documentary she is making for school. For Sangwon, it is her friend Jungsoo, with whom she is staying and who has a fat cat named Us that Jungsoo loses over the course of the film.
The question of whether the stories are related is open to interpretation. When Sangwon adds hot chili paste to her ramyun, her friend remarks no one eats ramyun this way. Sangwon says she definitely knows someone who does. Cue Uiju eating his ramyun with hot chili paste earlier in the film.
Such playfulness is inherent to Hong’s late films. So is, increasingly, an auto-fictional element. Kim Minhee more or less plays herself and speaks about her retirement and also a director who tapped something inside her that she hadn’t experienced before while making films. Uiju says he must avoid excessive drinking at his age and chides his young admirer for overthinking art.
And there you have it – at less than 90 minutes, In Our Day is a breezy watch. It is small but nevertheless assured and staged with quiet mastery.
Hong’s films in his late phase are extremely economical with no extraneous elements. The film thus unfolds in a mere 23 shots across both storylines. The naturalistic acting style that Hong’s films are known for is readily apparent in the luminous, life-life, artifice-free performances by the actors.
The production is threadbare, with the exteriors looking blown out. By this time, though, we accept the cheap production values as not a bug but a feature, giving Hong’s films their singular artisanal, hand-made texture. It is a rare skill to make a film of such extraordinary modesty, and with such humble means, and render it so deeply engrossing and compelling.
Big questions about truth and beauty and art are posed and pondered by the characters in In Our Day. What is the meaning of life? Don’t look for a definitive answer from Hong just yet, as he surely has several dozens of films to make before he can show us his hand.
In Our Day premiered in the Director’s Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival and will be released by Cinema Guild in the United States.
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
CannesHong SangsooIn Our DayKim MinheeKorea

Around the Internet