The Day After ★★★★½

The manner in which Hong continues to mine new avenues with his elemental setups speaks both to his clever facility as a filmmaker and the myriad ways that men's cowardice and self-martyring narcissism can manifest in a system designed to give them every benefit of the doubt. Still mining the fallout of his own extramarital affair, Hong crafts one of his bleakest works, in which initial comedy of errors gives way to a somber rumination on ideas of trust and faith. Areum (Kim Min-hee), forced to reckon with her new boss's infidelity with his prior assistant due to a case of mistaken identity, shifts rapidly into Bong-wan's voice of conscience, calling out his attempts to shirk the responsibility of his actions.

Areum's unwieldy position as a random point drawn into a love triangle into an strange quadrangle is regularly stressed by her proximity to the edge of the frame as if aware she's in this story and wants out. There are hilarious scenes early on, such as a conversation between her and Bongwan in which she so effortlessly outclasses him intellectually that he can only stammer "You're smarter than I thought!" to try and deflect and end his feeling of embarrassment. Later, drawn into spat between Bongwan and his wife, she silently endures the other woman's misundertanding and her boss's pathetic self-defense, unable to identify with either. Gradually, her own certainty of character becomes strangely tragic as it is consistently subordinated to Bongwan's condescensions, the wife's insistent recriminations and the insinuations of Bongwan's lover Changsook. Oddly, I kept thinking of the new Twin Peaks in that both share a serious rumination on how people thinking of themselves as the protagonist of their own stories affects their status as supporting players in everyone else's. That this is Hong's most unsettling film, and the one that reverberates most troublingly after a conclusion that even has a bit of Peaks timeline fudging to it, albeit here rendered in willful oblivion instead of supernatural revision, makes it all the more powerful.