Free-flowing Korean film teases the brain

A movie director, currently on hiatus from his career, comes to Seoul for a couple of days. He has an idea he’ll get together with an old friend, but other than that he’s at loose ends.

Those loose ends extend in brain-teasing directions in “The Day He Arrives,” a 79-minute work by South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (“Woman on the Beach”). Shot in crisp black-and-white, this is one of those films (like last year’s “Certified Copy”) that raise questions about what exactly you’re watching.

For the first half-hour, it looks normal enough. The filmmaker, Seongjun (played by Yu Junsang) runs into the old friend, has drinks with a group of film students who recognize him, and hooks up with a former flame.

But then we find ourselves returning to a bar we’ve visited before, and Seongjun’s narration tells us where we’re going, as though for the first time.

A scene then plays out that is significantly different from the scene we saw at the bar earlier, which gives the unsettling impression that we are watching a parallel-universe version of the same sequence.

Maybe a butterfly flapped its wings somewhere, I don’t know. But with the scenes that follow, we appear to see different possibilities Seongjun’s day in Seoul.

In some versions of these events, he kisses the woman who owns the bar, in some he doesn’t. The fact that she looks a lot like his former flame makes the impulse even more confusing.

It could be that all of this is Seongjun’s conjecture about what might happen during his time in Seoul, as he waits for his friend to call him back.

These story threads have the quality of daydreams, and maybe this is how a filmmaker’s mind works when he’s not working on a movie (Seongjun appears to have temporarily given up on creating his marginal movies, which even the film students admit that haven’t actually seen).

I don’t have a definitive answer about what’s going on in “The Day He Arrives,” but I enjoyed watching its smooth flow. If you like movies of the reality-bending (or maybe it’s reality-splitting, in this case) variety, this one will serve nicely.

“The Day He Arrives” (3 stars)

A film director, temporarily on professional hiatus, shows up in Seoul to meet a friend. But what follows (in a dreamlike black-and-white 79 minutes) appears to be parallel-universe versions of how he spends his hours in the city. Whatever it is, director Hong Sang-soo’s easy-flowing tease is easy to watch and wonder about. In Korean, with English subtitles.

Rating: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Now showing: Northwest Film Forum

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