Hong Sangsoo closes out Director’s Fortnight with this slender conversation piece

In Our Day

Source: Cannes International Film Festival

‘In Our Day’

Dir: Hong Sang-soo. S Korea. 2022. 84 mins.

“Don’t look for meaning,” says a character in the latest film from Hong Sangsoo. Admirers of the notoriously prolific South Korean auteur nevertheless habitually take pleasure in winkling out subtle meanings from places where it might not obviously seem to be evident – with those of his films that seem most slender often occasioning the most complex critical readings. In Hong’s Directors Fortnight closing title In Our Day, it just so happens that there is plenty on the table when it comes to themes, with at least two scenes featuring explicit philosophising. Even so, meaning is ultimately in the eye of the viewer in what emerges as one of Hong’s most narratively spare films - if this conversation piece can be said to contain narrative at all. Less substantial and approachable than Hong’s 2022 features The Novelist’s Film and Walk Up, the fragile, fragmentary In Our Day won’t earn Hong any new fans, but avid followers will enjoy its elusive felicities and love puzzling over its enigmatic gaps.

Perhaps In Our Day is simply another Hong Sangsoo fragment, and arguably not an altogether major one

 The film features two hugely charismatic performances – one from Hong’s long-term muse Kim Min-hee, the other from his regular player Ki Joo-bong – and essentially comprises two alternating sets of three episodes. One concerns Sangwon (Kim), an actress who has been away from Korea for a while, and who has lost faith in her profession. She’s staying with her friend Jung-soo (Song Sunmi) and at the start, Sangwon fusses over Jung-soo’s cat, a friendly leonine ball of fur mysteriously named Us. They’re then joined by Sangwon’s young cousin Jisoo (Park Misoo), who has come to ask advice on acting, but not before making a surprise confession to the two other women.           

Elsewhere – possibly on the same day, as the title suggests – elderly poet Hong Uiji (Ki Joo-bong) is being filmed by a young female student named Kijoo (Park Miso). They’re later joined by an earnest young man, Jaewon (Ha Seong-guk), who asks Hong some heavyweight but super-vague questions (“What is life? What is life?”) and gets some protracted but teasingly nebulous answers. Affable old sage Uiji, incidentally, has sworn off drink for health reasons, leading Kijoo to introduce him to the delights of alcohol-free beer – but, this being a Hong Sang-soo film, it’s a safe bet that a bottle of soju, or several, will turn up at some point.           

It is never clear what the connections are between the two strands. What’s intriguing, in the latest of Hong’s many sly structural experiments (he is indeed like a minimalist poet exploring variations in form) is the way they alternate, and the points at which one strand cuts off to make way for the other. Yet there are fleeting hints about what the links might be between these two seemingly unrelated threads: apart from twinned shots of characters on beds, they involve guitars, and a particular way of serving ramyen with hot sauce.           

In addition, each section is introduced by captions that at first seem to give us essential exposition - for example, telling us that Sang-won has recently returned to Korea and is relying on Jung-soo, and that the old poet has suddenly acquired a young following. But they also tells us things about these people’s thoughts, which aren’t necessarily evident on screen – Sang-won knows that ultimately she must rely on herself, and Uij could really use a drink.           

There’s no clear explanation either for the English title, except the fact that all the action conceivably takes place in a single day, and there is some discussion about the place and meaning of poetry in our current age. The poet imparts gnomic wisdom in a key scene while, in a self-reflexive vein, Sang-won comments on the question of performance, reality and self-knowledge. Philosophically, there is plenty to unpack – yet it might be that the deeper resonances of the film really lie in the gaps in the talk, in the silences, in the arrangement of space and the intermittent camera movements, even in the tread of Us the cat. But, in keeping with Uiji’s ‘it-is-what-it-is’ message, perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about any of that. Perhaps In Our Day is simply another Hong Sangsoo fragment, and arguably not an altogether major one - although to followers, that may be a meaningless distinction. 

Production company: Jeonwonsa Film Co

International sales: Finecut cineinfo@finecut.co.kr

Producer: Hong Sangsoo

Screenplay: Hong Sangsoo

Cinematography: Hong Sangsoo

Editing: Hong Sangsoo

Music: Hong Sangsoo

Main cast: Ki Joo-bong, Kim Min-hee, Song Sun-mi, Park Miso, Ha Seong-guk, Kim Seung-yun (Kijoo)