South Korean actors Park Miso, Song Sunmi and Kim Minhee in "In Our Day" sit and talk around a table.

‘In Our Day’: Another relaxing reflection from Hong Sang-soo

An introduction to the South Korean maestro through the lens of his 30th feature

From left, Park Miso, Song Sunmi and Kim Minhee in "In Our Day."

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

From a distance, South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo's languid realism might seem hastily cobbled together. His work has an improvised quality, with lengthy, unobtrusive, static medium-shots that allow his actors to chat and meander, but the result is usually keenly observational. It involves far more sleight-of-hand than would appear; his latest, the introspective drama In Our Day is no exception. The story of two seemingly unrelated artists reflecting on their careers, its calculations involve creating natural conversational ebbs and flows that both disguise and reveal artistic anxieties in equal measure.

There's no wrong entry-point for Hong's career—In Our Day is his 30th feature since 1996, though given his turnaround time of late, it feels like he makes 30 films a year—but his professional and personal relationship with The Handmaiden actress Kim Min-hee marked a key turning point for the respected auteur, altering both their career trajectories while yielding intriguing cinematic introspections. After collaborating on Right Now, Wrong Then in 2015, Hong (who was married at the time) became romantically involved with Kim, which the duo finally admitted at the 2017 premiere of their film On the Beach Alone at Night, about a washed-up actress in the aftermath of her affair with a married man. By that point, the public scandal had already rocked Kim's public image, and she has only worked with Hong ever since, on numerous films whose stories echo details of both their lives.

Kim leads In Our Day as well, in which she plays Sangwon, another actress in a state of difficult transition. After returning to Seoul from abroad, she decides to leave acting behind, and temporarily stays with her friend Jungsoo (Song Sunmi), and the latter's white Persian cat. She also entertains visits from a young cousin she hasn't seen in some time, Jisoo (Park Miso), who dreams of becoming an actress, and seeks her advice on where to begin.

Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated story unfolds in another apartment. The elderly poet Ujju (Ki Joobong), having found late-in-life success with Korean youth, is visited by a pair of young artists, documentary filmmaker Kijoo (Kim Seungyun) and aspiring actor Jaewon (Ha Seongguk), who similarly seek his wisdom.

South Korean actors Ki Joobong, Kim Seungyun and Ha Seongguk in "In Our Day," sit around a coffee table iin a living room.

From left, Ki Joobong, Kim Seungyun and Ha Seongguk in "In Our Day."

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

As the film cuts casually back and forth between the two artists' sprawling conversations, Sangwon and Ujju become reflections of one another, both through their cynicism, as well as through their respective quirks and idiosyncrasies. The advice their starry-eyed young fans draw from them forces them to reflect on their own careers, as they're each made to confront the naïve enthusiasm that drove them towards their respective artforms in the first place.

The actress and the poet also feel distinctly reminiscent of the 42-year-old Kim and 63-year-old Hong, but any such literal interpretation does the characters a disservice. They're parts of a whole, and while that's certainly a romantic notion if they do indeed symbolize Kim and Hong, the result is a film comprising fleeting moments of repressed despondency—born from regret and uncertainty—that pierce the veil of their calm, withheld demeanors.

South Korean actors Kim Minhee and Song Sunmi in "In Our Day" in a living room, with a white cat.

Kim Minhee and Song Sunmi in "In Our Day."

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

Hong's deceptively simple long takes, with occasional tilts and pans to follow his characters, are often punctuated by sudden moments of emotional potency. People speak in circles for so long, tip-toeing around what they actually want to say about their dreams and desires, that their ramblings eventually loop back around to dramatic beats defined by deep uncertainty.

The director’s signature languorous aesthetic is especially effective here, as an embodiment of quiet lethargy born of well-disguised inertia and paralyzing exhaustion. Sangwon gives into the temptation of sleeping in. Ujju reflects on vices he's long left behind, like cigarettes and alcohol. Drinks are a key component of Hong's movies, and as familiar viewers might expect, In Our Day similarly builds to scenes of casual imbibing that are as much about the alluring vibes as they are about revealing character during drunken moments.

South Korean actor Ki Joobong in "In Our Day," sits on a rooftop at a small table, with trees in the background.

Ki Joobong in "In Our Day."

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

Hong, who not only wrote and directed the film, but produced, photographed, scored, and edited it too, proves once again the immense and purposeful control he retains over every technical aspect of his work. The movie's lo-fi sound design, for instance, captures the hum of the cityscape at its most relaxing, as well as its most intrusive, and while the unpolished acoustics initially draw attention to themselves, they soon settle into a debilitating white noise, enhancing the characters’ ennui.

In Our Day is, like many of Hong's slice-of-life dramas, a film of familiar routines and casual rhythms. But it's also about the wistfulness and artistic anxieties they can disguise, which often lie dormant, just beneath the surface, until some unassuming interaction yanks them to the fore. It is, like most of Hong's work, a laid-back vibe of a movie—until the sudden moments it isn't.

South Korean director Hong Sang-soo in a gray t-shirt and black pants, stands on the top of a building with other buildings in the background.

Hong Sang-soo, director of "In Our Day."

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

Published on May 16, 2024

Words by Siddhant Adlakha

Siddhant Adlakha is a critic and filmmaker from Mumbai, though he now lives in New York City. They're more similar than you'd think. Find him at @SiddhantAdlakha on Twitter