Any US release of a film by Hong Sang-soo is cause for celebration, even if it is completely devoid of bells and whistles. In this case, Hong’s eighth feature from 2008, released earlier this year on DVD, throws us into Parisian exile with the socially inept Kim Sung-nam, a middle aged painter fleeing his wife and his home after being pegged for drug possession. Night and Day opens with this prologue—explaining that he was smoking marijuana "for the first time" with exchange students from the US—while plying the dramatic overtures of Beethoven’s 7th. This immediate contrast between narrative and score is reiterated in the contradiction that Sung-nam, an artist, is bored and apathetic in one of the most artistic cities in the world. The only catalysts for stimulation in the City of Lights for Sung-nam are, of course, women: an ex-girlfriend who he meets coincidentally and two art students introduced to him by a friend at his guesthouse. Emotionally lost, Sung-nam mimics a sense of purpose by randomly obsessing over these women while proving his manliness through drinking and arm wrestling.
Hong creates another subtle masterpiece out of combative drinking, failed flirtations and an atmosphere of passive-aggressive ennui in a Paris lockdown. Kim Yeong-ho is the burly stand in for Hong’s alter ego in Night and Day—his physical masculinity in direct contrast to his emotional immaturity. Although this may sound like Hong Sang-soo du jour, Hong sustains Sung-nam’s lackluster days with a surprisingly long runtime of 2 ½ hours and also throws in a surreal dream sequence that forces the viewer to question nearly every event in the film. What parts were simply feverish dreams of an uncomplicated man? Foreshadowing Hong’s more recent The Day He Arrives, Night and Day emerges as a film of possibilities within a narrow scope of one man’s psyche. Zeitgeist Films delivers only the film to DVD with no supplements, but considering that less that half of Hong’s films are available in the US, this is good enough.