Seoul Power

An undercurrent of melancholy distinguishes Night and Day

Night and Day *** 1/2 At 8:10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 and 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26 Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque

Considering that most of South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo's films (Turning Gate, Woman on the Beach and the deliciously titled Woman Is the Future of Man) have been so informed by French New Wave directors like Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, it's only fitting that his 2008 film Night and Day was actually filmed in Paris. Not surprisingly, the cosmopolitan setting feels like going home again for the prolific Hong.

After a minor drug bust, thirtysomething painter Sung-nam (Kim Yeong-ho) impulsively hops a plane to Paris. During his extended sabbatical in the City of Light, Sung-nam does a lot of moping and flirting when he's not chatting long distance with his wife (Hwang Su-jeong) back in Seoul. Because Sung-nam is apparently irresistible to the opposite sex — at least to attractive Korean expats like himself — flirting becomes his primary activity while waiting to fly home. (His wife gives him regular updates on his legal status.)

There's a pair of comely art students (Park Eun-hye and Seo Min-jeong), as well as ex-girlfriend Min-seon (Kim Yu-jin) who's now living in Paris with her (never-seen) French husband. The charming scenes between a clearly still- besotted Sung-nam and the phlegmatic Min-seon recall Rohmer's Six Moral Tales at their most exquisitely verbose, and Sung-nam even begins to physically resemble Truffaut (and Godard) muse/alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud by the film's midpoint.

As always with Hong, it's the subtle undercurrent of melancholy lurking beneath nearly every exchange that ultimately makes his characters so moving and relatable. Sung-nam may be nothing more than a South Korean Peter Pan, but his amorous adventures in the scintillating Neverland of Paris put most contemporary romantic comedies (particularly American rom-coms) to shame. Why Hong still hasn't become as cherished a fixture on the domestic art house front as, say, Pedro Almodovar is as mystifying as it is sad.

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