Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (On the Beach at Night Alone) explores well-worn themes of adultery in his latest, The Day After. When the head of a publishing company named Kim (Kwon Hae-hyo) has an affair with a former employee (Kim Min-hee), he winds up haunted by her memory and attempting to jumpstart a second affair with a new employee a few weeks later. And though adultery may seem like old news to American audiences, it's a timely topic for Korean culture, where it was ruled in 2015 that cheating on a spouse was no longer a punishable crime after more than six decades in which offenders faced potential jail time.
The injustice of Kim's affair is made brutally clear when his wife, mistaking the new employee for the woman her husband previously cheated with, physically attacks her—even if the angry and violent wronged woman trope does seem lacking in nuance. Jealousy ensues, however, and Kim, being the insensitive coward he is, fires the new employee so his former mistress can take her job. But he still can't figure out exactly how he feels—no matter how many shots of soju he consumes.
The women in the film act as the voice of conscience and reason, alerting Kim to his cowardice and perhaps representing all spouses who have been hurt by infidelity; The Day After's crisp black and white cinematography reflects Kim's tragically simplified worldview.
Although the overall message of the film probably has more cultural significance in Korea, it does carry emotional weight. Still, Hong presents a variation on very familiar themes, and it could have used more than beautiful black and white to truly stand out.
+Beautiful cinematography; haunting soundtrack
-Not super original infidelity stuff
The Day After
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
With Kwon, Kim, Jo, Park and Kang
Jean Cocteau, PG-13, 1:31