Zeitgeist Films // 2008 // 144 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // February 13th, 2012
Do you know how I'm living here?
Seong-nam (Sung-in Han) flees his home in South Korea after being implicated for smoking pot with some American exchange students, leaving behind his wife and painting career. He mopes around Paris for awhile before befriending fellow South Korean art students Hyun-ju (Min-jung Seo) and Yu-jung (Eun-hye Park). Setting aside his feelings for his wife, he goes whole-hog after the much younger Yu-jung, who eventually succumbs to his persistent begging.
And that's pretty much the entirety of the story of Night and Day, which is a problem because the film takes 144 plodding minutes to tell it. Each very short segment begins with the date, then shows a bit of the story, except for the multitude of segments that show what seem to be random Parisian moments that have nothing at all to do with the story. Presumably they're meant to increase the sense of time passing, and of the isolation that Seong-nam feels, but all they do is drag the thin plot along like a carcass behind a lion.
The performances are strong; there is not a time when anyone feels out of character, and nothing feels forced. Unfortunately the performances are wasted on extraordinarily unlikable characters. Nearly everyone is completely self-absorbed, none more than Seong-nam, who refuses to take no for an answer, no matter the cost to anyone else. When he meets an old girlfriend, she mentions that she had six abortions while they were together, simply because he refused to wear a condom. He uses everyone he meets and never gives a thing of himself. Even after he has a breakdown, wherein he confesses his selfishness and promises to do better, he shows no signs of changing; his first act is to prove to himself that he is better than a North Korean man, and he has no qualms about lying and running from his self-made problems.
The story also suffers from logical difficulties and a poor sense of closure. Why didn't a supposedly great painter do any actual paining? Wouldn't that have solved his money problems? Speaking of which, how was he able to afford all those oyster meals if he's supposedly so broke? This problem extends to the other characters, too. What was the true story behind the art school plagiarism? Is Yu-jung really in school anymore, and if not, where does she go during the day? Seong-nam doesn't really care as long as he's getting laid, so the audience never finds out, which makes the entire storyline irrelevant. The main story is more of a living diary of Seong-nam's life during those few months, so it doesn't follow the traditional build-up/climax/denouement storyline, and the ending feels empty. He clearly didn't learn anything from his time in Paris; in fact, his selfish worldview was basically validated and reinforced from it.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture is fine. There is a bit of pixilation and grain in darker scenes, but it is minimal and not distracting. Colors are balanced but a tad blanched. There is not much in the way of music or ambient sound, so the Dolby 2.0 stereo sound only has to worry about speech. Most of the film is in Korean, with a little bit of contextual French and a couple moments of English, which is used as a sort of go-between language when a Korean and French person need to speak to each other. Interestingly, only the Korean is subtitled. There are no extras, but the scene selection menu gets a star for its unique style; it looks like a calendar, with marks corresponding to the days depicted in the film.
I suppose Night and Day should be considered a character study...unfortunately it's not studying someone the audience would want to care about. The film is filled with really good acting, but its lack of empathetic characters or a firm editing hand drags the meager story on far too long.
Guilty of selfishness, condemned to wear lime green spandex until it learns humility.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Korean)
Running Time: 144 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated