The Day He Arrives, a Korean film by director Sang-soo Hong, is arguably one of the best foreign films released domestically in 2012. Every once in a blue moon, a film introduces an extremely original concept that can only be told in a method that requires more patience from a viewer than usual. The premise is this: the film is divided into three stories. However, these three stories are nearly the exact same story with only minor differences between the three. Why? Because director Hong is trying to illustrate the rather fascinating variations in how someone's life can unfold in one day. This idea can only be explored by really delving into what the characters say, their actions, and their opinions of each person they meet. These viewpoints cause certain events to occur while other events happen by chance.
The first segment of the story is extremely bleak. It is meant to illustrate the worst-case scenario. It is here where Sungjoon and his colleagues first discuss the randomness of the universe. As far as our main characters are concerned, life is completely meaningless. Events are connected to each other by humans attempting to extracting meaning from the events, trying to find subtext and subliminals when they simply do not exist. However, the film's complete story appears to prove the exact opposite. The events do have meaning, but can only be completely understood when a viewer, or anyone for that matter, can make the most of their actions and hope the best out of fate or God. In comparison, the second segment of the story is the mostly fantasy-based. It is completely shaped around romanticism and fairy tale beauty. That being said, the final segment presented can be considered the most realistic in many ways. A number of events are simply cause and effect, a number of them are created by the effort and goodwill of the characters, while a few other events are caused by some type of fateful meeting or understanding.
What makes this so interesting is the question of how much a person can really control in their life and how much is just a series of 'cause and effect' moments that simply can lead into other things. The film's protagonist and chief architect of these events is a filmmaker, rather appropriately. This 40-something college professor and director named Sungjoon meets several intriguing characters throughout the day: a fan of his work, a few college students, an old friend, a girl intrigued by his work and personality, a few antagonistic figures, and rather intriguingly—the IMAGE of his ex-girlfriend. I say image because she is really the turning point to each short story of Sungjoon's day. Without spoiling too much of the plot but creating enough interest in this generalized review, the whole point of these three variations on one day is how Sungjoon's reacts to the image of his ex-girlfriend. In the first story presented, our lead character does in fact barge in on his ex, but he eventually meets another girl who looks exactly like her. The quandary is: how is he going to react to her and what will happen based on his and her interactions? There are a number of events that become either mundane or extraordinary based on the segment's overall perception, but they all shaped around the idea of fate and hope as opposed to just cause and effect. This creates a unique look into how life can unfold for anyone, complete with gorgeous black and white cinematography to highlight the high and lows of life. In the tradition of a classic Federico Fellini film, our hero examines his life. This movie shows us how life treats our hero.