(photo courtesy of DaytimeDrinking.com)
There may not be another country where drinking is as much a part of the culture as it is in South Korea. Three billion bottles of soju, a vodka-like distilled alcohol known as Korea’s unofficial drink, are consumed every year which breaks down to an average of 90 bottles for every Korean over the age of 20. The most popular brand of soju, Jinro, is the top-selling liquor on the planet.
So it’s not a surprise that Daytime Drinking, a new film from South Korea by Young-seok Noh is set squarely in this world—where to refuse an offer of a drink is socially unacceptable, but to accept the drink may lead to unfortunate consequences.
Hyuk-jin (Sam-dong Song) has just broken up with his girlfriend. His buddies take him out for a night of drinking and decide that the best way to lift his spirits, is for all of them to meet the following afternoon in the small seaside town of Jeongseon where a festival is taking place.
So the next day, Hyuk-jin arrives in Jeongseon; only to learn that his friends have forgotten all about the trip, the festival took place weeks ago and the town is nearly empty since the vacation crowds have already thinned out. He is alone but decides to stay at a hostel until his friends arrive (of course, they never do). A series of misadventures follow involving a mysterious woman, a lost wallet, lost clothing, assorted eccentric characters and lots of drinking.
Daytime Drinking, which was made for an ultra-low $20,000 by director/writer/editor/cameraman/composer/art director Young-seok Noh, is a distant cousin to films like Martin Scorsese’s After Hours or even the Chris Columbus comedy Adventures in Babysitting but with a distinctly Korean identity. It’s a comedy, both black and farcical, about an everyman trapped in a bizarre nightmare that he can’t seem to wake up from—Hyuk-jin is Alice down a rabbit hole he desperately wants to climb out of, but is thwarted at every turn by fate and alcohol.
Wearing so many hats impressively, Noh is a true auteur and ably juggles the different demands of the film. If the pacing lags at times (and it does), there’s always something right around the corner to re-grab our attention—a quirky character that seems to pop out of nowhere, a new situation that we couldn’t predict. That’s the film’s greatest strength—it’s constant ability to surprise us. With such a low budget and the lack of the usual Hollywood-type bells and whistles to distract us, this quality is vital to the film’s success. There’s no deep message here—it’s as light as a feather, but Noh recognizes that and works with what he has to the film’s advantage.
Daytime Drinking is an inventive, funny work announcing a filmmaker of promise and ingenuity. It’s like a night of drinking with your good friends—entertaining, warm and unpredictable. There might be a hangover waiting for you the next morning, but for the moment, it’s all good.
Daytime Drinking is currently playing until August 27 in San Francisco at the 4 Star Theatre, 2200 Clement St.
Philip W. Chung is a writer and Co-Artistic Director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. Lodestone’s latest production of the classic musical Closer Than Ever runs until August 30 in Los Angeles. For more info, go to: www.lodestonetheatre.org. Philip is also a blogger at the new site founded by director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow): www.youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com