Above: A very strong drink
Below: Daytime Drinking movie poster
Back in December, a rep from Eleven Arts contacted me to see if I wanted to review the South Korean independent film Daytime Drinking, to coincide with its New Orleans premier. I was a bit bemused, as film reviewing is something I've done in my other life as a journalist, but not as a blogger. I've only ever blogged about food and drink. But, given that the film was clearly about something near and dear to my heart - booze - I thought it would be fun.
Unfortunately, at the time I was knee- deep in my 12 Days of Medieval Feasting series, and just couldn't see interrupting the flow with a review. Was there some other event to which I could peg a write-up? Yes, I was told - the DVD release in late January. Done! I said.
Obviously that was a month ago and here it is, late February, and I'm only now getting around to this post. Bad blogger, bad! But I do have an excuse (sort of). Because this isn't a film site, I thought rather than doing a straight review it would make more sense to include a bit about soju, the drink that features so prominently in the movie. Well, I had a bottle of the stuff on order at a liquor store, and after waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting, they finally got around to letting me know that they couldn't get it for me after all, though I think they just forgot to order it. Frustrated and annoyed, I went on the hunt and found the above bottle of 8,000 Generations Shochu elsewhere that very day.
By now you're probably wondering (if you don't already know) what soju is exactly. But first, a bit about Daytime Drinking. The film follows the misadventures of Hyuk-Jin, a hapless, heartbroken 20-something from Seoul. Quiet, quirky, and engaging, in tone it reminds me quite a bit of early Jarmusch - think Stranger Than Paradise meets modern Korean independent film. All of the (sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable) situations that Hyuk-Jin gets himself into are initiated by excessive, copious amounts of drinking. Anyone who has ever woken up with that sinking "Where was I?" and "What have I done?" feeling will definitely relate to this character. According to the press kit, the trouble just keeps coming because Hyuk-Jin is so respectful of Korean drinking etiquette and culture that he is utterly incapable of refusing a drink that is offered to him. Ever. (This is my new excuse as well.)
The drink in question is soju, and with an alcohol content ranging from 20%-45%, it's no wonder one could get in trouble after just a few drinks. Soju is typically distilled from starches such as potatoes, wheat, or barley, and it's similar to vodka, only a bit sweeter. By one estimate, over 3 billion bottles of this potent potable are consumed annually in Korea. It's quaffable, to be sure, but one of the draws is no doubt its low price - often a bottle can be had for as little as the equivalent of $1 - $3 US dollars.
I certainly wish that my bottle of 8,000 Generations artisinal shochu had cost $3 instead of $30! Oh well. But as it turns out, I bought shochu, which is made made in Japan, not Korean-made soju. It's very similar, but not identical. I found it to be quite light and crisp, particularly when served ice cold. Many people like to use it in a mixed drink in place of vodka, but I think I'll stick to vodka when I want a gimlet or a Bloody Mary, and shochu when I feel like having a cold drink other than beer or sake with spicy food.
My advice? Rent (or buy) a copy of Daytime Drinking and sit back with a nice, big, cold bottle of soju (or shochu). By the end of the film, I promise you that you'll really understand what poor Hyuk-Jin is going through. Whether or not you remember anything the next day is another story altogether.
Drinking at a bus stop ...
...and a truckstop
...and the beach