Strictly Film School
site infodirectorsgenresthemesimageryJournalNotes
Related Reading: Where are the Snows of Yesteryear? Hong Sang-soo Searches for Lost Time in Woman is the Future of Man, featured in Issue No. 33 of Senses of Cinema.


Daijiga umule pajinnal, 1996
[The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well]

Lee A struggling, self-absorbed writer named Hyo-sub (Kim Yui-seong) visits the home of a former colleague, ostensibly to retrieve a submitted draft for further editing (although, more likely, to probe into the possibility of receiving a writing fee advance on the authored piece). Having arranged a meeting with his occasional lover, a young woman named Min-jae (Cho Eun-sook) at a diner - undoubtedly, to insinuate himself for a free meal and to goad the obliging Min-jae, a former publishing house employee, into proofreading his manuscript - the brazen Hyo-sub then asks her for spending money under the pretense of accidentally leaving his wallet at home (a transparent excuse that Min-jae does not at all believe, but nevertheless humors). The pathetic (and lopsided) transaction becomes even more reprehensible when Hyo-sub is subsequently observed inside a bookstore casting a sideways glance at an attractive woman as she browses one of his novels before meeting his other lover, a married woman named Po-kyong (Lee Eung-kyung), where he ostentatiously - and atypically - pays for a room at a modest, but higher end, hourly rate love motel for the afternoon tryst. Demanding complete devotion from Po-kyong at the moment of coupling - even as he reveals little compunction in continuing his meaningless affair with the lovestruck Min-jae who maintains a series of odd and occasionally nefarious jobs in order to support him - Hyo-sub seeks reassurance from his deeply conflicted married lover with a vow that she abstain from a sexual relationship with her husband Dong-woo (Park Jin-seong), a verminophobic businessman whose work often sends him away from home on interminable road trips for ill-planned, unproductive client meetings. However, as Hyo-sub continues to struggle to come to terms with his failed vocation, Po-kyong and Min-jae find themselves inextricably entangled in their lover's ever-spiraling, self-destructive cycle of emotional inertia, abuse, and manipulation.

Recalling the disenchanted and acutely tragicomic bohemianism epitomized by Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore, The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well is haunting, intelligently structured, and elegantly understated portrait of alienation, emotional vacuity, and failed intellectualism. Hong Sang-soo visually reflects the characters' sense of disconnection and isolation through distancing medium shots, acts of dedramatized sexuality, and creation of narrative ellipses through episodic point-of-view changes among the protagonists (that nevertheless, retain a temporal linearity to the film). Shooting in predominantly insular (and claustrophobic) interior spaces - restaurants, motel rooms, ticket booths, buses, and makeshift recording studios - Hong's exterior shots often depict a similar violation of space: whether innocuous, as in Hyo-sub picking a miniature citrus fruit from his neighbor's potted plant or an ailing passenger unable to suppress his nausea while sitting next to the obsessive Dong-woo; or gravely reprehensible, as in the drunken Hyo-sub's incessant harassment of an acquaintance's fiancé and subsequently, a waitress after she accidentally drops a tray of food or a samaritan who tries to protect Min-jae during a violent argument with Hyo-sub at an alley. It is through this recurring theme of personal transgression that the film conveys the implicit correlation between alienation and violence, psychological and physical abuse, sex without intimacy and exploitation. In the end, it is this cross-contamination of Hyo-sub's existential malady to the people around him - including those who try to save him - that, like the metaphoric errant barnyard animal of the title, leaves a tainted, pungent aftertaste in its inutile, decaying, and burdensome wake.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

| Home | Top |



Kangwon-do ui him, 1998
[The Power of Kangwon Province]

Park/Im/Kim/ChunAboard a crowded overnight passenger train bound for the seaside resort of Kangwon province, an exhausted, half-asleep, standing commuter momentarily drifts into annoyed consciousness after having been bumped into by an oblivious, bespectacled, casually dressed man named Jaewan (Chun Jaehyun) on his way back to an adjoining car after purchasing refreshments and snacks from a mobile food vendor. The episode would prove to be the first in a series of coincidental near encounters between the young woman, a college student named Jisook (Oh Yun-hong) and her former lover, a married preofessor named Sang-kwon (Baek Jong-hak) who, unbeknownst to each other, is subsequently revealed to be traveling on the same train with his friend and former colleague, the previously observed food cart customer, Jaewan. Having recently separated from Sang-kwon, the melancholic Jisook has joined her student friends Eunkyoung (Park Hyunyoung) and Misun (Im Sunyoung) on the trip to the popular tourist resort for a recreational weekend of communing with nature: lazing on the beach, hiking through the woods (along the way, finding an oddly displaced, dying fish on the ground), and visiting a well-traveled waterfalls attraction where they pass by a polite and unassuming couple along a narrow footbridge on the trail. Accompanied by a genial and accommodating police officer (Kim Yoosuk), the friends spend an aimless evening carousing at a local bar where Jisook's somber introspection over the recent and unexpected end of her relationship with Sang-kwon provokes a contentious outburst from Misun, even as the chaos surrounding the news of a woman's suspicious fall from a cliff - the woman on the footbridge - barely registers in the incoherent thoughts of the inebriated young women. Separated from her friends, the reluctant Jisook is left alone with the over-attentive police officer, resulting in an awkward and ultimately unrequited evening of failed intimacy and unavoidable regret.

Hong Sang-soo creates a visually distilled and tonally muted, yet captivating and affectionate portrait of disconnection and longing in
The Power of Kangwon Province. Although the film is thematically reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski's expositions on fate, chance, and synchronicity, Hong stylistically diverges from Kieslowski's more structured and formalized approach to cinema, capturing organic character interactions and naturalistic compositions (shot from a fixed camera angle and predominantly using unobtrusive medium shots). The film is structured into two distinct, yet narratively overlapping perspectives - first through Jisook's point of view, then Sang-kwon's - establishing a series of situational and episodic coincidences between the recently separated lovers that metaphorically reflect their continued inability to connect beyond physical intimacy: the parallel imagery of the fishes existing outside of their natural habitat (Jisook's discovery of a fish in the woods and Sang-kwon's adopted fishes from his vacating neighbors) that reflects the characters' own sense of emotional displacement without each other; Jisook's expunged writing in the sand that is repeated in her reaction to the discovery of a message left on the wall of her apartment (later identified to be from Sang-kwon) that illustrates an underlying desire for communication that is invariably left unarticulated (the unrealized attempt at communication, in turn, recalls Jisook's earlier story of a young secret admirer who had once fallen from a rooftop and instinctively provided her telephone number after regaining consciousness instead of his own); their separate encounters with the woman on the footbridge (whose own mysterious fall mirrors the ambiguous circumstances behind Jisook's young admirer's motivation). Creating an understatedly intricate and delicate balance between impulsive divine predestination and the inertia of existential banality, the film serves as an insightful and provocative examination of human intimacy.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

| Home | Top |



Oh! Soo-jung, 2000
[Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors]

Lee/JeongA dashing and affluent man named Jae-hoon (Jeong Bo-seok) arrives alone at a hotel resort and begins to occupy his time lazing about (and cursorily inspecting the ventilation system of) the empty, comfortable suite until the anxious distraction of a telephone call from his mobile phone - auspiciously ringing the tune of a tin-pot, synthesized rendition of Ravel's Bolero - reveals that he has arranged for a daytime rendezvous with a young screenwriter, Soo-jung (Lee Eun-joo). Claiming to be running late - and undoubtedly having second thoughts on the consummation of their nascent affair - Soo-jung attempts to postpone their unavoidable sexual encounter for another day against the unyielding and exasperated entreaties of a persistent Jae-hoon. Proceeding through episodic (and numerically demarcated) chapters, the film then follows an apparently linear narrative trajectory as it traces the evolution of the couple's relationship from one fateful day when Jae-hoon's friend, an independent filmmaker named Young-soo (Moon Seong-keun) attends an art exhibition (at the appropriately named Growrich Gallery) with Soo-jung, ostensibly for inspiration for their ongoing project, and the two demure and introverted colleagues find themselves politely acquiescing to have lunch with the personable and confident Jae-hoon (perhaps to broach the subject of financial backing for the film). However, despite the seemingly inexorable progression of the story towards the moment of the unrealized union - a preempted relational milestone irreverently symbolized by the image a stalled aerial passenger tram - the film then oddly reverts to episodes from the preceding chapters, as experienced from an alternate point-of-view (presumably, Soo-jung's) that, in the process, tempers (if not negates) the perceived reality of their anticlimactic coupling.

Recalling the boldly elliptical, modernist structure of early Alain Resnais, but deeply rooted in the muted aesthetics and indigenous culture of Korean society, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors is an audacious and drolly incisive, yet elegantly (and understatedly) composed human comedy on memory, perspective, and intimacy. Like the idiosyncratic and ingeniously referential English title - derived from Marcel Duchamp's enigmatic two-glass panel, mixed material modern art piece, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (a.k.a. The Large Glass) - the film reflects the artist's abstract and relativistic exposition on the amorphous and dynamic (and consequently, ephemeral) nature of romantic relationships between men and women. (In the Duchamp masterpiece, a figurative assembly of suitors on the lower panel are materially placed apart from the bride situated alone on the upper panel.) Hong Sang-soo similarly incorporates a mixed media approach - interweaving traditional and modern elements of film and novel - to create emotional dimension and character texturality in the narrative absence of objective reality and absolute perspective: permutations of chapters that reveal contradicting ancillary details and high contrast black and white compositions that underscore Soo-jung and Jae-hoon's alternate points of view and more importantly, the implicit irony of situation in the perceived development of their relationship. In presenting a dispassionate and irreconcilable chronicle of the search for intimacy and companionship, Hong creates a bittersweet and fractured tale of love, romance, and human desire.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

| Home | Top |