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August 21, 2005

A Tale of Cinema, 2005

tale_cinema.gifHong Sang-soo makes a refreshing - and much welcomed - return to form with his most structurally complex, insightful, and thematically multilayered, yet deceptively facile and satisfying film since Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors in Tale of Cinema. The curious introduction of a narrative voice-over and the appearance of formalized, zooming into close-up - devices that have not previously been signature elements within Hong's earlier work - provides a hint of the film's concentric, overarching structure. As the film begins, Sangwon, an aimless and indecisive college student on school holiday after final examinations, avoids walking together with his older brother by instead taking a side street, where he finds a former girlfriend, Yongsil, working at an optician's store. Unsure of his own emotional preparedness in rekindling the relationship, he decides to watch a play while waiting for her to complete her work shift, delaying the decision to meet her later in the evening. The final words of anguish in the play, uttered by a desperately ill child unable to be comforted by his mother, would later be echoed by Sangwon from the rooftop of his parents' apartment after his own failed act of despair. In the film's corollary chapter, Tongsu, a struggling, rootless, and inscrutable filmmaker who has become obsessed with a short film directed by his former classmate - and in particular, the devoted and obliging woman in the film - encounters the young actress in person and begins to ingratiate himself into her company, acting out his projected image of her by imitating gestures and revisiting locations from the film in an attempt to realize his own created image of her. Concluding with a first-person voiceover, the film is a provocative and articulate exposition on the filmmaker's role (and moral complicity) as the creator of images and idealized fantasy, and an incisive cautionary tale on the demystification (and irresolvability) of unattainable illusion.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 21, 2005 | | Filed under 2005


In its retrospective commentary, Sang-won's voice-over may well be an hommage by Hong to Bresson's early films, the films Hong claims to most admire by the director whose writings convinced him to become a filmmaker.

Posted by: Marshall Deutelbaum on Aug 21, 2005 4:57 PM | Permalink

Ah, interesting thought about Bresson, and it definitely works well within the context of the film in the sense that these people are not able to articulate to others what it is they truly feel or need. In terms of narrative device, it also reinforces the audience's consciousness of cinema rather than just creating a slice-of-life portrait...it's more consciously artistic. For a moment there, I almost thought I was watching Wong Kar-wai film. :)

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 21, 2005 6:20 PM | Permalink

Marshall -- that's an excellent observation.

I spent several days with Hong last year, and he did talk in great length about his love of Bresson, and how it was only after he saw Diary of a Country Priest that he realized that he could create a certain type of narrative film.

I've held off on reviewing Tale of Cinema because I honestly don't know what to make of it. I will now watch it again with these thoughts in mind.

Great review Acquarello. Thanks.

Posted by: Filmbrain on Aug 23, 2005 11:38 AM | Permalink

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