Sang-soo Hong


(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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Sang-soo Hong (Korea, 1960)

Daijiga Umule Pajinnal/ The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (1996)

Kangwon-do ui him/ The Power of Kangwon Province (1998) tells two stories, one after the other, that turn out to be complementary. Each story is a bleak meditation on alienation, but it is not made clear why one needs to see two of them. The other problem with this film is that it is terribly slow, with many details that don't seem to add anything to the (rather plain and simple) story. Finally, it feels like the plot is not fully fleshed out. It feels like the point of making the two halves meet at the end is only to wink at the viewer, certainly not to actually complete the story of the two ex lovers and not even to reveal some kind of meaning in what happened.

Three female students from the capital city meet at a train station in a region known for its natural beauty. They are on vacation and they set out to explore the forests and beaches of the region. When they need a place to stay, a kind police officer helps them find cheap and good accommodation. They have dinner with him. He tells them that he is married. Two of the girls, Misun and Jisook, have an argument, after which Misun walks to the beach and the third girl, Eunkyoung, goes to check on her. Alone with the cop, Jisook gets drunk and throws up in the street. He takes her to his guard post where they cuddle. During their stay, the girls hear of a girl who died falling from a cliff. The girls leave the following day. When she gets back home, she finds a message scribbled on the wall next to her front door, obviously a message from her former boyfriend, who was also a married man. Jisook keeps in touch with the cop and one day he convinces her to come back and visit him. She is angry at him when he makes her wait at the bus stop, but then enjoys the day. Later she gets drunk again, he takes her to a motel room and tries to make love to her, but she doesn't want to. While she is in the restroom, he climbs over the handrail of the balcony and hangs on the street. No sex takes place. He mentions that they are now investigating the death of the girl as a murder. The following day she takes the bus back home and cries the whole time.
The scene changes abruptly. Sang-kwon, an aspiring professor, is telling his friend, a professor, that he just broke up with a younger girl. Sang-kwon is actually a married man with a child, apparently a happy marriage. His friend encourages him to visit an influential man who can help him obtain a teaching position. Sang-kwon is skeptic. While walking outside with his family, a a car that is backing up almost runs over his child. He then visits the middle-aged fat influential man bringing him a bottle of expensive whiskey. Later he files the papers to apply for the teaching position at the university. He is nervous. His friend invites him to go on a brief vacation in the same mountain region where the girls went. They ride the same train and explore the same forests, but they also venture on the mountains from which there are spectacular views. They meet a girl who is alone. She seems ready to flirt but then she disappears. When Sang-kwon sees her again, accompanied by an older man, he has an argument with her as if she cheated on him. The two friends hire two prostitutes and Sang-kwon ends the night making love to a whore who keeps telling him to hurry up. The following morning the two friends try in vain to book a flight. While they are waiting for seats to free up, they see the man who was with the cute girl board the plane alone. Eventually they succeed and get back to the capital. Sang-kwon cannot resist and walks to the apartment of his old girlfriend, which we now realize is Ji-sook, and writes the message on the wall that she is going to find soon. We now realize that the second half of the film is contemporary with the first half. Sang-kwon reads in the newspaper that the cute girl fell from a cliff to her death. He calls the police to report that she was with a man and he saw the man board the plane alone, hence it may have been a murder. He obtains the teaching position at the university and celebrates with his friends and the influential mentor. Ji-sook happens to be there and walks to the table to say "hi". Later they meet in a motel room. He wants to have sex but she tells him that she cannot because she just had an abortion, and it wasn't his baby either. He is so horny that she performs oral sex on him. Then he returns to his ordinary life.

Oh Soojung/ Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000), shot in black-and-white, tells a simple old-fashioned love story, but turns it into an experimental film when the second half consists simply in retelling of the same story from the perspective of the other sex. At the same time the director seems steeped into nostalgia and revisiting classic styles of the past through the landscape, the acting and the photography: the French nouvelle vague of Truffault and Resnais, Woody Allen's Manhattan, and even Italian neorealism of the 1950s.

The young and apparently wealthy Jae-hoon takes a hotel room. The girl for whom he has been waiting, Soo-jung, calls and asks to postpone their meeting. He protests that they were supposed to "do it" today and insists that she keeps her word.
A flashback shows how the two met. Jae-hoon, the owner of an art gallery, had lunch with his friend Young-soo, who used to be a painter too but now has become an independent filmmaker. Young-soo brings along his young screenwriter Soo-jung. Some other day Jae-hoon meets Soo-jung again at a park where her crew is filming. Later Jae-hoon meets Young-soo at the same restaurant and accepts to fund his movie. Young-soo gets food poisoning and has to take a taxi to rush home. The aggressive Jae-hoon takes Soo-jung in a narrow alley and tries to kiss her. She is mildly attracted to him but pushes him away. Sitting at a cafe, he more politely professes his love for her and his seriousness about starting a relationship. She simply replies "no". He trie again and eventually succeeds in aking her home. She unties her bra while he is under the shower, a sign that she is willing. But then she reveals that she is still a virgin. Jae-hoon seems delighted by the news and is willing to postpone. Jae-hoon has asked Soo-jung to keep their relationship secret. At a Christmas dinner with friends Young-soo gets drunk and treats Soo-jung like his girlfriend. This provokes Jae-hoon's jealousy, who later, alone with Soo-jung, calls his friend a thief. This escalates to an argument during which Jae-hoon the inveterate bachelor even mentions marriage, but he does so implying that it would be a sacrifice for him. Soo-jung decides to break up. It doesn't take long for Jae-hoon resume his courtship. Her virginity fascinates him although it makes it much harder to actually get physical. He gets her in bed again, but, again, she gets frigid when he tries to touch her genitals: that organ is still off limits. She promises to do it the next time, and he decides to book an expensive hotel room.
The second part of the film begins with the same conversation of the first half, but this time we don't see the man, we only see the woman as she claims that she is sick and asks to postpone yet again. To relax, she takes an aerial tram to the top of a hill but the car gets stalled because of a power outage.
A flashback shows how she met Jae-hoon. Young-soo is a married men with two children. He is in love with Soo-jung but she is reluctant to get involved with a married man. At the first dinner with Jae-hoon she is stressed. She might or might not be a virgin, but she lives with her older brother whom she masturbates occasionally. However, she is clearly more attracted to Jae-hoon. The latter told her that he takes a stroll in the park every day at lunch time and she makes sure the crew will be filming there at lunch time so she can "accidentally" meet him. One day in the studio Young-soo kisses her on the mouth. She is surprised but not frightened. She confesses that she has little sexual experience. She tried sex twice with a good friend, both times with awful results. Meanwhile, Young-soo is revealed to be a penniless coward, humiliated by a member of his own crew (while she is eavesdropping) who holds it against him that he is the director only because he is related to the owner.
She is clearly trying to get dates with the handsome and wealthy Jae-hoon. When he talks to her about sex, she can't wait; but it's him who doesn't seem to be serious.
Yo complains that Jae-hoon does not return his calls. Jae-hoon is rich and Yo needs money. Yo suspects that she is going out with Jae-hoon. He is the one who is aggressive with her, not Jae-hoon. He takes her to a room and undresses her, but she stops him. She confesses that she used to have a big crush on him. First she stops him but then she takes his glasses off and lets him hug her. He weeps. At the Christmas dinner Jae makes love to another woman and Soo leaves the house furious. She is with three girlfriends when Jae calls her again. They meet and he gets her in bed again. The reason that sex does not happen is not that she wants to postpone but that he calls her with the name of the other girl. She leaves, jealous and offended, but then quickly forgives him. He is the one who cancels the date at the expensive hotel, not her. She is disappointed. He invites her to a cheap hotel instead. Nonetheless she is more than willing to have sex. It hurts, and she bleeds. Before leaving, they try to wash the blood from the sheets. He promises to be a good boyfriend. She is happy.
The second half of the film is simply the same story told from the perspective of the girl. We now realize that the first half was told from the perspective of the man. Scenes are slightly changed, added and removed and changed. In this second half she looks a lot less innocent than in the first half (than if looked from the wishful perspective of the man who loves her).

Turning Gate (2002)

Yeojaneun Namjaeui Miraeda/ Woman is the Future of Man (2004) is relatively lightweight by comparison with its predecessors, and almost completely linear. The story centers on two friends who loved the same woman and now have completely different lives. The two men fight not so much over who will sleep with the girl but over what the girl is really like. However, the quiet melancholy of the story is not supported by adequate development.

A poor aspiring filmmaker, Heon-jun, who just graduated from college in the USA, visits his friend Munho, a university lecturer who is now relatively rich and lives in a big home with his wife and his child. They eat at a restaurant where the filmmaker tries to convince the waitress to become an actress. Then he notices a girl standing outside.
A suddent flashback shows what happened before Heon-jun left for the USA. He was dating a girl, Seon-hwa, but one day she was forced into a taxi by an high-school boyfriend who just returned from military service and the following day she told Heon-jun that this guy raped her in a hotel. They made love and he promised to "cleanse her" but instead decided to leave for the USA without telling her. It was Munho who brought her to the airport where the two former lovers met in tears for the last time. She told him she would wait for his phone call. But apparently he never called.
Back to the restaurant Munho tells Heon-jun that Seon-hwa dropped out of college and now runs a bar in a hotel (in the very town where she was raped). Munho asks the same waitress to be a nude model for his art class. He stares outside and notices the game girl that started Heon-jun's reminescence of Seon-hwa and he too starts remembering.
It turns out that Munho too was in love with Seon-hwa when she was an aspiring painter. We see how they made love and were left disappointed.
Back to the present, it started snowing and the two friends leave the restaurants where each has tried unsuccessfully to seduce the waitress. They decide to take a taxi and visit Seon-hwa. While they wait for her, they eat and drink, and argue about the real nature of the girl, Heon-jun seeing her as a romantic and Munho as a slut.
When she arrives, at the end of her night shift, she invites them to her place, where they get completely drunk. Seon-hwa tells Heon-jun how she waited in vain for him and he gets on his knees crying. They have sex in her room while Munho sleeps on the couch. Later, while Heon-jun is still sleeping Munho simply asks Seon-hwa to perform oral sex on him and she does without any hesitation. Each has treated her according to his view of her. The following day the trio walks out together, as if nothing had happened (it is not clear if Heon-jun knows that Munho too slept with her). But eventually Heon-jun parts angry from Seon-hwa, probably sensing that Munho was right about her real nature.
Munho, meanwhile, has met some of his students and has dinner with them, getting drunk and talking too much. One female student has a crush on him and one male student is hostile to him. After dinner, the girl follows him and is readily available when he proposes to get a room in a motel. The room is filthy and she kindly offers fellatio so they don't have to get into the bed. While she's working on it, the male student, who has followed them, bangs on the door and runs away. It's enough to signal to the lecturer that he knows: now Munho is in trouble because his extramarital affairs might ruin his career.

Haebyonui Yoin/ Woman on the Beach (2006) is a very minor and overlong film. It could be a film about a love obsession but the psychological analysis is way too vague and weird.

Jungrae, a famous director who is working on a new script, asks his young collaborator and fan Changwuk to spend a day with him to a beach town. Chengwuk is surprised by the last-minute request and asks permission to take his girlfriend with him. The phone rings: Jungrae's producer just read in the newspaper of the death of a director with Jungrae's last name and wants to make sure the script is proceeding as agreed. The producer also warns Jungrae that a sand storm is about to hit the coast. In the car Jungrae meets Munsuk, who is also a fan of his work. Changwuk is nice and plays her music to Jungrae, introducing her to the famous director as an aspiring composer of film music, but instead she is hostile towards her boyfriend. In fact, when they reach the town, she objects that she is not his girlfriend because they only kissed once. In fact she seems to flirt with Jungrae, and Jungrae is amused by their argument. At the beach he tells them that his script, titled "About Miracles", will be about a man who listens to a Mozart melody three times in a row and decides to investigate the coincidence as if it contains the secret of the universe. When the director makes a neurotic scene at a poor restaurant waiter, the gentle Changwuk insists that he apologizes. The director refuses, and the girl accuses Changwuk of simply trying to show off with her. When the director, drunk at another restaurant, asks her whether she's happy, she starts talking about her estranged father and cries. She tells them that she lived in Europe for a while and admits having sex with several foreigners. This humiliates Changwuk, clearly jealous, and irritates Jungrae, clearly conservative when it comes to foreigners, who almost treats her like a prostitute. Alone with the director, the girl admits that she likes him better than she likes her boyfriend and later, alone again on the beach, they kiss. When the boyfriend calls her to find out where they are, she sends him in the opposite direction. Then she and the director walk into an empty room at a nearby cheap hotel and have sex. The following day, however, Jungrae behaves coldly towards the girl (they briefly speak about his failed marriage) and the girl warms up again to her boyfriend. During their walks on the beach they have run twice into a couple walking their cute dog. What our trio doesn't see is that this couple abandons the dog on the highway, the dog running in vain after the car. The kids return to the city. Jungrae, walking along on the beach, gets on his knees, cries and prays for help. Then he calls Munsuk and leaves a message on her answering machine. Minutes later he sees two young women and approaches the attractive one, Sunhee, with the excuse of interviewing her for his film. Again, we learn of some family issues: the girl hates her mother and is divorcing the husband who cheated on her. He phones her the following morning to see her alone. He seduces her, narrowly avoids being run over by her motorcyclist boyfriend, and takes her to the same cheap hotel where he slept with Munsuk. Meanwhile, Munsuk comes back to the same beach town and gets drunk alone. She learns from the waiter that Jungrae has a girlfriend who looks like her. Munsuk guesses where they are having sex and bangs on the door in the middle of the night. The following morning Sunhee has to leave the room from the balcony to avoid Munsuk who is sleeping on the mat in front of the door. Jungrae was drunk. When she wakes up, she doesn't remember much. When they run into Sunhee and her friend, Munsuk doesn't know that Sunhee is the girl who was sleeping with Jungrae. On the beach they meet a young man walking the cute dog, and Munsuk is shocked to hear that the dog was abandoned by the owners. Jungrae strains a muscle and Munsuk takes care of him in his room. Sunhee, who cannot find her wallet, invites Munsuk to lunch. They discuss the fact that they look alike, the very reason that Jungrae seduced Sunhee. Sunhee does not know that Munsuk does not know, so she openly talks about having sex with Jungrae. Meanwhile, the incapacitated Jungrae is getting nervous at home. Ironically, he also finds the inspiration to finish his script. Munsuk confronts Jungrae who still cannot admit the truth. He leaves a tearful Munsuk in the room and returns to the city with his completed script. Munsuk picks up Sunhee's wallet in the bed: Munsuk has always known that the wallet was there. Munsuk returns the wallet to Sunhee and leaves but her car gets stuck in the sand. Two men push the car out of the sand. The sand storm has covered the road with sand.

Oki's Movie (2010)

Uri Seonhui/ Our Sunhi (2013) was perhaps meant to be a farce, but it is hardly comic at all. As a comedy it falls flat. As a character study it is mildly successful in depicting an inscrutable girl chased by three superficial men.

Sunhi is back on the campus of her film school after graduating. She is looking for a professor, Donghyun, from whom she needs a letter of reference to apply for graduate school in the USA. A fellow student tries a bad joke on her. She still finds the teacher but she remains upset with the silly student. Donghyun warns her that he thinks she is weird and he will write so in the letter of recommendation. Everything thinks that she is weird. Still upset with the student, first she confronts him and then, to calm down, she enters a restaurant and starts drinking alcohol. Then by accident from the window he sees her ex boyfriend Munsu bidding a nice trip to a girl who is about to leave town. Sunhi calls him upstairs and they get drunk together. He has just debuted as a filmmaker and Sunhi knows that the film is about their story. As he gets drunk, he confesses that he still loves her. He asks in vain why she dumped him. She tells him she can't explain and leaves him alone. Drunk, he walks to his friend Jaehak's place, begging for his company, but Jaehak sounds truly annoyed. When they finally meet, Munsu gets upset with him.
Meanwhile, Sunhi is disappointed with the letters of recommendation written by her former professor and meets with him to change his mind. He confesses he had a crush on her. Donghyun visits Jaehak, who has abandoned his wife, and tell him that he (Donghyun) is in love with a younger girl.
By accident later Jaehak meets Sunhi and they start chatting about Munsu. She swears she's not going to date anymore and just wants to focus on studying. But then she seduces Jaehak just like she has seduced her former professor and Jaehak goes home drunk and in love.
Donghyun rewrites his letter of recommendation to Sunhi's satisfaction. She meets him in a park. When she leaves him alone for a second, he stumbles into Jaehak and then Munsu also shows up. Munsu knows that Sunhi must be around, but Donghyun denies having seen her and texts her to hide. The three men walk around together looking in vain for her.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )