After observing Hong Sang-soo’s previous three films bucolically retreating within a predictable safety zone of recurring preoccupations and reflexive encounters illustrated through linear narratives in somewhat uncharacteristic fashion following what had been his most structurally experimental film to date, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, it is refreshing to see Hong crystallize his now familiar flat structured, mirroring triangulations on the ephemeral nature of human desire with Woman on the Beach. Opening to the seemingly innocuous, but incisive image of film director, Kim Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) unrelentingly goading his reluctant friend (and more importantly, car owner), Won Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) into taking a road trip to a quiet, off-season seaside resort in Shinduri Beach (and who, in turn, agrees to accompany him under the provision that his girlfriend, an international traveler and composer named Kim Moon-sook (Ko Hyeon-geong) also come along for the impromptu getaway), in order to stimulate his creativity after struggling with writer’s block on a long overdue script, Hong implicitly reveals not only the selfishness and insecurity, but also the resigned acquiescence that shape and define Joong-rae and Chang-wook’s character. Alternately distracted from his work by sheer procrastination and indiscipline, as well as squandering his time by vying for the affections of the seemingly receptive Moon-sook, Joong-rae is an inscrutable paradox: seemingly thriving in his self-inflicted distraction by perversely deriving inspiration from the intoxicating chaos of romantic pursuit, yet already mourning the inevitable disappointment of the conquest, when the bliss of anonymous encounter and transitory connection with a new lover soon give way to the insecurity, paralysis, and mundane reality of emotionally investing in a fledgling, potential relationship. Chronicling Joong-rae’s dysfunctional creative process through the unresolved wreckage of his messy, unraveling, and patternistically recurring romantic entanglements – a theme that coalesces in Joong-rae’s diagrammatic explication of his theory on the interpenetration between memory and dimensional knowledge – Hong transcends his now familiar portraitures of flawed, self-indulgent men, obliging, but elusive women, and failed intimacy by endowing his characters with the possibility of self-revelation even in the midst of human frailty, allowing them to find their way to break free from their self-inflicted, ensnaring sand dunes towards the liberating landscape of personal closure.
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