Hong 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.
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