Woman on the Beach

"Excellent"

Woman on the Beach Review


Certainly the most Gallic of current Asian filmmakers in his treatment of male/female interactions and dynamics, South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo comes one step closer to recognition with Woman on the Beach, his second feature to get stateside release. Seven pictures into his career, Sang-soo has established a supremely refined style that culls together both American and French influences but obviously comes from his own thematic and textural obsessions.

Jealousy and behavior are at the heart of this tale of a trio of Seoul residents who head to the west coast. Director Kim (Kim Seung-woo), as he is referred to, has dragged his production designer Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) out to the coastline to finish the screenplay for his upcoming film, a quirky piece of buffoonery about a man who can't stop hearing Mozart called About Miracles. To ease Chang-waook's uncertainty, Kim agrees that Chang-wook's "girlfriend" Moon-sook (Go Hyun-jung) can come along as well. A composer who Kim describes as "amateur sounding," Moon-sook quickly points out on the drive to the coastal hotel that Chang-wook is not her boyfriend.

Let the games begin: As Chang-wook becomes confrontational with Kim to prove his manhood, Kim becomes even more ambivalent in his actions and idiotically nationalistic in his ramblings. When Kim asks who Moon-sook prefers, she says him but only a scene later says that he shares little with his film's dispositions: "You're just like any other Korean man." While Chang-wook passes out from boozing, the two find an abandoned room in a nearby hotel and sleep together, but the next day, neurotic and unsure of the "I Love You" he brandished the night before, Kim acts distant and worrisome. In defense, Moon-sook becomes spiteful, jealous, and overly chipper with Chang-wook as the three drive back to Seoul.

Though he has been a fixture of the New York Film Festival since 2002, Sang-soo's only other film to get a theatrical run was 2005's Woman is the Future of Man, a similar exercise in masculine ego about two friends trying to find the woman they both loved in their younger years. Though the atmosphere is befittingly more open in Beach, it closely resembles the subtly-disturbing behavioral observations that Future of Man engaged in. No wonder: Sang-soo deftly-blended pedigree borrows equally from Rohmer, Woody Allen, and Albert Brooks, all architects of socially-damaging neurosis. Like his influences, the filmmaker has a fascinating inability to let things end easily. The film even resembles a set of endings desperately reaching for a finale.

It's this same inability that finds Director Kim back at the beach two days later, leaving lonely and awkward phone messages for an unresponsive Moon-sook. Tracing over their brief encounter, which has become the new focus of his film, Kim meets Sun-hee (Song Sun-mi), a more bashful, lanky girl who reminds the director of Moon-sook (the girls look absolutely nothing alike). They talk and he eventually sleeps with her right before Moon-sook makes her way back to the coast to find her man waiting.

Whether this is something of a purging session for Sang-soo or not is up for debate, but if it is, it doesn't distract from the acts of self-terrorism that Kim puts himself through simply to have something to write about. Orchestrated with several instances of odd zoom-ins, it feels as if Sang-soo's observant nature goes as far as to infect the camera lens; inching its eye just a little closer to get every last piece of lacerative truth that these characters are dishing out to each other. Like the white dog that Moon-sook is obsessed with, Kim is beloved but ultimately feels that he must be abandoned and missed. In reality, Sang-soo bears the closest resemblance like Moon-sook: constantly embraced, silently waiting to be adored.

Aka Haebyonui yoin.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 31st August 2006

Distributed by: New Yorker Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Producer: Cho Jin-a

Starring: Kim Seung-woo as Director Kim Jung-rae, Hyun-jung Go as Kim Moon-Sook, Song Seon-Mi as Choi Sun-hee, Kim Tae-woo as Won Chang-wook, Choi Ban-Ya as Sun-hee's friend

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