“Things repeat themselves with differences I can’t understand.”
Four mini-films with the same actors playing similar stories… wasn’t expecting this. My first movie by film fest and Cinema Scope regular Sang-soo.
1. A Day for Incantation
Young film teacher Jingu (Lee Seon-kyun) is told by older prof Song (Moon Sung-geun of Sang-soo’s early feature Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors) that “film as an art is finished.” Later he confronts another professor Bang, who he’s heard has paid for tenure. Later still, Jingu is attacked at a sad post-screening Q&A by a friend of one of his former students who he dated for years. “Once I became a director all these rumors began popping up” is how he pathetically defends himself.
2. King of Kisses
Now Jingu and Oki (Jung Yumi, title star of Our Sunhi) are film students under prof. Song, whom Oki is secretly dating. Jingu is frustrated when he loses an award everyone said he’d win, and that Oki won’t go out with him, but she reconsiders when he shows up at her house drunk.
3. After the Snowstorm
Big storm, nobody shows up to prof. Song’s class, then Oki and Jingu come late.
Andrew Tracy in Cinema Scope:
Oki and Jingu bombard Song with questions in an empty classroom: “Do you think I have any talent in film?” “Keep making films and you’ll find out.” “Am I a good person?” “To somebody.” “What do you want most?” “Well, I want this today, and I want that tomorrow… In life, of all the important things I do, there’s none I know the reason for.” To the extent that we can take anything Hong “says” at face value, this would seem to be an at least tentatively reliable index of his beliefs: that the thing that most interests him – the maddening unknowability of our own selves – is inseparable from his decision to portray it on film, over and over again.
4. Oki’s Movie
Oki narrates and contrasts two walks in the park: one with an older man (Song) she was on the verge of breaking up with, then with new love Jingu, where she crosses paths with her older ex.
I’m not sure it follows that the first segment is a years-later postscript to the others – some critics are saying all the parts are different time periods of the same story, but the details don’t match up, and as The End of Cinema blog points out, Oki’s final line “I chose these actors for their resemblance to the actual people” undercuts the idea that the two men at the end are the same characters we’ve seen before.
Took me the bulk of the first segment to get used to the film’s style. It felt odd that the acting seemed like regular dramatic film-acting, but the lo-fi digital camerawork with regularly placed zooms felt like it wanted a less mannered, more documentary-like story. I think it played in a sub-festival in Venice, along with The Forgotten Space, Robinson in Ruins and prizewinner Summer of Goliath.
What gives Oki’s Movie an added charge is announced in the title itself: beginning as another up-close portrait of male vanity, neediness, and narcissistic despair, it subtly shifts across the four movements to deposit narrational control into the hands of the woman who had been the vehicle of this narcissism.