Entrancing detective/seduction story that only lost me when Tang Wei buries/drowns herself on the beach. We’ve previously seen her in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and if I can find the director’s cut it’ll be time to rewatch her in Blackhat. Lead guy Park Hae-il (brother of Song Kang-ho and Doona Bae in The Host) exonerates her in her husband’s rock climbing death, falls for her, then discovers how she’d committed the crime and manipulated evidence. A year later another of her husbands has died, the evidence again shows her innocent, but further digging reveals she killed someone else to provoke the husband’s murder. Now Detective Park is fully messed up, losing his own wife and chasing after the murderess, who is pretty far gone herself, what with the beach finale. As with The Handmaiden, each scene is beautifully constructed, and if I lost the overall thread while watching, I’ll just have to rewatch in a few years (might as well give Stoker and Thirst another spin while I’m at it).
Kim Min-hee visits with two friends, and each time an unreasonable man comes to the door, then meets a third friend by accident. First up is Seo Young-hwa (Glasses Woman from Grass). They’re hanging out, conversing and eating with a young neighbor, when a new neighbor rings the bell to ask them to stop feeding stray cats, which they politely refuse – this is my vote for favorite scene, which even ends with one of Hong’s trademark Random Zooms on a cat. We also get chickens and crows, more animals than usual.
Friend 1 and a collision of neighbors:
The next friend is Song Seon-mi (Kim’s assistant in On The Beach), who slept with a local poet and now he’s obsessed, knocking on her door every day. This is not as enjoyable a meal (Song burns the dinner) or confrontation as the first one. Friend 3 is Kim Sae-byuk, also of Grass, married to an author who Kim used to date. Kim runs into Kwon Hae-hyo, the guy with cool hair in Yourself and Yours, and it’s awkward – she closes with “You really should just stop talking.” Daniel Kasman in Mubi figured out what it all means.
Comfy with Friend 2:
Less Comfy with Friend 3:
He is Sangwon, she is Youngshil, meeting by chance after years. They are young and stupid, and bad at sex – even more pathetic than the characters in Woman is the Future of Man – get drunk and hook up and decide to die together. But she awakens and calls for help, and rescued Sangwon fights bitterly with his family.
Sangwon (right) with his brother:
Dongsoo is attending a retrospective of a sick/dying filmmaker, a former classmate. He stalks an actress, Youngshil – they get drunk and hook up and consider dying together. “I’m too fond of drinking. Life is too tough.” Aha, I’d been wondering why the first 45 minutes of Tale of Cinema contained no cinema, but it was meant to be the dying filmmaker’s short film – Dongsoo claims his own life story was stolen for the script (very believable – both guys are flaky and awkward and smitten with Youngsil). Good ending. Michael Sicinski:
When Dongsoo admits to Youngshil that he believes that their old director friend “stole” his life to make the movie they just saw, he is admitting that he lives in his own head, in his own internal tale of cinema. This is why, at the end of the film, Youngshil’s final line to him – “You didn’t really understand that movie” – is so withering. Dongsoo quite literally does not understand the ‘movie’ of which he is the star, that is, his own life.
Dongsoo & Youngshil:
Incredibly, I don’t know any of the three leads from the other twelve Hong movies I’ve seen. She’s from Like You Know It All, the first guy was in Woman on the Beach, and second male lead is from Memories of Murder.
The cool guy from Burning and his wife (Yeri Han of the recent Wolf Brigade remake) are professional chicken sexers starting an Arkansas farm to grow Korean veggies in their spare time. Yuh-Jung Youn (Sense8 and a couple Hong Sang-soo films) is MVP as their grandma. The kids hide from parental arguments and reluctantly spend time with grandma, who feeds them weird things and teaches them to be aggressive card players. Potential dangers include snakes, a heart murmur, a cross-dragging Christian (Will Patton), and drought + trash fire, which strikes when grandma, struggling after having a stroke, accidentally burns down the storeroom while the others are in Tulsa. Funny timing since this week I was playing an album for the first time in decades that I bought in Tulsa when our family drove down from Arkansas. The sympathetic, struggling family and personal resonance wasn’t enough to make the actual movie, a brownish wood-paneled drama, especially great.
The entire basement-dwelling Kim family gets jobs under fake names working for the rich Park family. At first it’s easy – the son is given an introduction from the Park daughter’s outgoing tutor – but they have to get increasingly deceitful to gain each position, and getting the longtime housekeeper (Jeong-eun Lee of The Wailing) fired so momma Kim (Hye-jin Jang of Secret Sunshine) can take her job causes unanticipated consequences, since the former housekeeper’s husband is living in a hidden dungeon beneath the house. In the end, one member of each family is stabbed to death, along with the displaced housekeeper and husband, and daddy Kim hides out in the basement, possibly forever.
The last two Korean movies I saw in theaters end with the poor male lead murdering the rich male lead – something’s going on in Korea. The son wielded a baseball bat in zombie thriller Train to Busan… the dad stars in The Host and Memories of Murder (and Chan-wook Park’s little-remembered vampire movie Thirst)… rich dad is in a pile of Hong Sang-soo movies! I knew his deep voice sounded familiar. I noticed in the credits that the son’s friend (who gets him the tutoring job & gives him the rock) had a special cameo appearance credit separate from the rest of the cast list… but he doesn’t seem like anyone special.
Parasite‘s Cannes competition included the Tarantino, The Lighthouse, that Portrait of a Lady on Fire I keep seeing trailers for even tho it doesn’t open until February, the upcoming Terrence Malick war movie, the Almodóvar, the Takashi Miike I missed at the Landmark a few weeks ago, and the upcoming (hopefully?) Zombi Child and Bacurau.
“I’ve never seen a truly impressive man.”
Minjung (You-young Lee of a movie called Late Spring which is somehow not an Ozu remake) is breaking up with her deep-voiced boyfriend Youngsoo (Ju-hyuk Kim, who died last year). She’s spotted by some other dudes, chats with them in bars, dates at least one, but each time she’s someone else – or claiming to be. She’ll claim to be a twin sister, or just deny having ever been where they say they’ve seen her. I suppose her multiple identities are open to interpretation, but I assumed it’s just one woman who claims to be someone else when she’s bored with a guy.
We’ve also got an older (?) guy with cool hair and a folding bike (Hae-hyo Kwon of On the Beach at Night Alone), Youngsoo’s buddy (Eui-sung Kim, who hung around the main guy’s guesthouse in Hill of Freedom), and of course a film director (Joon-Sang Yoo, lead of The Day He Arrives, lifeguard of In Another Country). She ends up back with Youngsoo, which is slightly unsatisfying since he was such a dick in the opening scene, but I dunno, she’s also wearing the same t-shirt in the bookend scenes so maybe the parts in between never happened. This was supposed to be Katy’s first Hong movie but she fled after ten minutes, saying the style was weird and felt like the PBS show Degrassi.
Last year I closed LNKarno with the top prizewinner Girl From Nowhere, but I’ve already suffered through Story of My Death once, so this year I picked a closer from competition which I was sure to enjoy. It’s somewhat of a comedy, coming out between In Another Country and Hill of Freedom – I’m gradually filling in the gaps of recent work but still haven’t caught anything pre-2010. We get a series of scenes of people in conversation drinking too much in no-fuss compositions interrupted only by the occasional reframing zoom – just what we were hoping for.
Sunhi out drinking with the Professor:
Sunhi (Yu-mi Jung: Oki, also in Train to Busan) is visiting the city where she attended school, aiming to get a letter of recommendation from her professor (Sang-Jung Kim, the main guy’s friend in The Day He Arrives) for a graduate film program. They meet up in the park, and he turns in a letter that’s fairly complimentary, but also says she might have good ideas but he wouldn’t know since she’s too reserved and doesn’t work well with others.
Sunhi out drinking with Munsu:
She spots her ex Munsu (Sun-kyun Lee of Hong’s other 2013 student-teacher relationship movie Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) and calls him up to where she’s having a lonely drink, says she saw his film and that it was good but too much about their relationship. These two talk for hours (he orders a bottle of soju, then after a cut there are four on the table) and he blurts out “if I make films till I die, they’ll all be about you” and demands to know why she broke up with him, so she walks out and he goes off to bother his ex-friend Jaehak (Jae-yeong Jeong, lead of Right Now, Wrong Then).
Sunhi out drinking with Jaehak:
Sunhi asks the professor about the reference letter, hangs out over drinks with him, he explains that he wrote it in a hurry and can probably do better, then runs off to tell Jaehak about this wonderful girl he likes. Later, Sunhi spots Jaehak and they go out, as captured in an epic 10+ minute shot. They talk about the other two guys, Jaehak puts the pieces together, but he’s falling for Sunhi. Now all three guys are mooning over her, but Sunhi’s got her own life, collects the much-improved recommendation from the professor and ditches all three guys at the park.
Alice Stoehr on Letterboxd:
She drinks too much soju and leans on them in the street. The men speak with each other, repeating phrases they’d said to her. Deja vu permeates Our Sunhi, as it resounds both with echoes of Hong’s earlier work and with its own internal rhymes … She’ll always be embittered and mistreated and a little too drunk. The men will always be selfish, in performances that are broad enough to be quite funny but still true enough that they hurt.
Besides checking Letterboxd, Critics Round Up and Cinema Scope for reviews of the LNKarno movies I watched this week, I went looking for 2013 festival coverage by media sites that haven’t folded and vanished since then…
Richard Porton in Cineaste talks up Manakamana, A Masque of Madness, and the restoration of Batang West Side (“certainly the most notable film to ever take place in Jersey City”).
Based on Jaimey Fisher’s writeup in Senses of Cinema, El Mudo, Wetlands, and maybe the Aoyama sound good.
“What I want is to live in a way that suits me.”
A philosophical movie starring Kim Min-hee, who has become my favorite actress at playing drunk. Part one is a half hour long and set in Germany, actress Younghee hanging out with a friend (Young-hwa Seo, Hill of Freedom‘s letter-reader) – turns out the actress is fleeing Seoul after an affair gone bad. They go music shopping, then eat pasta at Mark Peranson’s house (with a La Chinoise poster in the kitchen). In the dreamlike final scene, Younghee is left on the beach at night alone for just a minute then is seen being carried away unconscious, presumably by the stalker we’d previously seen walking at them It Follows-style.
Part two opens with the lights coming up at a movie theater and no mention of the beach incident. She has returned to her hometown in Korea and meets up with some old friends, first at a coffee shop some of them run, then for a dinner party. First there’s Hae-hyo Kwon (the prickly guy in part one of In Another Country) then meek Jae-yeong Jeong (main dude in Right Now, Wrong Then). She’s staying at a fancy hotel with friend Seon-mi Song (The Day He Arrives), who decides to be Younghee’s assistant. Younghee is taking a break from her career and daily routines, evaluating her life, but doesn’t seem to be doing too badly – rumors are the director she recently broke up with is worse off. Back at the beach alone, not quite at night but perhaps the early evening, she dreams a meeting with the director (I think he’s the professor from Oki’s Movie) after his crew stumbles across her, and he wants to read her a book passage about love with the crew sitting awkwardly around.
The stalker from part one reappears as a window washer:
It’s a good Hong movie, probably not my favorite, but viewers who follow his personal news were mostly stunned that he made this Kim Min-hee movie about the aftermath of a scandalous affair with a film director right after getting caught having a scandalous affair with Kim Min-hee.
Spoiler: there are zombies on the train to Busan. But there are suddenly zombies everywhere, and the train survivors aren’t sure whether it’s more dangerous in the zombie-infested train, or out in the zombie-infested world. The heart of the story, which doesn’t work nearly as well as The Host, to take another Korean family/supernatural-disaster movie as an example, is that workaholic dad Gong Yoo (The Age of Shadows) is a professional asshole and a shitty father to his daughter. During the course of the invasion, not only does he step up and learn to help people and work together, but we get a real panicky villain who needlessly kills others trying to save himself, making dad look even better in comparison.
L-R: Baseballer, Tough Guy, Hero Dad
There’s also a big tough dude and his pregnant wife, a high school baseballer and his girl Jin-Hee, the bedraggled survivor from outside, two older sisters, and one extremely dedicated train conductor. Once you get bit, the zombification escalates very quickly, so it’s all panic and chaos. The action is kinda poor, but the tension is great – especially when the group pictured above fights their way through to a car with the other survivors, then Panicky Villain Guy convinces the others that the newcomers can’t be allowed to stay.
Zombies can see better than they can hear:
The two sisters:
One train crash later, our Hero Dad finally gets zombie’d fighting off the villain, and the daughter makes it to Busan with the Tough Guy’s pregnant wife. I didn’t love the director’s animated The Fake – he bridged the two films with an animated zombie train movie called Seoul Station. He’s joined here by the cowriter of Hwayi: A Monster Boy.