Korean film-maker Lee Yoon-ki seems obsessed with female solitude and dysfunctional families. After This Charming Girl and Love Talk, he revisists the theme with Ad Lib Night, a film shot so much in close-ups that it could have been made anywhere, so little is seen of the background scenery.
Following a city girl who inexplicably impersonates the daughter of a dying man, the film suffers from consistent lack of character motivation. Neverthless, it is a moving downbeat portrait of a lonely young woman in distress, counterpointed by a bickering family.
Though the promising start dwindles away and only picks up again towards the end, it could still generate interest for audiences interested in Korean cinema with its dismal portrait of society. Activity beyond that is doubtful.
A nameless girl (Han Hyo-joo) is accosted on the street of Seoul by two young men, who believe she is Myungeun, who they have been hunting for for a month. Eventually she agrees to pretend to be the runaway daughter of a dying old man and is driven into the countryside to meet him.
There she meets her 'father', who who has been drugged by painkillers and who believes she is now making her peace with him on his deathbed.
The plot sounds hard to believe, and the director feels compelled to explain the response of the old man's family to the idea of a stranger masquerading as one of them. But no explanation is convincing enough.
The rest of the film focuses on the man's relatives as they settle accounts with each other, start deciding who will shortly inherit what and drink themselves silly. Next morning the girl is driven back to town and finally reveals the reason for her conduct.
This melancholy sketch of a modern society that is drained of any real emotion - but continues to pretend that it still has them - acquires a poignant dimension when the girl still displays a longing for some kind of human closeness; an escape from the isolation to which she had doomed herself.
Han's subdued performance, expressed mostly through her eyes and the hesitant demeanor of her conduct, is essential for such a film, and stands out against some of the strenuously theatrical efforts of the support.
Fluid camerawork suffers, in some of the exterior night shots, as the result of transfer from HD to film.
Ad Lib Night Production
South Korean distribution