Dir: Hong Sang-Soo. South Korea. 2000. 127 mins.
Prod co: Miracin Korea. Int'l sales: Mirovision. Exec Prod: Hong Sang-Soo. Prod: Lee Yu-jin. Scr: Hong Sang-soo. DoP: Choi Young-taek. Ed: Ham Sung-won. Music: Ok Gil-sung. Main cast: Lee Fun-joo, Jung Bo-suk, Moon Sung-keun.
South Korea's thirtysomethings are much like Hollywood's, who talk endlessly and do a lot. Or at least those of France, who talk endlessly and do very little. Hong Sang-soo's film veers more towards the European model than the American. This is a tale of one woman and two men, a love triangle seen from the point of view first of the woman's true love, who nearly goes bananas trying to get her into bed, and then from that of the woman herself, trying not to part with her virginity until everything is just right.
The film is divided into five chapters ' two for the man, two for the woman and one where the stories finally collide. We don't see everything twice because each person's memory is so different. And we don't see anybody much except for the three characters and the rooms and workplaces in which they live. When they are briefly outside, the distant roar of Seoul's traffic and lights show us this might be a parable about urban life. The film is funny and sharp enough about love, sex and life in general almost to sustain its length of over two hours.
Not quite, however, since the screenplay, though shrewd, isn't always enough to make a drama out of its many small details. The film lacks punch despite its obvious virtues. You also believe more in the men than in the woman in question. She remains an enigma, as she refuses to part with her maidenhead for reasons that are not always clear to us, and possibly not to herself. The men, however, are well-drawn. One is married and her boss at a small TV production company. The other is single and touched that she is still a virgin. Both want to fall in love. Only one does.
The English title of the film seems a bit like a come-on. Virgin Stripped Bare is hardly erotic and more of a romantic comedy touched with an insistent everyday realism. Nicely done, but too long for comfort, it is not likely to cause the waves of Hong Sang-soo's debut, The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well. However it received a special jury award at the Tokyo Film Festival last week and was recently voted best film by the Pusan Film Critics.