Dir:Hong Sang-soo. S Korea/France. 2004. 88mins.
Unfortunately,the best thing about Korean director Hong Sang-soo's Cannes competition film WomanIs The Future Of Man is its title, taken from the poet Aragon. The film ishandsomely mounted, and the glittery shine and tawdry dirt of contemporaryurban South Korea is always fascinating to behold, but Woman nevermounts a serious assault on viewers' emotions, let alone their minds.
Thefilm contains more than a few striking visual passages and there's plenty ofsex (including not one, but two scenes of fellatio), but its combination ofRohmer-like endless chatting (though to little purpose) and the Bressonianrigour of its static long takes in medium shot make for a pretty dull cinematicexperience.
Fromtime to time, there is some evidence that Hong was trying to accomplish a kindof informal sociological exploration - perhaps a searing look at troubledKorean youth, mired in a pervasive anomie and obsessively concerned withhedonism and the other evils that attend rampant financial success in amodernising society.
Butthis direction is never seriously considered. Or perhaps Hong was aiming for akind of Korean updating of Jules And Jim,but in this regard this ultimately quite boring film fails as well. In anycase, commercial prospects, especially given the fact that the story isvirtually impossible to follow, do not look good.
Therehave been so many brilliant Korean films in recent years that it is a bit of amystery how this one ended up in Competition. Mun-ho (Yoo), a young universityprofessor in Seoul, gets drunk one day with his friend Hun-joon (Kim), anaspiring film-maker just returned from film school in the US. They reminisceabout Sunh-wa (Sung), a woman with whom both were in love, their discussionaccompanied by unmarked flashbacks of their relationship with her.
Finally,they decide to look her up to see what has become of her and, that evening,their reminiscence culminates in a booze-and-sex party in Sunh-wa's apartment.The next morning, when Munho encounters his adoring students, more sex ensues.
Thefilm makes a couple of fleeting references to debates current in Koreanculture, but they are not followed up and will be lost on Western audiences inany case. At other times, Hong seems to want to take up a serious, or at leastrevealing or funny, exploration of Koreans' interest in sex (Hun-joon at onepoint opines that Koreans are obsessed about it), but this never gets muchbeyond the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus level.
Atone point, Hun-joon asks Mun-ho what one thing he really wants in life, and thebest he can come up with is tenure. The JulesAnd Jim set-up should, by rights, lead to a stream of funny jockeying foradvantage but it yields almost nothing.
On aformal level, one problem with Hong's technique of the planted camera, heldrigorously in medium shot, is that this technique depends on actors withcharisma and a strong physical presence, but none of his actors are soequipped.
Anotherpossibility is to go the route of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang, but noneof the constant, hilarious rewards for our patience that Tsai gives out are,alas, to be found in this film. There are endless, desultory conversations inwhich the simplest statements are repeated again and again, but while thismanoeuvre can sometimes produce hilarity, it rarely does here.
Nevertheless,there are one or two scenes- for example when Hun-joon, in a flashback,performs a kind of ritual washing of Sunh-wa after she has been raped - thatare immensely powerful and could have provided the backbone for a fine film.
Nearthe end, director Hong happily decides to get focused. While drinking with hisstudents, Mun-ho embarks on a Nietzschean soliloquy about the meaninglessnessof it all. One student replies that believing in nothing is nothing to be proudof, a view that Hong seems to agree with, and another student tells Mun-ho thathe has a serious problem.
Butlittle of this is followed up on or given the careful emphasis it deserves.Mun-ho ends up with a student in a slimy hotel but this golden thematicopportunity is drowned the next morning in a banal conversation about whetheror not another student is going to inform on them. Granted, the script itselfis pretty limp, but time and again, Hong lets chances like this go and whatcould have been something important never materialises.
Prodcos: MiracinKorea, Uni Korea, MK2
Int'l sales: MK2 Int'l
Main cast: YooJi-tae, Sung Hyu-nah, Kim Tae-woo