Dir/scr: Hong Sangsoo. S Kor. 2006. 128mins.
Owing more to French cinema of the 1960s thancontemporary Korean film-making, Hong Sansoo'sromantic comedy Woman OnThe Beach is as intimate, laid back and low-key as his previousefforts. As such it will have a good following among critics and do well with thirtysomething arthouse audienceswho might find much to identify with; New Wave aficionados will also feel athome in this tale of a creatively frustrated film-maker on an off-season breakat a seaside resort.
At more than two hours it isa bit too long in the tooth, but its unforced, straightforward approach to all itscharacters, a remarkable set of performances from its two lead actresses - SingSun-mi and especially Ko Hyun-joung- and smart, imaginative photography, combine for a pleasant featurethat festivals should embrace and specialist distributors appreciate.
Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo), known tohis co-workers as director Kim, is suffering writer's block, despite promisinga script to his producer. To get his creative juices flowing, he asks hisproduction designer, Chan-wook (Kim Tae-woo) toaccompany him for a weekend at the beach, a town on the western coast of Korea.He even agrees to take along Chan-wook's girlfriend,Moon-sook (KoHyun-joung), a composer who studied music in Germany.
At the Shinduribeach, all covered in cherry blossoms and mists, Joong-raeproceeds to court Moon-sook, who cooperates willinglysince she is intrigued by his films, despite never having met him before. Afterpushing his friend out of the picture and ending up in bed with Moon-sook, Joong-rae is strangelyremote the next morning, cutting the trip short and telling his companions heis going back to Seoul.
The second half of the filmsees Joong-rae again in Shinduri,leaving a message on Moon-sook's mobile phone about howmuch he needs her.
When she fails to reply, he wandersthe deserted streets, stumbles upon a couple of girls and introduces himself asa director who would like to interview one of them for background material. Joong-rae's name again opens doors and, after a drunkenmeal, he and one of the girls (Song Sun-mi) end up in bed. But in the meantime Moon-sook, by now having received his message, comes over and stumbleson them together.
Hong Sangsoonow reverses the love triangle of the first half, this time incorporating twowomen and one man. By the end of the feature, Joong-rae'sscreenplay will have taken shape - but what the two women expected of the film-makeris not what they get in real life.
Nothing tremendouslydramatic or eventful happens in Woman On The Beach. Rather it is a work that unfolds leisurelyas the camera positions its cast in a combination of pairs and trios.
The participants'conversations allow Hong Sangsoo to cover a widevariety of issues, including the advantage of being a Korean women abroad, the problemsof being a Korean man in Korea, whether the definition of 'girlfriend'implies a sexual relationship or not and the tensions between the generations.
It may not have quite the witof French film-maker Eric Rohmer, although the inspiration clearly comes fromthat direction, but Woman On The Beach flows naturally, as if it was caught on theraw.
The one visible exception isthe psychological apology poured by an anxious Joong-rae into the ears of asleeping Moon-sook, which feels too much likeold-fashioned melodrama. The most explosive scene, if at all, is the clash witha discourteous waiter in a restaurant.
Ko Hyun-joung steals the show as Moon-sook,covering a wide gamut of emotions in a subtle, perfectly controlled fashion.Song sun-mi, in a smaller part, is not far behind, while Hong veteran KimTae-woo handles well the flustered character of the betrayed Chang-wook.
Following to the letter thehallmarks of the French New Wave, Hong's main concern is to focus on thecharacters down to the smallest detail and capture them in the right way. He isably aided by cinematographer Kim Hyung-koo, who hasalready worked with Hong on Tales Of Cinema (he has also shot highly successful horrorfilm The Host). He performs wonders,not only in his precise framing but also in keeping the same clarity of imagein both fully-lit sequences and complete darkness.
b.o.m. fkilm productions