Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hong Sang-soo--back next week with two: OKI'S MOVIE and THE DAY HE ARRIVES

What are South Korean women to do about South Korean men? Leave the country and try a different breed? TrustMovies is asking only because another Hong Sang-soo movie is opening soon -- a pair of them, actually, next week in New York City: OKI'S MOVIE on Monday at the Maysles Cinema and THE DAY HE ARRIVES on Friday at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema -- so in-vogue once again will be scenes of sexual betrayal, lying, cheating and scheming by (usually) film-making assholes combining the egos of mammoths with perhaps the talent of mice (these are the guys) and screaming, sighing, withholding and/or being passively aggressive while putting up with the same-old-same-old (these are the gals, also often filmmakers or students of same).

For those of us who know the new Korea (Southern section) only via its rather amazing movies (everything from ultra-violent crime films and romantic comedies to horror/monster movies and others that are simply uncategorizable), Mr. Hong's oeuvre holds a special place. Watching his men-and-women movies it sometimes seems as though, for Korea, more than any other Asian country, an eastern culture has been whacked headlong by the west, so that anything approaching normal behavior from the old days has been replaced by something new and different. Except that genuine assimilation has yet to take place. Consequently this is no longer east, and it's certainly not west. Instead it is... Korea.

Anyway, this is one westerner's view of Sang-soo (shown at left) and his films, some of which I like more than others but all of which I would rate worth viewing. I mean, look at that twinkly, squared-off face. And those dimples, one a bit heavier than the other. What a little schemer, one thinks! Most of the leading characters in his films -- often film directors and/or teachers -- cannot help but seem, for this viewer, anyway, to be stand-ins for Mr. Hong. Unfair? So, there! This time around, in The Day He Arrives, the filmmaker returns to his old tricks (used most recently in the better and funnier film, Like You Know It All, which was shown as part of the 2010 Film Comment Selects series (click and scroll down for my earlier take on this film).

Here, again, the male characters drink too much (back and back and back they go, to a local bar in which the proprietress absents herself, once her guests start in). But they know they drink too much and even talk about the fact that they know they drink too much. They flirt and fuck and go visit their former trysts (below), just, it seems, to pour a little salt in the wounds (whether hers, or his, it is not always clear).

Then there are the ever-present film students/co-workers/ex-romantic partners. In "Day," three of these students come upon our "hero," and they all go out for a drink, get drunk and then (particularly our guy) are rude to each other.

All this has its charm (sort of) and certainly its humor (a little ugly, a little dark), but it runs the risk of tiring those of us who know Hong's work by being so similar to much else we've seen. Only the photography -- in crisp and beautiful black-and-white -- seems different this time around. However, if The Day He Arrives is your first or maybe even second Hong experience, by all means stick it at the top of your must-see list, for it will seem all the fresher for your inexperience.

OKI'S MOVIE, on the other hand, is something quite "else." (We're back to color, for one thing.) Made up of a quartet of stories (A Day for Chanting, King of Kiss, After the Snow Storm, and Oki's Story) featuring the same characters played by the same actors, the movie begins as a typical "from-the-male-point-of-view" slice of Sangsoo but then slowly, with each new story, becomes more and more woman-centered until it's final segment, in which Oki tells/shows us two days she spent in the same location, one with each man who was currently courting her.

By the time we get to this fourth and final chapter however, we've already seen the other three and so we understand these characters with the kind of rounded perspective that few movies take the trouble to give us. Consequently, it is not so easy to label the men as mere hypocrites and denialists (well, they are -- but so are most of us guys). The women, too, even sweet little Oki, are not above using their significant others (or their would-be significant others) as fodder for their own needs and desires.

Oki's Movie proves to be one of Hong's richest stews, bubbling over with interesting characters -- doing the darndest things -- and ideas about life, love and film that are very much worth a watch. The movie, just 80 minutes long, from FineCut, opens this coming Monday, April 16, for a one-week run in New York City at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem. (Let's hope that there will be more playdates around the country -- or at least a DVD release.) The Day He Arrives, 79 minutes, via Cinema Guild, opens this coming Friday, April 20, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Click here to see all currently scheduled upcoming playdates, cities and theatres (and let's hope that there will soon be more than appear there just now....)

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