December 25, 2012

Woman Is the Future of Man: So Real It Hurts

If asked, I'd say I had a bedgrudging respect for autuer Hong Sang-soo but after re-watching Woman Is the Future of Man, I'm going to let the begrudging part go. Although I may never be able to rally around Night and Day or Woman on the Beach (too many cliches; not enough plot), I actually liked the violently jarring The Day the Pig Fell into the Well and his melancholic The Power of Kangwon Province unreservedly. Woman Is the Future of Man, I downright love. A character portrait of a trio of people, Hong's film makes you cringe and ache so often you may think you've got Tourette's, surfacing as it does the little cruelties we inflict and little pains we experience on a moment-to-moment basis when we're in the thick of it. No one is the hero. No one is the villain. No one is the antihero. Art professor Lee Mun-ho (Yu Ji-tae), budding filmmaker Kim Hyeon-gon (Kim Tae-woo) and the woman they both once loved many years ago, bar manager Park Seon-hwa (Seong Hyeon-a) are three flawed humans trying to get through life, unable to free themselves from the daily treacheries that make survival a small scale war. As such, they're constantly betraying each other and themselves so that eventually the small fortresses that they've built to protect themselves are completely smashed away. Sad? Yes. But electric, too.

You can't really pick out a specific actor as the best one here. Hong has cast astutely right down to the lady across the street from the cafe and the guy in the back of the restaurant where Lee gathers with his students for an ill-fated meal. That said, Yu's professor is a fascinating mixture of bumbling and smooth, Kim's filmmaker can't quite shed the hipster edginess that you pray one day he'll outgrow, and Park conveys a quiet bewilderment as she relives the misguided choices of youth all over again one snowy, sloppy weekend. I'd also like to give a shout out to both composer Jeong Yong-jin for his hauntingly wistful score and to Mary, the black Labrador Retriever, who has so many perfect moments as a background player that you'd award her an Equity card (deluxe edition) if animals got those types of things. In terms of film-watching, 2012 hasn't been a great year for me but Woman Is the Future of Man restores my faith in Korean movies. So thank you, Hong Sang-soo, and sorry about any slights I made to your work in the past. Next time, I'm coming in an unreserved fan.

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