April 16, 2014

Oki's Movie: Hong Sang-soo's Echo Chamber

Oh, Hong Sang-soo. Here you go again, you myopic auteur, with your tried-and-true tropes: The philandering filmmaker who drinks too much, the winter-summer romance that doesn't add up, the backstabbing frenemy who for awhile takes the lead, the love triangle that breaks apart then forms anew with somewhat interchangeable people. And also once again, from me, a lot of eye-rolling that culminates with a double-take caused by a narrative twist or a genius piece of dialogue or a stretch of naturalistic acting that really is without peer in Korean cinema, all of which makes me second guess myself and you and what the whole point of movie-watching/making is.

In short Oki's Movie feels both like standard Hong fare and a fresh experiment. A collection of faux student shorts examining the ever-changing relationships of a college film professor (Mun Seong-kun), his protege (Lee Seon-gyun) and the young woman (Jeong Yu-mi) having affairs with them both, Oki's Movie initially feels like typically Hong Sang-soo in the worst way and ends up feeling like typical Hong Sang-soo in the best. The change of heart in the viewer comes late in the game, thanks to two scenes: One, in which the two students -- arriving late to class on a snow day -- are encouraged by the teacher to ask whatever they want which they do with hilarious results; the second, a longer sequence in which a walk in the woods, taken by the young woman first with the professor, then with the student, is compared via short back-to-back footage that, in a very telling way, illustrates what Hong is a master of -- showing the significance of the most seemingly insignificant moments and actions.

As much as I eventually came to appreciate, even like, Oki's Movie, I admit there's still a part of me that wishes that Hong came up with a different plot more often instead of treading familiar ground. But given how prolific he's been of late -- three movies in 2009, two in 2010, two in 2011, one in 2012, and three in 2013 -- I suppose it's inevitable that he repeat himself. To his credit, he does so inventively.

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