|Writer/director Hong Sang-soo|
|Actress Youn Yuh-jung|
|Director on the set with Yoo Jun-sang and Isabelle Huppert|
|Director at Cannes with Huppert and Yoo Jun-sang|
IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (Da-reun na-ra-e-seo) B- South Korea (89 mi) 2012 d: Hong Sang-soo
People tell me I make films about reality. They’re wrong. I make films based on structures that I have thought up. —Hong Sang-soo from Woman is the Future of Man press kit
From the beginning of his career, Hong has focused on human relationships, accentuating the inability of people to ever truly connect. Using an unflinching and at times blackly humorous style of Korean men behaving badly, the writer/director loves to expose men in uncomfortable situations, continually going on excessive drinking sprees followed by fumbling, awkward sex that they later regret, often leaving viewers uncomfortable or self-conscious, yet his films are stunning revelations of ingrained male flaws in a culture that is otherwise dominated by male power. His later films are less interested in graphic sexual encounters, but still include excessive drinking leading to inappropriate male advances towards younger women, yet narrative strands began to intersect in his films, where the same moment is repeated with slight variations, reshot from another character’s perspective, offering impressionistic glimpses that show life continually moving and evolving, never remaining static, where thoughts and memories have a life of their own, as people may remember the same occurrence in a completely different way. One of his most acclaimed films may best describe this pattern of repeating the exact same event yet accenting completely different characteristics, 2016 Top Ten List #8 Right Now, Wrong Then (Ji-geum-eun-mat-go-geu-ddae-neun-teul-li-da) (2015). Among the most noncommercial filmmakers on the planet, who still, somehow, finds ways to churn out nearly one film per year (which are only shown in New York City, apparently, nowhere else in the rest of the country), made on streamline budgets where scripts are often written on the same day of the shoot, this film tries something different, using the exact same characters and locations in three different variations of a similar, yet slightly different story. It came about completely by chance, as the director was having dinner with French actress Isabelle Huppert in Seoul on one of her film tours culminating with an agreement to work together, which has resulted in two films, this one and the charmingly amusing Claire's Camera (La caméra de Claire) (2017). Described by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian as a “transnational doodle of a film,” Cannes 2012: In Another Country – review | Film | The Guardian, Hong’s first film where a primary language is English (admittedly broken English), it features Huppert (whose name alone has made this Hong’s top-grossing film, which is unfortunate, as it’s arguably among his weaker efforts) as a tourist visiting a quaint seaside location in the small town of Mohang. The brief introduction, however, is unique, revealing a mother, Park Soon, veteran Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung, most recently seen as the Grandma in Minari (2020), also featured in a recent New York Film at Lincoln Center retrospective (Youn Yuh-jung Retrospective - Film at Lincoln Center Virtual ...), and daughter Wonju (Jung Yumi), fleeing to a beach town to escape debt incurred from a scandalous runaway uncle who left them in the lurch, as the mother, against her daughter’s advice, cosigned her brother’s massive loans believing he was family. As if to take her mind off their troubles, Wonju, a film student, sets out to write a new screenplay featuring a charming French visitor, framing three different episodes together where she encounters a revolving door of different characters, repeating certain exchanges of dialogue, relying upon familiar faces as well, where the visitor known as Anne stays in the same room at the same beachside location in each episode, known as the West Blue Hotel, which just happens to be where she and her mother are hiding out.
Of all of Hong’s films, this meandering, lighthearted sex farce (a nod to French films?) feels more absurdly Kafkaesque, overlapping an ordered symmetry with asymmetric revelations, with random intrusions continuously breaking the structured harmony, where viewers may find it difficult to relate to the insolent and completely unorthodox behavior on display, like a man repeatedly getting slapped in the face during a kiss, yet it’s amusing to see how objects recur and the mindset in each episode drastically changes. In the first episode, Anne, dressed entirely in blue, is a French director visiting Korean director Jung-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo in the first of six films made together so far) and his very pregnant wife Kum-hee (Moon Sori in the second of three Hong films), whose inflamed anger and jealousy at her husband’s lecherous behavior grows more animated, expressed in rapid-fire Korean-language arguments that Anne has no ability to comprehend, but she obviously sees a woman on the warpath. She and Jung-soo often meet on the balcony for a smoke, where he’s aware of his inappropriate behavior, but he apparently can’t stop himself, as he’s a serial womanizer. Warned repeatedly about “that kind of Korean man,” Anne displays little interest in his antics and prefers to go off on walks on her own, knocking on the manager’s door where Wonju answers, always offering helpful suggestions, and in some cases joining her part of the way. But in each of the three instances, Anne comes to a fork in the road with the option of turning left or right, always in search of a mysterious lighthouse that is picturesque, but draws few visitors. In fact, the beaches are primarily empty as the visit comes during winter season, yet no one has a need for a coat, so outdoor activities are pleasantly comfortable. There’s only one person swimming, a handsome but somewhat dimwitted lifeguard (Yoo Jun-sang, who has now made seven films with Hong), who comes out of the sea dripping wet, like a mythical child of Poseidon, where she approaches him in English asking the whereabouts of a lighthouse. A bit confused at first, with neither one proficient in English, yet he takes to her immediately, spending most of their time simply trying to comprehend what the other is saying, a theme that continues throughout the film. Both view the other as utterly charming, each avoiding stepping on broken glass left on the beach from a soju bottle, railing about the utter rudeness and thoughtlessness of this behavior, so she forgets her original intentions and simply follows this young man to an outdoor tent he has set up in a nearby park, inviting her inside, where he pulls out a guitar and sings her a contemporaneously made-up love song, in broken English no less, where she makes a captive audience. In something of a surprise, when she later attends an outdoor barbeque with Jung-soo and his wife, the lifeguard shows up (wearing the exact same outfit in each episode) to add more coals to the fire, working as a handyman on the premises as well. Jung-soo grows irate at the attention he exhibits towards Anne, finding it incredibly rude that he was forward enough to interrupt their dinner and ask repeatedly to speak with her, eventually ordering him away, which draws the attention of his wife, wondering why he’d get so upset, as if he was displaying signs of protective jealousy from his own interest in their French guest. The two of them routinely squabble, as his absent minded interest in other women at the height of her pregnancy is just too much for her to swallow. He, of course, ignores all her insinuations and accusations, feigning innocence when there’s none to be had.
In the second episode, Anne, dressed entirely in red, is the wife of a wealthy French business executive on holiday, growing angry on the phone when her lover Mun-soo (Moon Sung-keun), an older Korean filmmaker, claims he will be late joining her as he needs to interview an actress before she heads for Australia, having no other opportunity. This leaves her fuming, as they only have one day themselves, and she selfishly hates being stood up, even momentarily, especially if it involves another woman. Daydreaming about multiple possibilities, what follows is a series of reveries, heading off for the same crossroads, this time turning in the opposite direction, coming face-to-face with the lighthouse in question (seen only in a dream), sitting down on a post to admire it, falling into a kind of rapture, whereupon she is immediately greeted by her lover, who was nearby all along, each professing their love with admiration and kisses. As if arousing her from a dream, another gentleman interrupts her rapture, a total stranger, where she flees from the scene, heading back disappointed, but becomes fascinated by the young lifeguard seen en route. In another version Mun-soo arrives to an empty apartment, calling to contact her, and is surprised when the lifeguard answers, claiming the phone was dropped on the beach, but it’s in safe keeping if he’d like to collect it at his tent nearby. In yet another, Mun-soo arrives at her door and has to keep slamming at the door to awaken her from her slumber, heading off to the beach together, where he, of course, gallantly finds her phone before heading to the water, where once again the lifeguard rises out of the sea like a mythical creature, where her interest only enrages Mun-soo, jealous by the attention she shows the young stranger, which all unravels over drinks of soju at dinner in a nearby restaurant, growing excessively exaggerated, but they somehow make up. And in still another version, she receives a call of his expected late arrival, takes a leisurely stroll to the beach, following closely behind the young lifeguard, and has another disjointed conversation about discovering the lighthouse, heading down to the water where Mun-soo finally arrives, both embracing in a kiss, rudely getting slapped in the face before they re-embrace, with the lifeguard eying them from afar with his binoculars, guilty that he was caught spying. In the third episode, Anne, now dressed in green, has just been divorced by her wealthy husband who left her for his much younger Korean secretary, so a friend and professor who specializes in Korean folklore, Park Soon (Youn Yuh-jung) has suggested they spend some time on holiday to recover. Visiting a local temple together, Anne expresses an interest in meeting the monk, who happens to be away, so Park Soon invites a Buddhist monk friend of hers, Dr. Kim Young-oak, aka Master Doh-ol (Do-ol Kim Yong-ok), Korea’s leading contemporary philosopher (Dr. Young-Oak Kim, Hanshin University, “Where Is Korea ...), who pays them a visit, with Anne playing the narcissistic stereotype, expressing the boorish shallowness of a wealthy traveler abroad by her questions, where she’s really only interested in what she selfishly wants, seeing no other viewpoint, finding the Buddhist views utterly meaningless. Meeting outside for a smoke after a drink-filled dinner, both still very inebriated, Jung-soo suggests they take a walk, as he has something to show her, heading for the beach, and just when they’re about to kiss, his wife angrily yells at him, finally catching him in the act. The finale has Anne walking alone along the beach guzzling several bottles of soju, indifferently leaving the bottles behind in the sand, again watching the young lifeguard rise out of the water, offering him a drink, eventually ending up in his tent under the arms of a snoring young man. She departs unseen, leaving half a dozen empty bottles of soju scattered outside his tent, seen aimlessly strolling along the road by the sea under an umbrella, blitzed and totally carefree, with thoughts of her divorce a million miles away.