Saturday, February 10, 2007

Woman is the Future of Man (2004)

Woman is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, 2004)
Korean Title: Yeojaneun namjaui miraeda

I saw Hong Sang-soo's Woman is the Future of Man a couple of years back. I was not very impressed; it was probably because it's my first time to get into Hong's cinema (my encounters with Hong's films thereafter turned out to be more fulfilling experiences). I thought it was the right time for a re-evaluation of the film, and with that, prepared myself with a clear mind so that I can get past the cryptic grooves of Hong's filmmaking.

The film starts with a reunion of two acquaintances, Mun-ho (Yu Ji-tae), a Western art professor struggling for university tenure, and Hyeon-gon (Kim Tae-woo), struggling filmmaker who just came back from America. It's an awkward meeting; Mun-ho meets Hyeon-gon outside his gated house, excusing the fact that he can't invite his friend inside and as a consolation, gives Hyeon-go the opportunity to first step on the newly formed inches of snow in his garden. Hyeon-gon does so; walks backwards to a certain point and re-steps back so that it looks like he only walked in one direction. The duo proceed to drink in a local restaurant; again, uncomfortably re-aquainting themselves with their respective pasts.

Awkwardness defines the duo. Both of their tries at flirting with the waitress fail (Hyeon-gon pretends to cast the waitress in her film; Mun-ho pretends to hire the waitress as a nude art model), leading to their respective flashbacks of their relationship with Seon-hwa (Seong Hyeon-a). The flashbacks lend a hazy rationale as to why the duo would later on visit Seon-hwa in her bar in Puchon. I believe the greater rationale as to why the two would ride a taxi and spend the night, and the next day with Seon-hwa is to find a sense of resolution to a love affair and to a sexually dependent college life they used to have.

I realized why I easily dismissed the film at first glance. Hong's methods were deceptively slight; his narrative is punctuated with atypical temporal shifts before straightforwardly going places without a sober sense of sticking with a character. A couple of years after my initial viewing, the filmmaking felt justified --- after all, Hong's characters are always in a drunken confessional while baring their unguarded personalities for all the world to scrutinize. The way Hong handled his themes which easily overpowers narrative flow and characterization complements the impermanent needs, sexual and otherwise, of his characters. Mun-ho decides immediately after meeting a group of his former students to forego going to the spring with Seon-hwa and Hyeon-go; in a fit of jealousy, Hyeon-go leaves Seon-hwa behind; Mun-ho finally shifts sexual gaze to his ex-student and brings her to a filthy motel --- Hong's characters are in a constant search for satisfaction that once the confrontation of an open-ended past felt inutile, the search begins anew.

It is that jarring face-off of the psycho-sexual neediness of the Korean adult and that facade of contentment (a gated hill-top house, a beautiful wife, tenure in the university) that makes this Hong feature more compelling than it looks to be. Hong captures everything with humorous detail; even supposedly shocking events like Seon-hwa's rape is abruptly "cured" by Hyeon-go's lovemaking, Mun-ho's cluelessness in thinking that girls' legs are naturally smooth, Seon-hwa's noting that the chip in her tooth makes her blowjobs more delightful. It certainly feels like Hong denotes these seemingly adult confrontations and meet-ups as akin to the fancifulness and predictability of child's play.

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