Thursday, August 09, 2007

Woman on the Beach (2006)

Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, 2006)
Korean Title: Haebyonui yoin

In one scene in Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach, film director Jung-rae (Kim Seung-woo) draws a nebulous shape in his notepad; he draws three points in the shape which is connected to make a triangle. He explains to composer Mun-suk (Go Hyun-jung) the significance of the triangle (that it serves as a mnemonic tool that relates to an unsavory event in the past); he then draws several more points (all of which, he tells, pertain to more savory memories), and connects all the points making a complex polygon. He continues to explain that he is trying to remove himself from the triangle by expanding into the polygon in order to move on, and expects Mun-suk to help him.

The theory sounds a lot like bullshit; and Hong's intense detailing (complete with a zoom-in into the sketches in the notepad) makes it even more hilarious. However, this draws the line between Jung-rae and the all of Hong's embattled male characters; he is the only one who sought to escape the predestined rut by shaping up a rationale, a hypothesis behind the recurring events of his life. After watching the film of course, it doesn't seem that Jung-rae's clever rationalizations helped him; we again hear him (through a phone call to Mun-suk) explain how much he misses the girl, and how his leaving her is merely a retreat, a sign of weakness.

Woman in the Beach has Hong in his most geometric (and I believe Hong is a director who fancies triangles, structures, and angles to fetishistic proportions --- his films have always had love triangles and a meticulous attention to geometric blocking and detailed structuring). He starts out with a single love triangle (between Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo), Mun-suk and Jung-rae). Observe Hong's aesthetics wherein he frequently uses zooms to negate one character, thus bringing attention to a couple, and then zooms out, to reveal the complete triangle. But well within the triangle of the first half of the film, are other off-screen triangles (Chang-wook is married but has Mun-suk as a girlfriend-on-the-side; Jung-rae is a recent divorcee).

The second half of the film has Hong complicating the triangle he has already made us familiar with, by introducing further characters such as Sun-hee (Song Seon-mi), a vacationer who is interviewed by a director, and her friend. We realize that Hong intends to complicate his themes (which makes Woman on the Beach into a more ambitious film compared to his previous efforts which have neatly packaged love triangles with very little complications --- Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (2000), Woman is the Future of Man (2004), Tale of Cinema (2005)). Triangles start overlapping, and identical points to the triangles start commingling, resulting into unexpected statements of humanity in the face of complex relationships.

What's the point of Hong's obsession with structures, shapes and the number three (love triangles, the three trees, trees which made Jung-rae knelt to, etc.)? We go back to one of the many themes (aside from the perpetual filmmaker-protagonists, the immature male characters, the drunken confessionals, the frank yet lifeless portrayals of copulation) that connect Hong's cinema. His structures, his persistence with basic mathematical imputations are the connective tissue that relate memory to human experiences and relationships, which he so nonchalantly paints in his films. Hong would always signal remembrance (the events and objects that connect the two divisions of the film, like the dog in the beach or the waiter offended by Jung-rae's impertinence; places which appear twice and invite remembrance like the rest stop or the empty room wherein Jung-rae and Mun-suk first had sex), as made more apparent by the chapters and the meticulousness to numerical detail.

The overlapping triangles seem to be residues of unshelled memories; they are mere repetitions of mistakes made or inflicted in the past, continuously haunting those chained to it (which almost all of Hong's characters are). The interesting bit about Woman on the Beach is that finally, Hong has created a character is now aware of the torturous cycles in life and relationships inflicted by the inescapable grasps of memory and tried to find a way out of it, flawed and convoluted as it may seem.


dodo dayao said...

Hi oggs.

I missed this today. Something came up. I'll catch tomorrow's screening if I can but I'm about to leave to see The Unseeable. Going to look for that Sandra Wong VCD you talked about.

Oggs Cruz said...

The Sanda Wong VCD is bundled with Joel Lamangan's Darna, for the low low price of P99. Good luck with the search. I'll probably skip The Unseeable so I can study and still catch The Edge of Heaven tonight.