Film professor turned director Hong Sang-Soo returns with another film that captures the amazing complexities of life between male and female. “Woman On The Beach” (2006) captures Hong Sang Soo’s (who writes and directs) usual themes of ‘battle of the sexes’ and how men and women differ from each other with the way they deal with the past, present and the future. Unlike “Woman is the Future of Man” and “Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors” (both movies are quite cryptic and can be alienating to most viewers), Hong takes a more light-hearted and endearing approach to his screenplay. “Woman On the Beach” can be a little funny once you consider each scenes significance to the next; and it is a wonder that the events in the film happen inside a week. Hong probably wanted to make a point as to how life moves quickly and that we need to seize the moment when opportunity comes along.
Suffering a case of writer’s block, film director Kim Jung-Rae (Seung Woo Kim) persuades his friend Chang Wook (Kim Tae-Woo) to accompany him to a beach resort so he can get his thoughts together for his new intended script. Once there, Jung Rae quickly becomes involved with Chang Wook’s girlfriend (Hyun-Jung Go). Two days past, and Jung Rae longs for Moonsook and falls into the arms of another woman. The events within this week become the inspiration for Jung-Rae’s latest movie as the events create enough drama to finalize a compelling screenplay.
This film is about insecurities and relationships; how people manage to get by in dealing with their issues. Human beings, both male and female have issues they need to accept and realize; it is the only way they can fix those problems. Men are more insecure of a woman’s past while women are more or less concerned about the same things but for different reasons. Regardless, the film makes a strong statement about how the past is part of the present and may well be the key to the future. Men and women seem to struggle for peace inside a relationship and oftentimes, they fail to find it even when it is staring directly at their faces. It would be hard to look forward to a future when one cannot let go of a past and the images that come from them. The film also takes a look at lack of communication and how this ruins the foundations of a relationship.
Hong’s creation is rich with symbolism as with his other films. The forest, the dog, the area with the three trees (Jung-Rae bowing), the forest at night, the beach and the car stuck in the sand all represent something significant in life. We all try to make the most of our lives and make do the best we can, even if it means that we have some stops to make along the way. Hong Sang-Soo always had a knack for making his shots simple, lingering with a touch of minimalism. He keeps a perspective view to keep his shots wide, almost emulating a voyeur-like feeling for the viewer. It is also a refreshing ingredient to have a soundtrack this time around, that fit the film’s premise.
The performances are quite good. Seung-Woo Kim plays the Korean male Kim Jung-Rae, who seems to stumble along his goals; he finds solace in the company of the opposite sex and yet true peace seems forever denied him. I thought the actor made a good balance of being unlikable and yet charming to the viewer. Moonsook is played by Hyun-Jung Go who is simply convincing in her role. Her character desires honesty and yet, she sees nothing but lies in her eyes at least. She seems to seize the moment whenever possible and is quite impulsive. She is laid back and has dated quite a few westerners before. SunHee (Song Seon-Mi) is the other woman with issues from her past. She clings to it as if her past defines her and yet, she feels that it hampers her. Hong may have been trying communicate that no one is an island and that everyone should learn from their past (never a victim) in a more positive way.
“Woman on the Beach” is not a perfect film. It is rather slow to the casual movie watcher and some devices were left underdeveloped so it could focus on its themes. Hong Sang Soo has always been a good director; while his films are not for everyone, I enjoy them since they allow me the opportunity to interpret his films for myself. Much like “Woman is the Future of Man”, Hong portrays the insecure male psyche, but this time, he also takes a peek at the female viewpoint. Sometimes funny and clever and often whimsical, this film is a refreshing reminder just how funny life can be and we need to appreciate life as we see it, not as what we want from it. I wonder if this film was based on true events in Hong’s life…
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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Woman on the Beach is that rarity, a genuinely fresh romantic comedy that slyly and subversively spins the conventions of the genre in new, unpredictable directions. Comparable to Eric Rohmer, it depicts attractive, talkative young people tripping over their own paradoxes as they follow a twisting path of self-examination and self-deception.
In preparing for his next movie, filmmaker Joong-rae finds himself suffering from writer’s block and unable to finish his script. Looking to take a break, he pleads with his friend and production designer Chang-wook to join him on a trip to the west coast. Chang-wook has already made plans with his girlfriend Moon-sook, but he eventually resigns to his friend’s wishes, and decides to join Joong-rae. Bringing the vivacious Moon-sook along, Chang-wook and Joong-rae set off to visit the cherry-blossom covered Shinduri Beach Resort. Not long after their arrival, Joong-rae and Moon-sook are sneaking off for long walks on the strand.
Already a fan of his films, Moonsook falls for Joong-rae’s advances and the two spend a heated night together. Filled with anxiety the following day, the fickle hero can’t commit and he awkwardly parts with Moon-sook before hastily retreating to Seoul. Soon the narrative splits into two halves that mirror each other in a playful pattern of rhymes and variations. What had been a sardonic Jules and Jim turns into a burlesque Vertigo when Joong-rae returns to the coastal resort and attempts ...