Hong Sang-Soo is a film professor turned director. I have seen only 2 of his films, "Virgin stripped bare by her Bachelors" and this one; "WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN" (2004). The director is an artist concerned with alienation and the "battle of the sexes". Sangsoo definitely has a fondness for subtle symbolism and repetition in tales of unsympathetic relations and the mistake of always trying to recapture the past, not being able to let go.
This director is a minimalist and a very strict one at that. He avoids cinematic manipulations like close-ups. Most scenes in his movies are done in 1 take, wide shots and limits camera movement. He gives his performers a wide berth to fill a scene. I think he uses an observational perspective in many ways.
The tale begins when 2 old chums meet for a lazy afternoon, which will lead to a drunken weekend. Munho (Jitae Yu) is a married art teacher, while his friend, Hunjoon (Teawoo Kim) had just returned from his film studies from the U.S.. The two reconnect and reminisce about their past until their discussions finally get to an old friend of theirs; a woman named Sunhwa (Hyeona Seong) with whom they both had a romance. The two inadvertently decide to see her and soon enough, past feelings of guilt, resentment and confusion begins to resurface. But can Munho and Hunjoon learn from the past or does their own history really repeat itself?
The screenplay is about a "slow reveal", blossoming occurrences and "Woman..." starts with Munho making a point not to invite Hunjoon into his home. Munho offers Hunjoon to walk into the backyard to walk on fresh snow. Two of the potent symbolisms are shown when Hunjoon takes a few steps on the snow and backtracks in them on purpose so that the path will seem like it had suddenly stopped. As for this scene; it is a piece of symbolism: 1) an abandoned path (stopped walking forward) means no set direction or I suppose from the title's standpoint "no future" 2) Hunjoon walking backwards in his steps means a desire to go back and relive the past.
As for the act that Munho didn't let his friend inside his home, Munho has harbored anger when Hunjoon gave his spouse an " friendly American" hug when they went to visit him in the States before. Munho is a man of resentment and insecurity. He feels that Hunjoon has always been the man who is ahead, while his fate appears to be following his lead. The two still have some childish notions that have become part of their persona; clearly we are shaped by our experiences and we can either learn to improve or dwell on them to haunt us.
“Woman is the Future of Man’s” premise is mostly about male arrogance and female vulnerability especially in the country where the film is made. The two friends act childishly, they drink and eventually reminisce about a shared romance back in the college days, Sunhwa, and for some reason as much as they feel like making up for their past failings, the same flaws eventually resurface.
For Hunjoon, he remembers Sunhwa as a fragile girl that he had mistreated. He took advantage of her when he supposedly tried to "cleanse" her (by having sex with her) after she was raped by an old school chum, then dumping her to attend film school in America. For Munho, he dated her while Hunjoon was in the states attending film school. He remembers her as an awkward sexual conquest that seems to embody an idea that he only wanted a piece of what was Hunjoon‘s. The ultimate irony is that the two men are unable to see their shortcomings when it comes to women, they do express their frustrations in their drunken pleas for punishment, at the same time, they seem to know what it is wrong but yet they are pathetic and ignorant when it comes to making amends with themselves that they are doomed to commit their past mistakes.
“Woman is the Future of Man” is a not a film for everyone but it is definitely for those who like Korean art house cinema. It seems rather slow and boring to the casual movie watcher but to those who like cinema, it is worth a look. Hong Sang-Soo is one of Korea’s most recognized directors, along with Lee Chang-Dong and Kim Ki-Duk. Their films are usually not for everyone, but no one can deny that they are different and brimming with originality.
Recommended Timidly, Rent it First [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]