South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, whose extraordinary new drama “The Woman Who Ran” airs on Film at the Lincoln Center Virtual Theater, has made eighteen feature films since 2009 and twenty-six in total. He is the most prolific great director since Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died in 1982. (Hong has directed two other feature films since the premiere of “The Woman Who Ran” at the Berlin International Film Festival last year.) Fassbinder, who had institutional backing, Hong became prolific when his institutional backing waned. He imagines an independent production system, tinkering with budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars per film and shaping an aesthetic that reflects both the modesty of his means and the audacity of his ideas. He films, on a local, domestic and personal scale, the stuff of everyday life with a mixture of patient intensity and jerky rearrangements and fragmentations, in order to encapsulate great emotions and great ideas in speculative forms. intriguing. He does it again in “The Woman Who Ran,” which draws on his familiar means for a story of exceptional intensity and depth. Even great, prolific directors have strengths, and this film is one of Hong’s best; its form relies on disturbing ironies to tackle one of the most powerful subjects: the nature of happiness and, in particular, a happy marriage, from a married woman’s perspective.
Even the title is ironic. The woman in question, Gam-hee (played by Kim Min-hee, Hong’s partner), who appears to be in her thirties, is racing against the clock. She takes advantage of her husband’s absence from their home in Seoul – he is on a brief business trip – to visit one night in succession two friends she has not seen for a long time. During these visits, she explains why: her husband (unnamed, invisible) prefers them to be together all the time, and her trip marks the first time in five years of marriage that they have even been separated. ‘One day. On his first visit, Gam-hee goes to Young-soon’s (Seo Young-hwa) apartment, carrying a package of meat that will be grilled for dinner. Young-soon, who is divorced, lives in a paradoxical place: a gleaming, high-tech multi-story building on a secluded site outside of town, almost in the countryside, on open land that includes a garden and a chicken coop. . (The movie begins with a close-up of the chicken coop, followed by a loud rooster crowing.) There, the two women, along with Young-soon’s roommate, Young-ji (Lee Eun-mi), mainly engage in the activity that forms the core of Hong’s films – extended, virtually Socratic dialogues on ordinary subjects, such as food, money, real estate, art, neighborhood and people. These conversations give rise to singular observations and daring speculations; they both deliver the experiential stories the drama is based on and pitch the ideas that the characters, and Hong himself, derive from it – primarily, the miserable inadequacy of men for any decent relationship and the particular standard by which Gam-hee seems to have achieved one nonetheless.
The meat dinner leads Young-soon, a vegetarian, to speculate about the conscious distinction between mind and body that she enjoys recognizing and doubts cows can make. The henhouse prompts Young-ji to describe a domineering rooster pecking feathers off hens’ backs, not as part of mating, she says, but just “to prove he’s the strongest.” The next scene slyly links the arrogant cruelty of the male bird to that of male humans, when a man rings the doorbell and confronts Young-ji about the feral cats she is feeding. During their barely verbal jousting, he says his wife is afraid of cats and threatens to press charges against her. The rooster-a-doodle-doos of the rooster, which precede and end up concluding Gam-hee’s visit, suddenly turn out to be menacing, an ambient sign of the masculine vanity and aggressiveness that Young-soon and Young-ji are into. faced.
This sense of threat comes to the fore the next time Gam-hee visits a friend named Su-young (Song Seon-mi), who lives in a stylish apartment amid the near-bohemian urban bustle of Seoul. . Su-young is a producer of dance shows, but she only works in it in a disjointed way (although she got a good deal on her apartment as a conspicuous artist). She mainly teaches Pilates, and frequents a neighborhood bar where many artists are regulars. She finds her loneliness hard to bear (“You’re lucky, there are so few decent guys, and Koreans, ugh”) and her boring nightlife. She had a one-night stand with a young poet who now rings her doorbell and berates her for ignoring him afterward – and she fears that, in his rage, he will tell someone about the affair. another male neighbor, a married man but a separated architect, with whom she goes out thin.
Hong’s distinctive methods localize and condense the passions and anxieties that volcanically bubble beneath the smooth surfaces of everyday middle-class life. He films the discussions of the women in very long panning and zooming in and out shots that analyze the dialogue analytically. It’s as if these vividly determined visual interventions transform the speech into a libretto and put it into calm but emphatic visual music, transforming physical stillness into intellectual action and emotional revelation. Hong pays particular attention to the cinematic and personal implications of architecture and town planning, and he creates scenes that take domestic details to their logical but eccentric, expressive but symbolic extremes, as in a set of disturbing scenes including Gam-hee is a witness through her hosts’ closed-circuit security cameras. His sad fascination with the interpenetration of public spaces and private life is reflected in his artfully conscious approach to the decisive framing forms of cinematic narrative.
In other films, such as “Hill of Freedom” and “On the Beach at Night Alone”, Hong challenges ordinary perceptions and interpretations by freely mixing time and interweaving fantasy and reality. In “The Woman Who Ran” his daring is more subtle but no less powerful, making the film’s provocative ideas all the more clear: by simply removing some expected narrative panels and adding a few weird coincidences, he defamiliarizes situations and familiar settings. The resulting air of abstraction evokes the powerful underlying social forces that wreak havoc on the emotional lives of his characters and which Gam-hee, moving to the other side of despair, artfully and moving resists. There is a kind of speculative formalism even in his own action, in the basic action of the title: in her few days away from her husband, Gam-hee runs away from his own loneliness and runs to his lonely friends, as if to see her. his own life reflected back to him through the lenses of their frustrations. Without a word on current events or social activism, his private position responds to social divides and gender wars in South Korea, and is, in its very essence, political. Hong is the most French of non-French directors, and Gam-hee’s sense of her marriage reflects the bitterly ironic last line of one of France’s greatest films, “Le Plaisir” by Max OphÃ¼ls, an adaptation of stories by the ironist master Guy de Maupassant: âHappiness is not gay.