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Acclaimed Korean director and international festival favourite Hong Sang Soo returns with “In Another Country”, his 15th outing and another playful meditation on life and relationships, washed down as ever with plenty of alcohol. The film represents somewhat of a coup for Hong, seeing him recruiting multiple international award winning French actress Isabelle Huppert for his female lead, who in her career has worked with such legendary helmers as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Michael Haneke to name but a few. In addition to Huppert, the film reunites the director with Moon Sung Keun (“Oki’s Movie) and Yoo Jun Sang (“The Day he Arrives”), with Kwon Hae Hyo (“Cyrano Agency”), Moon So Ri (excellent in Lee Chang Dong’s “Oasis”) and Yoon Yeo Jeong, (“The Housemaid”) also in the cast.
As he has in the past, Hong splits the film into three narratively separate, though thematically overlapping stories which share the same cast in slightly different roles, held together by a framing device in which a young film student (Jung Yoo Mi, “Silenced”) writes a script set in a small seaside town where she is staying with her mother.
Each of the three segments revolves around Huppert, firstly with her playing a French film director called Anne on holiday with fellow director Jong Soo (Kwon Hae Hyo) and his pregnant wife (Moon So Ri). Complications arise when it’s revealed that Anne and Jong Soo may have shared intimate moments in the past, and once the drinks start to flow and his wife gets paranoid, trouble is soon brewing. In the second part, Huppert is this time a married woman who arrives in the town for a planned liaison with her lover, another older Korean film director (Moon Sung Keun). When he announces that he will be late for their tryst, she ends up wandering the streets and beaches, having a few odd encounters in the process. In the final part, Huppert this time plays a woman brought there by a friend (Yoon Yeo Jeong), hoping that the trip will help her get over her divorce. Again, curious events result, including a fateful meeting with the same enthusiastic and somewhat stalkery lifeguard (Yoo Jun Sang) who her other characters came across in the earlier stories.
Hong Sang Soo has been an enduring darling of the critics and film festival staple for some years now, and “In Another Country”, which played in competition at Cannes, perhaps unsurprisingly sees him sticking to what he does best. The film is instantly recognisable as a Hong film, with all of the director’s by now well-known trademarks present and correct, from his usual fractured narrative through to his continuing themes of infidelity, insecurity and alcohol consumption. The three story structure actually works very well, with the subtle repetitions and amusing differences allowing Hong to show his characters basically making the same mistakes from different angles, comically commenting on the many foibles of the human condition, with the male ego in particular coming in for quite a bashing. Although such a device might sound manipulative or obtuse, film is unpredictable and refreshingly unpretentious, Hong’s talent as a storyteller shining through.
Like “The Day he Arrives”, the film sees Hong on light-hearted form, throwing in plenty of comic misunderstandings and amusingly awkward moments. With Huppert on board, the focus is unsurprisingly on culture and language clashes, with lots of jokes at the expense of characters trying, and often failing to communicate for a variety of reasons, Yoo Jun Sang getting most of the laughs thanks to some hilarious (if sometimes a little creepy) bumbling. The cast all seem to have been having a great time, especially Huppert, who really shines in every scene and the film has an improvised and naturalistic feel. Though it doesn’t shy away from telling moments of harshness, it’s for the most part bright and breezy viewing, matching its picturesque and sunny seaside scenery with mischievous insights.
“In Another Country” is an easy recommendation for any Hong Sang Soo fans, as though it doesn’t offer anything different it sees the immensely talented director on wonderfully laid back form. For newcomers, the film is perhaps more accessible than some of his other works, and makes for alternately thoughtful fun throughout, benefitting from a fine and likeable cast.
Sang-soo Hong (director) / Sang-soo Hong (screenplay)
CAST: Isabelle Huppert
Kwon Hye Hyo
Jung Yu Mi
Moon Sung Keun
Youn Yuh Jung