Acclaimed master auteur of Korean indie cinema Hong Sang Soo returns with “Oki’s Movie”, another unconventional film dealing with life, love and drinking. Split into four parts, the film is a complex, overlapping affair very much in the director’s trademark style and stars regular Hong collaborator Jung Yoo Mi (recently in his excellent “Ha Ha Ha”) in the titular role, along with Lee Seon Gyun (“Night and Day”) and Moon Sung Keun (“Woman on the Beach”). As always with Hong, the film enjoyed a critically successful run at international festivals, including being chosen as the closing film for the Horizons section of the 67th Venice Film Festival.
The film kicks off with “A Day for Incantation” following bumbling indie film maker Jingu (Lee Seon Gyun) as he runs into trouble with his wife Oki (Jung Yoo Mi), suspecting that she may be losing interest in him. Partly this is due to his drinking too much, which causes more problems for the poor man at a dinner for his respected mentor Professor Song (Moon Sung Keun). The second section (which begins after an oddball credit sequence) is “King of Kisses”, charting the origins of the romance between Oki and Jingu, which also starts to let slip a few revelations, chiefly that she was at the same time carrying on an affair with the much older and married Song. Next up is the short and somewhat inconsequential “After the Snowstorm”, with the three protagonists together in classrooms, before things wrap up with “Oki’s Movie”, depicting the film she has made about her relationships with the two men, blurring the lines between reality and cinema.
“Oki’s Movie” is instantly recognisable as one of Hong Sang Soo’s works, revolving around films, film makers, clumsy relationships, conflicting and overlapping perspectives, and of course, too much drinking. This film also has his usual clearly defined structure and attempts at playing around with viewer expectations, with the four segments being treated both as separate short films, and as parts of a sketchily defined bigger picture. This is actually less awkward than it sounds, and though anecdotal the four do fit together reasonably comfortably, despite Hong never making it clear which are flashbacks or at what point in the lives and relationships of the characters they are taking place.
The final act does invite the viewer to draw some conclusions, only to throw in one of director’s favourite twists right at the end which throws in a further level of metaphysical complexity, something which may well prove frustrating to those not used to Hong’s fondness for the manipulation of the cinematic medium. It’s this fourth section which sees the director diverting at least slightly from his usual formula, in that it is seen from the point of view of Oki herself, making for a female controlling voice rarely seen in his works, that not only justifies the film’s title, but unexpectedly turns her into the protagonist.
What all of this means is very much up for debate, as with the fractured love triangle never really driving the narrative, it comes across as a vaguely autobiographical meditation upon the fragility of the male ego and the absurdities of life and love, as well as the petty ups and downs of indie film making. The first and fourth segments of the film are the most effective, with some amusing social awkwardness resulting from Jingu’s drinking, as well as some wry observations from Oki. Although the film is never particularly emotional, keeping a studied distance from its character, it still makes for very human and sympathetic viewing. The characters are all likeable despite their many flaws and eccentricities, and the film manages to be both cleverly self aware and highly personal at the same time. Clocking in at just an hour and twenty minutes it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome or waste time overstating its themes, and it’s a breezily efficient piece of art house cinema that successfully holds the interest.
“Oki’s Movie” is another fine outing from Hong Sang Soo, being thoughtful and entertaining, if wilfully obscure. Although it might be nice to see him tackling something a little different, it’s a worthy addition to his body of work still very enjoyable, especially for fans or anyone looking for something a little more challenging than the average drama.
Sang-soo Hong (director) / Sang-soo Hong (screenplay)
CAST: Yu-mi Jeong