Acclaimed Korean auteur Hong Sang Soo returns with his 15th feature, “Our Sunhi”, which like his other 2013 outing “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon” sees him following a female protagonist on a personal journey and search for identity. With Jung Yoo Mi, star of Hong’s “Oki’s Movie” in the lead, the director teams again with a crowd of his usual collaborators, including Lee Seon Gyun, Kim Sang Joong and Ye Ji Won, who are joined by popular actor Jung Jae Young (“Moss”) as one of Sunhi’s potential suitors. As with all of his works, the film played at various international festivals, with Hong winning the Silver Leopard award for Best Director at the 66th Locarno International Film Festival.
Jung Yoo Mi plays the Sunhi of the title, a film school graduate trying to decide what to do with her life. Having made up her mind to study overseas in the US, she heads to her university to get a recommendation letter from her former professor Choi (Kim Sang Joong). Although he agrees to do the letter, he warns her that she might not like what he writes, and it’s clear that there is some kind of unresolved tension between the two. From there, Sunhi goes drinking by herself in a nearby chicken restaurant, where she calls her ex-boyfriend and amateur film maker Munsu (Lee Seon Gyun) to join her, and the two talk about the past and future. Munsu then goes to meet fellow director Jaehak (Jung Jae Young), who also happens to be a friend of Choi, and who later ends up meeting Sunhi. With the three men having their own ideas about her character and life, the question arises as to what Sunhi herself thinks.
Following on from the excellent “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon”, “Our Sunhi” again shows Hong Sang Soo becoming very talented at exploring the psyche of modern Korean women – albeit in part knowingly and occasionally ironically from a male point of view. The film is very much in line with his other works, and sees him turning his usual themes and playful techniques to this female perspective, and it features the same kind of overlapping relationships, repeated conversations, and cyclical coincidences that viewers have come to expect from the director. Of course, the film also packs in plenty of drinking, with most of its conversations taking place over a great many glasses of alcohol. Though there’s familiarity here, Hong is one of those directors whose approach always feels fresh and engaging, and the film has a beautiful sense of surface simplicity, both in terms of its structure and visuals, featuring some lovely shots of scenery that give it a laid back sense of place.
As usual, Hong lets his characters drive the film, and though she’s not always on-screen, the film is very much centred on Sunhi and her vague quest for self-knowledge. While her personal journey, in the usual manner of the director, is unfocused, whimsical and obtuse, without obvious answers or resolutions, it’s at the same time very rewarding and emotionally rich, in its own abstract kind of way. There’s a great deal of duplicity and duality throughout, mainly on behalf of the amusingly self-involved male characters, all of whom seem to change their opinions of Sunhi during their conversations, shifting from calling her weak and indecisive before declaring their affection and respect for her – seen in particular in the professor’s recommendation letters and her drunken meeting with Munsu.
As well as exploring the extent to which Sunhi (and possibly women in general) has been, or indeed has allowed herself to be defined by the questionably motivated dictates of incompetent others, the film also pokes gentle fun at the male ego, the guys who revolve around her all being pompous, insecure film makers and academics who clearly don’t have much of a clue themselves. This makes for some very funny scenes, and Hong as ever shows a sly, though gentle sense of humour that consistently rings true without ever seeming too mean-spirited.
With great performances from Jung Yoo Mi in the lead and from Lee Seon Gyun, Kim Sang Joong and Jung Jae Young, “Our Sunhi” is another highly accomplished and entertaining outing from Hong Sang Soo, whose status as one of Korea’s most talented living directors is by now unquestionable. Insightful, intelligent and with a deceptively light touch, the film is a must-see for fans of Hong, as well as a very accessible starting point for newcomers to his work.
Sang-soo Hong (director) / Sang-soo Hong (screenplay)
CAST: Jae-yeong Jeong … Jae-hak
Yu-mi Jeong … Sunhi
Seon-gyun Lee … Moon-soo
Sang Jung Kim