Thursday, August 13, 2015


Mori returns to Seoul where he taught Japanese to get back with the girl he fell in love with then. We see her pick up his letter to her about this and then we see Mori as his voiceover reads the letter. He has found a guest house close to where he remembers her living and knocks on her door, leaving notes when it doesn't open. We see her reading the letter with an expression that tells us it isn't welcome. Meanwhile, Mori gets busy acquainting himself with the other guests and the girl at the local cafe and from an early point we see that the progress of his visit is delivered in reverse. Well, kind of. When his correspondent opened the letter the pages spilled out and she read them in the order she put the unnumbered pages together. So, the events sometimes play in the right order but mostly they're backwards.

Mori doesn't speak Korean and the Koreans he meets don't speak Japanese. The dialogue is almost entirely in the third language of English. This means that not only does Mori face commicating with a lack of precision but the Koreans have to speak like tourists in their home town. Even when the conversation is warm or intimate it must pass through this filter. No one is saying quite what they mean and, even if their English is fluent, what they say is constantly compromised.

Just as he did with information deficit in last year's wonderful Our Sun Hi, Sang-Soo Hong plays with the fullness and clarity of meaning in the speech of his conversants. A subtle warning might emerge as a pleasantry, a compliment patronising. Through all of this the characters work on saying what they mean but the cheaper shot of farcical misunderstanding is not on the menu.

Instead, we get a deceptively gentle meditation on the constant problems of communication which scrubs up beautifully as comedy. It's easy to lose sight of Mori's trouble with love but that is the thing that informs almost every frame. Hong continues his great trust in his actors by keeping most of the scenes single shots and the focal length medium and the angle a profile while never feeling stagey.

This was shown with the Claire Denis short Voila l'enchainement which also used static close shots to describe a couple's disintegration in dialogue and monologue. It made its point and continued to do so, growing weighty and oppressive very quickly. Its thirty minutes on screen felt like Hill of Freedom's sixty-six and the reverse is damningly as true. Long live Sang-Soo Hong!

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