Although I wrote my “best of 2010″ list a couple of weeks back, I have still been catching up with last year’s releases, and my Top Ten in a month from now will probably feature at least 50% new films. One of these will definitely be Hong Sang-soo’s OKI’S MOVIE, his second feature film released last year (following HAHAHA). It is Hong’s eleventh feature, and while I think it works well on its own, it is probably best appreciated in the context of Hong’s career. Like many of Hong’s recent films, it is strongly connected to his past work as well as suggesting new directions and approaches to narrative and stylistic form. Yes, the subject matter is again familiar, but anyone claiming Hong is only repeating himself is not watching carefully enough.
The film is divided into four short movies, each with its own credit sequence and title.
1. A Day for Incantation; 2. King of Kisses; 3. After the Snow Storm; 4. Oki’s Movie
A Day for Incantation follows the character of Jingu (Lee Seon-gyoon), a married film director who also works as a professor at a film school. We are introduced to a older professor, Song (Moon Seong-geun), who he suspects of professional dishonesty. The section concludes at a Q&A, where Jingu is accused by an audience member of ruining the life of a young woman with whom he had an affair. This character (or at least actress) then appears in the second section, King of Kisses, which is a flashback to Jingu’s days as a student. He is in love with a fellow student, Oki (Jeong Yu-mi), who is also, unbeknownst to him, having an affair with Professor Song. The third section focuses more on Song’s point of view before concluding with Oki’s perspective on the love triangle.
The shot breakdown for the entire film is here. Interestingly if probably coincidentally, the first two films are almost identical in length (26 minutes) and number of shots (26 as well, for an Average Shot Length of 60 seconds). The third film is the shortest at just over 9 minutes and includes 14 shots (ASL 42 seconds), while the final title section, “Oki’s Movie,” is over 14 minutes and includes 24 shots (ASL 36 seconds). In terms of Hong’s filmography, this is his most heavily edited film since his second feature, THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE (1998), and this is especially the case as the film progresses. This suggests the film may be a sign of Hong moving in new directions. His last film, HAHAHA, although a film I quite liked, felt somewhat more familiar, as did the film before that, LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL. In many ways, OKI’S MOVIE recalls Hong’s other most self-reflexive film, 2005′s A TALE OF CINEMA, in which Hong introduced the zoom technique into his filmmaking and broke with the more spartan style of his previous film, WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN. OKI’S MOVIE does not offer anything as radically new as the introduction of the zoom, but the structure of these interconnecting short films is nevertheless intriguing and makes for a very different Hongian experience than we have seen before.
The self-reflexive nature of the film can be traced back to the two films Hong made last year. LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL was probably, or at least seemingly, the most personal film yet by Hong, with its film director central character serving on a film festival jury and then giving a guest lecture at a university. One of the best scenes in the film involves the director being challenged by a question from a female student, who questions rather critically whether he is really a filmmaker and not a philosopher. The way in which the director is described seems very close to a Hong surrogate. The first film of OKI’S MOVIE concludes with a similar scene, although this time the criticism is much more personal an attack, as the woman claims the director had an affair and ruined the life of her friend. This dialogue is the longest shot of the film at over six minutes, and concludes with the director claiming he no longer makes films as a defensive gesture against her accusations. This first section sets up the rest of the film, although not in an obvious way. All three main actors are introduced, although they are very different than in the rest of the stories, which operate more like flashbacks. Clearly, the last film, “Oki’s Movie”, is from the female character’s perspective, as it is literally her film. But this makes one wonder if the other films can be clearly identified as belonging to one particular character. “After the Snow Storm” is very much Song’s film and “King of Kisses” seems the point of view of Jingu. The first film, however, is more complicated. It can be seen as Jingu’s film as well, although it is quite critical towards him in a way the second film is not. My reading is the first film is more Hong’s film, with him then deconstructing this short film and giving each character their own movie in order to gain further perspective. Obviously, in the literal sense Hong is the director of all the films, but this idea of a kind of omnibus feature reflecting on the same characters and events is one that works quite effectively.
The other antecedent to OKI’S MOVIE is Hong’s 2009 short made as part of the Jeonju Digital Project, “Lost in the Mountains.” Not only is this also another short film, like the four in OKI’S MOVIE, but it stars the same three leads. In this film, they are a female writer, her former professor/lover, and another former male student that form a very similar love triangle. This is the first Hong film to have a clear female lead character, as well as a voiceover for the first time. OKI’S MOVIE works as a very clever expanding of this short into feature length, not by making a longer film but by making more short ones that weave together. If OKI’S MOVIE is Hong’s shortest film at 82 minutes, this may be because the 35 minute LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS makes up its missing piece, much like the 87 minute WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN is missing a planned final section that Hong did not end up including.
What is exciting to me about OKI’S MOVIE is that the last two shorts are my favorites, despite being the most unlike other Hong works in their editing style. This is especially true of “Oki’s Movie”, which is narrated by Oki and features extensive parallel editing of her trips to the same mountain with her two different lovers two years apart. On its own, I’m not sure if this is not just a very good student film with a great premise. It truly gains its power from its placement at the end of these series of shorts, in which we are given a different style and approach that brings an emotional effect rare in Hong’s cinema. Although HAHAHA was my second favorite film of the year, I think I prefer OKI’S MOVIE simply because of its greater originality. With Hong, one always knows what they are going to get, but we can be surprised by how we get it. And the form in which the content is received, ultimately, makes the content not the same at all. In the end, perhaps no other director is less repetitive than Hong.
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