The Woman Who Ran (2020) Poster

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7/10
Escape
politic198310 November 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Every year, there's perhaps one thing that you can count on: Hong Sang-soo delivering another of his low-key, gentle comedies. And despite all that 2020 wants to throw at us, he has yet again delivered with a short, whimsical tale of inner turmoil, though this time light on the alcohol and heavy on the subtlety.

Gam-hee (increasing Hong ever-present Kim Min-hee) visits three friends from her past now that she finally has a day off from her seemingly happily married life, running a flower shop as she approaches middle-age. As ever, Hong throws us into each scenario with little context to start, leaving us to put the pieces together ourselves.

The first visit is to Young-soon (Seo Young-hwa), now divorced living in an apartment with her flatmate. Conversation is slow, with heavy alcohol consumption implied, but not really shown. Young-soon is clearly something of a big sister figure for Gam-hee, wanting to look after her friend as much as possible, while she complains about her ageing body. Her approach to her flatmate and young neighbour also show her role in society as a surrogate mother. Here we are introduced to Gam-hee's voyeurism, as she watches security camera footage of her friend's daily life. Five years of not spending any time away from her husband clearly starting to take its toll, Gam-hee chooses staring longingly out of the window over sleep. Living a simple life with her flatmate, Young-soon has something that Gam-hee is missing.

Next up is yoga instructor and theatre director Su-young (Song Seon-mi), who is seemingly living the high-life in a luxurious new apartment building full of artists. Gam-hee offers her an unwanted coat from her husband which Su-young laps up. Single, Su-young's life is relatively care-free; her biggest dilemma whether she should become a regular at the local bar frequented by artists or not. But a knock on the door shows that single life has also brought with it problems. A young poet demands to see her after a drunken one-night stand and Su-young has struggled to shake him off since. Absentmindedly burning their lunch, Su-young has a youthful freedom Gam-hee has now lost, again watching the security camera footage of Su-young's exchange with the young poet. Other lives are clearly more exciting.

Finally, we meet - supposedly accidentally - cinema director Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk), a woman with whom Gam-hee shares a difficult past: her husband Gam-hee's former lover. The pair discuss their mutual love and how now that his writing career has taken off, he has become less likeable for both of them. Woo-jin laments how she sees little of her husband, avoiding the book launch party held for him in the same building. Having finished her film, Gam-hee can't help but bump into her former beau. The exchange, however, is fruitless and short. He is not the answer Gam-hee is looking for.

Instead, after feigning to leave, she returns to the cinema to re-watch the peaceful film she had just seen, alone. Escape, however temporary, is what was required.

As ever with Hong, his little self-aware quirks and repetition are present, with each scenario containing similar themes as the character build of Gam-hee develops. All three scenarios see Gam-hee visit an old friend in a new setting for their life, with how they got there a talking point. Each also features an unwanted exchange with a male in a doorway, where the man tries to enforce his wants on the free woman. But the women here are having none of it. Screens and windows also featured in each, with Gam-hee looking for a life away from her own.

By comparison, Gam-hee's life is more secure and happy than her three friends'. She is inseparable from her husband, quietly running a flower shop. The others have divorce, unwanted male attention and deteriorating marriages to deal with. All, however, want for nothing compared to Gam-hee. The repetition of how she hasn't been apart from her husband for five years is the joking cry for help Hong throws in, making it clear that this is a woman who wants out. It has become a burden. Her friends are all more open about the state of their lives and how happy they are, with Gam-hee starting off more reserved, with frustrations starting to seep through.

This is a feminist response to his 2010 "HaHaHa", with alcohol more implied throughout, rather than the central theme of his previous works. Here the women are not so easily bedded as his heroes would typically expect, taking stock of their lives and starting anew, adding a refreshing hint to his typical blend of long takes, lengthy discussions, zooms and pan shots over a table. Typically Eric Rohmer, typically Hong.

Woo-jin asks Gam-hee what she thought of the film she had just watched and she replies that it was very peaceful. Hong has again produced a subtle film to relax into, as we voyeuristically watch other people's conversations. His annual release this year bringing a little slice of peace and escape that we all need.

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7/10
Great Director Dismantles Own Ego
sps-7065925 October 2020
HSS loves to come at it sideways. This movie opens in the morning to a batch of chooks, whose owner is going for a job interview, and neighbour Young-soon wishes her well. Is the interview successful? An evening CCTV shot is a clue.

But visiting Young-soon is Gam-hee, who tells us repeatedly she's "never apart" from her new husband, a translator. Except, it's his idea, not hers.

The two pals hold an absurdist lunch conversation about the nature of eating meat, while another Young-soon neighbour begs her to stop feeding the local cats. This meta-conversation bats back and forth. The cat steals the scene.

Gam-hee's next visitee Su-young is also interrupted by an annoying bloke, a self-important poet who can't get over a one-night stand. But once again the two pals converse a little too brightly about nothing in particular - clothes, art, the mountain, the neighbourhood, the mystery person who discounted the price on Su-young's apartment. We never quite find out why.

Gam-hee runs into a third pal, and apologises for some long-previous slight. We never find out what. This third pal just happens to be married to Gam-hee's ex, a famous, and famously windy, writer.

Can the writer be sincere, if he just keeps saying the same thing over and over? An obvious reference to HSS himself, with two dozen movies in two dozen years. Then Gam-hee herself works a brittle encounter with the ex himself.

Cerebral manoeuvres about art and artists, but this is a movie, which has to signify through visuals, not just dialogue. Inside 80 minutes, HSS largely pulls it off. He is one of a kind, and I wish his movies were easier to access.

If you find "Parasite" over the top, try HSS instead, for a different aspect of Korea's wonderful cinema.
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9/10
A small and beautifully polished gem.
MOscarbradley18 January 2021
I remember once generalising that any film that takes three hours to tell its story can't really be that good. Of course, such generalisations are rubbish; films are as good or as bad as they are whether they are ten minutes long or ten hours but there's something to be said for 'the miniature'. Little films can be beautifully polished gems and there are many small films of seventy-five minutes or so that you wish would go on forever.

Sang-soo Hong's "The Woman who Ran" is one such film. It's a conversation piece and there's a lot of small talk but it's so beautifully directed and acted you feel a sense of privilege just being with these people and these people are mostly female friends, or maybe just acquaintances, spending time together. When a man makes an early appearance, in a terrifically written and very funny single take sequence, he seems something of an intruder but Hong has so much fun with the scene he makes for a very welcome intruder. Mostly, however, it's just women talking about their lives, the men in their lives, their pasts and the pleasure or otherwise of eating meat and I wish it could have gone on for another hour or so.
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