I read in Sight & Sound recently that Hong movies are received by Korean audiences with gales of laughter. This was my third Hong film and I finally got into that spirit. Luckily a young lady seated near me was on the same wavelength and we started a minor chain reaction, although I was laughing alone at the more extreme points of dark humour. Previously I've felt a kind of wave of depression watching the extreme banality of the South Korean lives Hong shows. Shallowness plays a big part, declarations of love are almost entirely based on sexual desire, although the men are none the wiser to this, nested down in their rationalisations of desire.
Oki, who both Professor Song and Jingu (alter-ego of Hong) are lovers of, is a solipsist where men are concerned, she knows this, she has a self-awareness that is always lacking in the Hong men. She even tells Jingu at one point straight out that she is not a good person, dead straight, and he just brushes that under the mental carpet, consumed by monomaniacal tunnel vision. During the same meal she says, "What can you do for me?", and then covers up when she realises she has said it aloud!
The final act of the movie sees Oki present a short film about her experiences with the two men, a true revelation of their Emperor's New Clothes romances that is shockingly hilarious. What's more is that the soundtrack continuously plays "Land of Hope and Glory" throughout the movie, the irony is just gut-busting.
Watching Hong is an absolute revelation to me, like lessons in human life, I am actually staggered at how illuminating it has been to my personal life. Men in his films are neurotic shallow creatures, and he's equally as damning with women. Prior to seeing Hong films, and even though I'm thirty years old, I had never ever seen solipsism in women, I'm kind of an old romantic who was brought up to believe that women were somewhere between being mortal and being angels. Now it's a kind of lens that makes sense of a lot of things. I remember as a young teenager crashing my bike and a woman just breaking down into hysterical laughter even though I was injured and in agony, it never made sense to me, but you know if I think of seeing that, and rather than it being real and objective, it's just a kind of mental fresco that your unconscious mind is coming up with it actually is hilarious. I don't want to exaggerate its prevalence though, and just like Hong I think these sort of prurient personality traits are sprinkled equally amongst men and women. They are different traits though, and he makes the distance between men and women seem as yawning as the distance between the planets Mars and Venus.
Hong seems to keep the same structure in his movies, it's hard to follow the timelines, there's always public drunkenness involving soju, and he's always there as a character. I'm going to keep going with these though. Although on a visual level his films rarely offer much, I actually consider a shot of pulsating vomit to be the shot of the London Film Festival (out of circa 30 films scene).
The line of the film is Song telling Jingu that he should read books on logic as it will do him good. It seemed to go over the head of the audience so watch out for it! Pure Genius.
This is for Phil, who I reckon will love Oki's Movie when it gets a wider release.
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