Tale of Cinema (Screen Daily Review)

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Tale of Cinema (Screen Daily Review)

Postby dleedlee » Tue May 24, 2005 7:18 pm

Tale Of Cinema (Keuk jang jeon)

Jonathan Romney in Cannes 24 May 2005

Dir/scr: Hong Sangsoo. S Kor-Fr. 2005. 90mins

Hong Sangsoo, Korea’s master of elliptical urban narrative, returns with a characteristically slippery slice of Seoul realism in Tale Of Cinema, which morphs halfway through into a meditation on cinema, love and reality. The narrative spectacularly wrong-foots the viewer about an hour in, but even given this perspectival twist, the film is still considerably more approachable than Hong’s last Cannes competition entry, 2004’s Woman Is The Future Of Man, which left many viewers baffled.

Visually and in its concentration on a small group of characters, the new film is very close to its predecessor, and could be once again be fairly compared with Eric Rohmer in his Moral Tales mode – as the English title apparently hints. Alluring and likeable as this film is, however, it seems unlikely to break Hong out of his specialist niche, and while festivals will remain faithful, distributors may find this a harder sell than earlier, reputation-making works such as The Day A Pig Fell Down The Well.

In the first half of the film, a young man, Sangwon (Lee) is passing an optician’s when he meets Yongsil (Uhm), a woman with whom he has some unfinished romantic business. They go to the theatre, visit a karaoke bar - where she gives a shaky performance - and spend the night together.

After narrating a dream involving a girl with an apple, Sangwon suggests – for reasons that remain obscure – that he and Yongsil should commit suicide together. But Sangwon doesn’t stick to the plan and – in an extremely funny scene of family embarrassment – he ends up getting a mouthful from his ferocious mother.

Just as this narrative is warming up, however, we jump into another story, and learn that everything we have seen so far is part of a film watched by an older man, Tongsu (Kim). He is a sometime film-maker and an old friend of the film’s director, who is now dangerously ill in hospital.

Tongsu runs into the actress who played Yongsil (Uhm again) and tries to get friendly with her, at which point unsettling parallels with the film-within-a-film start to happen. Once again, there is an encounter outside an optician, once again a character smokes Marlboros, once again we get a sex scene shot at floor level.

Other parallels include matching karaoke scenes and repeated shots of the Seoul Tower, all appearing to confirm Tongsu’s narcissistic, possibly paranoid conviction that the film he has just watched is based on an episode from his own life.

Hong’s direction deliberately obscures the differences between the ‘film’ and ‘reality’ sections. He shoots both in the same style, in everyday Seoul settings, and all that really distinguishes the two is the differing nuances of mannerism and wardrobe of Uhm’s characters: shy and slightly dowdy as the girl, more chic and confident as the actress (both, however, are lousy karoake singers).

Overall, however, Hong is strictly economical with his jigsaw pieces, and if we get a sense of why Tongsu is unpopular among his old film school friends, it’s harder to fathom the reconciliation scene at the end where, visiting him in hospital, Tongsu seems to blame himself for his friend’s illness.

The film, for all its detachment, is nevertheless emotionally intense in the scenes between the two sets of lovers, and in the cathartic, if elusive scene at the director’s bedside. Some of its themes are stated with crystal clarity: the actress says, “We all think the world revolves around us”, and the film is very much a critical analysis of the mystique that revolves around cinema, which in certain respects - as Hong’s own style of philosophical realism sets out to demonstrate - is not necessarily that far removed from real life.

The film is stylistically spare and measured, Hong’s one striking visual trick being a deliberately obstrusive use of zooms - partly to signal the surveillance-style observation of his characters, partly so that we never forget we’re watching a film.

The city of Seoul is, as the saying goes, the fourth character in the story, Hong being one of those directors whose subject matter springs directly from a very specific geography.

Though some viewers may find it too oblique, Tale Of Cinema is the work of a director who makes no compromises elaborating an entirely individual style and set of concerns. Even so, Hong Sangsoo may need to try out a few new tricks if he is to spread his appeal beyond a faithful coterie.

Prod cos
Arte France Cinema

Int’l sales

Hong Sangsoo
Marin Karmitz

Kim Hyungkoo
Kim Youngrho

Ahm Sungwon

Jeong Yongjin

Main cast
Uhm Jiwon
Lee Kiwoo
Kim Sangkyung

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