Hong Sang-soo is beloved by film critics, and perhaps not many others, for his seat-shiftingly hilarious skewerings of a very specific kind of social and romantic tone-deafness. (Draw your own conclusions.) Taking into account his very specific purview (the superegoless fumblings of intellectual males, notably filmmakers), his recurrent dramatic devices (long tableaux of drinking binges) and structural tactics (double-jointed narratives), and his topline status on the international festival circuit, his is a uniquely insular body of work; in his latest, Like You Know It All, which plays this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow evening at Film Comment Selects, that insularity is folded into the joke, drawing ever-more heartless, self-abnegating guffaws.
Ku (Kim Tae-woo), a middle-aged director of films that sound, as described, much like Hong’s (down even to his disavowal of any autobiographical content), is enlisted for the jury panel of a film festival; he nods off during daytime screenings and engages in sniping and passive-aggressive one-upsmanship with his colleagues and rivals at cocktail parties and hotel-room all-nighters—no joke is too petty—before going out boozing an erratic old friend, and emisreading the boundaries set by his handled-with-care wife.
In act two, as the guest lecturer at a film school class, Ku repeats the whole experience—a less-than-hero’s welcome, social jockeying barely disguised as collegial drinks (arm wrestling is most definitely involved, in a perfect encapsulation of Hong’s inevitably zero-sum interaction), and the intrusion of an old friend and a spouse sending off signals which, if not mixed, are at least perplexing to the self-involved Ku (whose occasional voice-overs offer a distinctly personal understanding of events). This mirrored narrative, itself mirroring almost all of Hong’s earlier films, asks whether us “insular” types will ever actually learn from experience—and knows the answer.