Hong Sang-soo’s Oki’s Movie plays this evening at the 48th New York Film Festival. The film is currently without distribution.
Like the NYFF’s other Korean title, Hong’s latest is interested in how life is transmogrified into art, and draws conclusions that seem credible because of how open-ended the relationship ultimately is. In Hong’s 11th feature since 1996, and his second of the year (Hahaha, like last year’s Like You Know It All, was passed over by the NYFF), Hong’s threads his by-now familiar themes—youthful romantic gaffes and the lingering pain they fuel in midlife; the petty spats and deepening disappointments of the professional artistic life; how groups interact over alcohol and how pairs interact on long walks—through four shorts, the first and last seemingly the respective student films by a couple who appear in the middle two, and all explicitly or obliquely shaded by the female student’s affair with their professor, who appears as an actor in both the student films, advises them in the second segment, and is the subject of the third.
The role-playing across the four parts—”Pomp and Circumstance” plays over all four sets of opening credits, mocked up in flickering VHS blue—adds an extra layer to what’s already, with its film-school setting, a dense-to-the-point-of-cramped-and-uncomfortable reflection on the creative process; Hong fans will be delighted, but not surprised, by the disastrous post-screening Q&A in the first section, in which a filmmaker and professor (played, we later learn, by the film’s director, a film student) is accosted by an audience member for his callous treatment of an undergrad with whom he’s had a fling (he professes not to remember). As always, Hong simultaneously satirizes the conventions which keep interaction sanitized and safe for all parties concerned, and the graceless of the (often drunk and/or needy) men who abruptly, candidly break the social contact.
What’s new about Oki’s Movie, after so many Hong films dealing with the forceful sexual naivete of the male of the species, is a female perspective. We’ve been invited to feel for the reluctantly compliant women in Hong’s films, but never to know what they’re thinking. In the final segment—tellingly titled Oki’s Movie, same as the feature—the female film student, Oki, cuts between two hikes, a couple winters apart, taken first with her older, professor lover and then with a classmate boyfriend. Bemused and still recessive, with an understanding of chronology absent from the other sections, this last, female perspective is a stunning one: what it suggests, in contrasting her various experiences with men and boys who have no idea what she’s thinking, is that, all this time Hong’s viewers have been pitying his female characters, those female characters have been pitying the men, too.