“Nobody’s Daughter Heawon” is another small, lightweight work from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo which does not escape from our expectation much. Again, we are treated with the familiar elements from his previous works: drinking, problematic romantic relationship, and funny sights of human foibles including male pettiness. As usual, all are playfully handled with sly humor hidden inside its minimalistic approach, and we get some small laughs from them.
The story revolves around a young college student named Hae-won, played by a lovely actress Jeong Eun-Chae. After the funny opening sequence involving the special appearance by Jane Birkin, we see Hae-won spending some private time with her mom(Kim Ja-ok), who will leave South Korea tomorrow for living with Hae-won’s brother in Canada. While it is not directly mentioned, it seems that her mother has divorced from Hae-won’s father, and the mother tells her daughter that she will be happy in Canada because now she can do anything she has wanted to do, including walking barefoot on streets.
They move around at a nearby park while having a nice time together, but Hae-won becomes a little depressed after they part with each other. She later meets Seong-joon(Lee Seon-gyon), who is a film director and a lecturer in her college. It is gradually turned out that they previously had an affair, and, although it was ‘over’ about a year ago, they may begin their relationship again because of the unresolved feelings remaining between them.
Regardless of whether their meeting is for break-up or re-unite, the timing was pretty bad for them. While looking for a place for drinking, they coincidentally come across the students who attend Seong-joon’s class along with Hae-won, and they join the drinking party while lying to the students they ‘accidentally’ meet each other. With many bottles of soju, popular Korean distilled alcohol beverage, and the glasses ready to be filled on their table, their situation is far more than enough for generating the moments of embarrassment, and everyone in the room soon comes to know more than they need to know about Hae-won.
Seong-joon is particularly upset to know that Hae-won had an affair with one of his students after they broke up. Technically, or ethically, there is nothing wrong about Hae-won’s behavior, but Seong-joon becomes quite petty about this fact. When they hang out together in the fortress park near Seoul several days later, their mutual feeling seems to return while they hear the music from Seong-joon’s cassette player, but Seong-joon eventually lets out his angry pettiness toward Hae-won. She is deeply hurt by his accusation, and it seems their relationship is now beyond repair.
Around its third act, the movie becomes more playful, and it naturally reminded me of Hong Sang-soo’s previous films, which were not so different from this movie. While watching Hae-won and other characters moving around the same areas on different days, my mind went back to “The Day He Arrives”(2011), which was about a film director who seemed to be stuck in a sort of time loop. It looked like his days did keep passing by, but he kept encountering strangely repetitive situations with some little variations. Maybe because of drinking, this guy never seemed to be aware of being on the joke, and that was the main source of my amusement.
While not as amusing as “The Day He Arrives”, “Nobody’s Daughter Hae-won” provides several small moments of humor. Because of my ill condition during the first viewing, I watched the movie again on the next day for a more accurate judgment, and I found it more amusing after the second viewing. As suggested by the narration through Hae-won’s diary, some parts of the movie may be not real, and I liked how the minor objects and characters are rearranged or modified later in the story. For example, Hae-won meets a successful film professor at the cafe just like she met a nice young man at the same spot few weeks ago, and, again, their conversation revolves around the used books sold in front of the cafe. He not only gives a nice pep talk to her but also proposes to her even though they meet for the first time. Isn’t he too good to be true?
In the end, we are left with a ‘surprise’ ending while not knowing a lot about Hae-won, but Jeong Eun-chae gives a charming performance as a young vulnerable woman who is uncertain about her future but who can be sensible and strong even when she feels really hurt. When Seong-joon treats her unfairly, she directly points out to him what is wrong with their relationship(well, how far can their relationship can possibly go if one of them is still married?), and she does what any sensible women should do in her circumstance.
The supporting performers, some of whom have previously collaborated with the director, are amusing to watch in their respective roles. Lee Seong-gyoon is pathetic as a married lecturer who turns out to be more immature than his student, and Kim Ee-seong is Seong-joon’s possible mirror image. Yoo Joon-sang and Ye Ji-woon are another couple in illicit love affair; when this couple meets with Hae-won and Seong-joon during one scene, it is pretty apparent that they are Hae-won and Seong-joon’s future – if they keep continuing their affair.
“Nobody’s Daughter Hae-won” does not feel fresh compared to Hong Sang-soo’s other films, but I enjoyed the movie, and I can see Hong Sang-soo is making small forward steps in his on-going self-repetition as shown in “Oki’s Movie”(2010) and “In Another Country”(2012). Although the movie is ended rather abruptly, there remains sadness behind its humorous story, and I cared about Hae-won and her wishes. I don’t know what will happen to her next, but I think she will probably be all right in the end. After all, she is really pretty, isn’t she?