I usually hesitate in case of giving advice to others because, besides being quite reluctant about that due to the subsequent responsibility, I am not sure about whether I am a guy who knows the best. I may be willing to give an advice to other guy because I think I should, but I will probably ask myself first about whether I really know enough about him.
In case of Sun-hi, a lovely college girl played by Jeong Yu-mi in Hong Sang-soo’s new film “Our Sunhi”, I still do not know a lot about her even in the end; yes, she is pretty and likable, but she is somewhat elusive to us even though we have seen her different aspects since the day she arrives. I will certainly not give any advice to her even if she demands, but she frequently gets advices from three guys reaching for her and then baffled about her, and that is where the movie gets most of its laughs.
During the opening scene, we see her visit to the campus after some time of her absence since the graduation. After coming across her senior student Sang-woo(Lee Min-woo), she soon meets her former professor Choi Dong-hyeong(Kim Sang-joong), and she is very furious to Sang-woo later when they meet again by coincidence. Maybe it was a harmless prank in his view, but it was surely wrong to lie to her that Professor Choi was out of the town when she needed to see him right now, and you will agree that he richly deserves all the sound and fury from her.
Sun-hi was Professor Choi’s favorite student when she studied as an undergraduate student in the film academy department, and now she needs Professor Choi’s help. She decides to learn more about fillmmaking outside South Korea, so she requests him to write a nice recommendation letter for her enrollment in the graduate course in some American university.
Professor Choi gladly accepts her request, and he quickly writes the recommendation letter for her and then gives it to her on the next day. It is a nice letter on the whole, but he does not exactly praise her talent or potential while clearly pointing out her weaknesses including shyness and indecisiveness, and we can see her confused reaction from her face as she reads it alone on the bench. She thinks he did not know well about her while writing it, but she is not so sure about herself either.
Anyway, they have another private conversation on that day, and Professor Choi agrees to write another version for her as they drink soju like many characters of Hong Sang-soo’s films did. After all, it did not take much time to write that recommendation letter, so he thinks he will satisfy her easily, but, in this time, he discovers that he has had some feeling toward her.
That change inside his mind results in one of the amusingly repetitive contrasts/comparisons in Hong’s playful plot which juggles not only these two characters but also two other main characters going around Sun-hi. Not long after her first meeting with Professor Choi, Sun-hi spots her former boyfriend Moon-soo(Lee Seon-gyoon), who is now a graduate student while recently making a debut as a movie director. They soon have a day drinking time together with beer, soju, and fried chicken, and it seems possible that there are still remaining feelings between them as we watch them eat, drink, and talk with each other.
After parting with her, Moon-soo meets Jae-hak(Jeong Jae-yeong), who was their senior student and is now more or less than a loser intellectual living alone by himself(he separated from his wife lately). They drink soju together at a bar nearby during the same evening, and we get a very memorable long-take scene as they try to be articulate in spite of their inebriated state. Lee Seon-gyoon is simply hilarious as Moon-soo is trying to make his point about ‘digging deep’ for future, and I later came to learn that he and Jeong Jae-yong actually drank soju while going through several takes; while this surely proves that Hong Sang-soo is a director any recovering alcoholic actor should think twice about working with, these two actors deserve praises for managing to maintain good comic timing and effortless spontaneity during their alcoholic performances(Hong eventually used the last take because it was so good and so lively compared to the other previous takes thanks to his drunken actors).
As observing how the movie amused the audiences with its cheerfully repetitive humor during the screening at last night, I also thought about how Hong Sang-soo’s films have kept tickling me and others with their plain but humorous storytelling while rarely stepping out of his own small territory. His characters are usually associated with fillmmaking one way or another, and we frequently see them drinking soju(even Isabelle Huppert in “In Another Country”(2012) drank soju, and that was a priceless moment), and we chuckle about human silliness and embarrassment in their comic situations fueled by bottles of soju.
As I became more acquainted with his films, I came to appreciate and admire his movies more even though I was not as enthusiastic as others, and waiting for Hong Sang-soo’s new film in South Korea becomes as ritualistic as waiting for new Woody Allen’s film in US. While less stylish and less distinctive on the surface than his contemporary South Korean directors such as Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho, he has been consistent and diligent while establishing a solid renowned career through his small but witty and intelligent films released every year, and notable South Korean actors willingly work with him even if they get paid less than usual.
Hong usually work with a small group of actors(there are only nine actors in the film, by the way), and they are delightful to watch. While Kim Sang-joong, Jeong Yu-mi, and Lee Seon-gyoon give good comedy performances as they did in their previous respective collaborations with Hong, Jeong Jae-yeong and Lee Min-woo get along well with their fellow cast members, and Ye Ji-won also provides a small extra dose of humor as the bar owner who just sits besides the main characters while ordering fried chicken, which is one of the running gags in the film.
Maybe I still have lots of things to learn for digging deeply into Hong’s films and I cannot decide on whether they are profoundly simple or simply profound, but I can say I like his films, and I think “Our Sunhi” is one of more enjoyable ones in his interesting career. I enjoyed how the characters are rolled around without perceiving the whole circumstance of theirs in its lightweight human farce, and, above all, it reminds me that Seoul has at least one nice place for stroll. To a guy who always thinks that Seoul is a dreadfully abstract environment covered with the forests of tasteless concrete apartment buildings, that’s a nice achievement to say the least.