First, I must tell you that the young heroine of South Korean film “Worst Woman” is not as awful as you may surmise from its title. She merely happens to have a messy day which comes to throw her into a series of unlucky situations way over her head, and the movie gradually lets us observe her confusion and hesitation even as we are amused by how things go wrong for her during its funny moments. As the movie strolls with plenty of humor and sensitivity, we become more involved in this particularly problematic day of hers, and she eventually comes to us as someone who is not the worst woman in the world at all but a female with human foibles we come to emphasize with.
After the opening narration which sets the frame of the plot, we meet a Japanese writer named Ryohei (Ryo Iwase), who comes to Seoul on one late summer day for attending an event for his novel which was recently published in South Korea. He is supposed to meet his local publisher at some place in the Seochon area of Northern Seoul, but he soon finds himself lost on labyrinthal alleys as struggling to find the place in question.
Fortunately, he meets Eun-hee (Han Ye-ri), a young aspiring acting student who is on her way to the meeting with her actor boyfriend when she comes across Ryohei. Although she cannot speak Japanese, she and Ryohei can communicate with each other in English instead, so they soon find the place he has been looking for. It turns out that they arrive earlier than scheduled, so they agree to spend some time together, and Eun-hee does not seem to mind getting to know a little more about Ryohei although she is well aware of her imminent appointment. As they talk more with each other, they feel more connected with each other despite their clumsy English conversation, but it looks like their seemingly transient relationship can be developed into something more than that.
Anyway, Eun-hee and Ryohei eventually part from each other, and Eun-hee hurriedly goes to her appointment place in Namsan Park. We meet her boyfriend Hyeon-oh (Kwon Yul), and it is apparent that he is not a very good boyfriend to say the least. Regardless of how much popular he or his current TV drama actually is, this self-absorbed guy is so occupied with securing his face and privacy that he is virtually advertising himself with his silly disguise, and we are not so surprised when he inadvertently blurts out something to exasperate her further during their subsequent quarrel.
It is revealed that Eun-hee once had a short relationship with a married guy when her relationship with Hyeon-oh became strained during last year. He is Woon-cheol (Lee Hee-joon), and he later comes into the picture when Eun-hee is alone by herself. He still wants to talk with her although their relationship was ended in a rather unpleasant way, but then his purpose turns out to be not exactly what it seemed at first.
While Eun-hee tries to deal with her increasingly complicated private matters with these two guys, the movie occasionally shifts its focus to Ryohei, who also goes through a number of humorous moments after finally meeting his publisher. Although his publisher is enthusiastic about the book event as an admirer of Ryohei’s novel, he reluctantly comes to admit an inconvenient truth to his favorite author, and it is followed by the hilariously awkward moment between Ryohei and the attendants of his book event, who, not so surprisingly, have never read his novel.
As told to us via the opening narration in advance, the story of the movie is presented as a fiction written by Ryohei or someone else represented by him in the story, but the movie keeps focusing on its two main characters’ emotions and thoughts rather than drawing lines between reality and fiction. When Ryohei meets a woman who is genuinely interested in his novel, they have a serious conversation on the novel, and that moment leads to his quiet solitary musing on her sober-minded comment. During Eun-hee’s reluctant private conversation with Woon-cheol, her mind temporarily goes back to her nice time with him, and we can sense that she still has some feelings toward Woon-cheol, but that does not change the fact that he is no better than Hyeon-oh.
The screenplay by the director Kim Jong-gwan smoothly moves back and forth between its two plot threads, and Kim has talented performers to carry his movie. Han Ye-ri, who was one of the key characters in “Haemoo” (2014), effortlessly glides around different emotional modes in her likable performance, and she is terrific especially when her character recites a monologue which comes to her heart closer than before. Ryo Iwase, who previously appeared in “A Midsummer’s Fantasia” (2014), is gentle and amiable in his low-key performance, and Kwon Yul and Lee Hee-joon are fun to watch as their characters cause more headaches for Eun-hee.
While it is reminiscent of not only many of Hong Sang-soo’s films including “Hill of Freedom” (2014) but also other films such as “Gyeongju” (2014) and “A Midsummer’s Fantasia” (2014), “Worst Woman” has its own mood and personality as supported by dexterous direction and solid acting, and it also utilizes well its locations in the Seochon neighbourhood and Namsan Park. As the movie enters a less realistic area around the finale, the movie gives us a haunting poetic moment to remember, and we come to think more about the story itself while listening to its touching final words. It was indeed a hard day for her, and she does deserve such an ending like that – even if it exists only in somebody’s imagination.