The Table (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): One same table, four different conversations

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South Korean film “The Table” consists of four different conversation scenes unfolded on one table. During each scene, we meet two characters, and then we listen to their conversation as observing the mood and nuances surrounding them. While this is a pretty simple premise, the movie constantly engages us thanks to its sensitive writing as well as solid performances, and each scene serves us with some nice moments as they fleetingly pass by one by one during its rather short running time (70 minutes).

The sole background of the movie is a small cafe shop located on a small urban alley. In the beginning, we meet a lady who runs the cafe, and we see her beginning another day at her cafe. Although there are not many customers, the cafe looks neat and comfortable in its quiet atmosphere, and I could easily imagine myself reading a book or writing a movie review there.

In the first scene, we meet Yoo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) and Chang-seok (Jung Jun-won). They were once lovers several years ago, but they somehow became separated from each other, and their private meeting at the cafe reminds them of how much they are changed now. While Chang-seok is just a plain company employee, Yoo-jin recently becomes a famous actress, and we get a glimpse of her popularity when she happens to be noticed by a couple of girls passing by the cafe.

Their conversation becomes a little awkward as Chang-seok bumbles with whatever he feels about Yoo-jin. There is a funny moment when he inadvertently mentions several trashy gossips about her, and Jung Yu-mi, who has been one of the most notable South Korean actresses since her charming performances in Hong Sang-soo’s several works including “Oki’s Movie” (2010) and “Our Sunhi” (2013), is wonderful as maintaining her character’s cool, no-nonsense attitude in front of her co-performer Jung Jun-won, who is also effective as her counterpart.

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The second scene happens between Eun-hee (Han Ye-ri) and Min-ho (Jeon Seong-woo). They do not know each other much, but they became involved with each other when they happened to sleep with each other as total strangers some time ago. Not long after that, Min-ho went abroad for several months of world travel, and he is unemployed at present while not deciding on what to do next for his life. In case of Eun-hee, she is currently working in some food magazine, and it is clear to us that she is not that willing to meet Min-ho from the beginning.

Nevertheless, Min-ho wants to get closer to Eun-hee, and the mood becomes a little humorous as he tries to show her that he is sincerely interested in beginning a serious relationship with her. As Eun-hee goes through a number of different emotions during their conversation, Han Ye-ri, who previously collaborated with director/writer Kim Jong-kwan in “Worst Woman” (2016), subtly conveys her character’s thoughts and feelings through her beautiful face, and Jeon Seong-woo complements his co-performer well with his more extroverted acting.

Unlike the previous two scenes, the third scene in the film is unfolded between two female characters, and the purpose of their meeting is not so romantic at all. Kyeong-jin (Jeong Eun-chae) is a woman who is about to marry some guy, and she needs some help from a middle-aged woman named Sook-ja (Kim Hye-ok), who will be hired as Kyeong-jin’s fake mother at the upcoming wedding.

As their conversation is continued, we get to know a bit about these two women. Kyeong-jin is actually a con artist, but it looks like she really falls in love with the guy she is going to marry, and she wants her marriage to look good as much as possible. It is implied that Sook-ja has a fair share of criminal record, and she is ready to do as much as paid by Kyeong-jin, but then she cannot help but be emotional about her new work for a personal reason.

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Thanks to the gradual sense of poignancy surrounding it, the third scene is the best one in the bunch, and its two performers are simply fabulous in their fluid interactions on the screen. Jeong Eun-chae, who previously appeared in Hong Sang-soo’s “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon” (2012), is quietly touching as her character goes back and forth between sincere feelings and pragmatic deceits, and so is Kim Hye-ok, whose last line is a precise final touch for their scene.

In case of the fourth scene, it happens during nighttime unlike three previous conversation scenes, and we see Hye-kyeong (Im Soo-jung) and Woon-cheol (Yeon Woo-jin). They meet each other as ex-lovers, and it seems they still have some feelings between them, but there is one problem; Hye-kyeong is soon going to marry.

While wondering how her life has come to be rather disappointing for her, Hye-kyeong suggests at one point that she and Woon-cheol sleep together, but Won-cheol is too sensible for that even if he wants to do that, and we come to feel some bitterness between them at the end of their conversation scene. Im Soo-jung, who has been mainly known for her good performances in “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003) and “I’m a Cyborg but That’s OK” (2005), exudes her own charm on the screen, and her co-performer Yeon Woo-jin steadily supports her performance.

“The Table” is basically the showcase of its four beautiful lead actresses’ undeniable presence and talent, and Kim Jong-kwan did his job well on the whole. While the third scene remains my favorite, the other scenes are also engaging to watch, and the overall result is a small but enjoyable film decorated with good performances. With this film and “Worst Woman”, Kim demonstrates his considerable talent, and I am certainly looking forward to watching his next work.

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