The Running Actress (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): It’s hard out here for an actress…

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First, let me talk a bit about Moon So-ri, who has been one of the most prominent movie actresses in South Korea during last two decades. After drawing the attention of South Korean audiences in Lee Chang-dong’s “Peppermint Candy” (2000), she gave an unforgettable performance in Lee’s following work “Oasis” (2002), and then she entertained us with her stellar performances in a series of good films including “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” (2003), “The President’s Barber” (2004), “Family Ties” (2006), “Forever the Moment” (2008), and Hong Sang-soo’s several films such as “Hahaha” (2010) and “Hill of Freedom” (2014). Even when she only made a brief appearance in Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” (2016), she gave us something to remember, and I certainly enjoyed her spirited voice performance in animation feature film “Leafie, A Hen into the Wild” (2011).

During recent years, Moon also tried writing and directing. She previously wrote and directed three short films “The Actress” (2014), “The Running Actress” (2015), and “The Best Director” (2015), and these three short films are assembled here together in her first feature film “The Running Actress”. While the overall result may look modest on the surface, the movie is filled with small funny moments which constantly induced laughs and chuckles during the screening I attended during last Saturday evening, and I was certainly delighted by her interesting attempt in filmmaking.

In all of these three short films, Moon So-ri plays a fictional version of herself, and the first short film, “The Actress”, opens with Moon being about to go hiking along with her two female friends. As they talk with each other while climbing up a mountain outside Seoul, their conversation is naturally turned to Moon’s recent acting career which does not seem to be going nowhere due to the lack of good screenplay, and we get little good laughs as Moon and her friends talk more about that.

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The situation becomes funnier when Moon and her friends come across a movie production company guy and two other guys accompanying him. When they enjoy their drinking after climbing down the mountain, they meet these guys again, and that leads to a moment not so far from those drunken comic moments of Hong Sang-soo’s films. Quite more inebriated than Moon and her friends, these guys generate silly moments of embarrassment and rudeness, and you may simultaneously laugh and cringe as watching how much Moon feels insulted and exasperated by these drunken guys’ insolent remarks on her life and career.

Moon did a good job of accumulating comic momentum during this painfully funny scene, which is then followed by a couple of equally amusing scenes. Moon tries to get some consolation from one of her friends when they have a little talk outside later, but her friend does not help her much while keeping emphasizing what Moon should do as one of the best actresses in South Korea. When she is going back to home, Moon is understandably a bit harsh to her manager, and that leads to another funny moment in the film.

The second short film “The Running Actress”, which was shot in 2.35:1 ratio in contrast to the other two short films which were shot in 1.85:1 ratio, focuses on Moon’s one long, difficult day. We see her beginning the day at her home where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and her mother, who asks Moon to do some favor for her when Moon is about to leave their home. We see her trying to deal with a problem involved with a bank account belonging to her mother-in-law, who does not even seem to remember whether she has a bank account or not. And we see her having a rather awkward meeting with a middle-aged independent filmmaker, who wants her to make an appearance in his film without getting paid much.

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While this part feels merely episodic, it gradually conveys the sense of suffocation felt by Moon in the film. She wants to keep working as usual, but there are so many other things to be handled besides her little daughter, and her husband’s little sympathetic words do not make her situation look better. In the end, we come to emphasize with her a lot as watching her trying to ventilate her frustration, but we also cannot help but laugh thanks to Moon’s good comic timing.

The third short film “The Best Director” also provides plenty of laughs despite its supposedly solemn background. A director with whom Moon worked a long time ago recently died, so Moon comes to attend his wake, but there is no other visitor besides a washed-up actor who worked with Moon in the past. Quite drunken alone, this guy rudely suggests that Moon have a drink with him, and Moon reluctantly agrees to spend some time with him. The mood becomes more awkward as they talk more about the diseased director, and then there comes another visitor, who only makes the situation a lot more awkward.

I will not go further into details for not spoiling your fun, but I can tell you that I was impressed by how confidently Moon handles this scene. As the camera calmly watches the conversation between Moon and the other characters for a long time, the level of hilarity is increased to our amusement before the movie eventually punctuates the situation with a sudden moment you have to see for yourself, and I like how Moon finishes the story with an unexpected tender moment between Moon and one certain character.

While being an enjoyable summation of another side of Moon’s talent, “The Running Actress” also makes sharp points on how many talented South Korean actresses like Moon have been under-utilized during recent years, and that reminds me of how most of recent major South Korean films have been male-dominant despite the notable critical success of “The Handmaiden” and other South Korean films representing female perspectives. That biased trend is surely needed to be changed, and I sincerely hope there will be more chances for Moon as well as other talented women in South Korean movie business.

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