Grass (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A simple observation of several conversations

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South Korean film “Grass” is pretty simple, but it is also quite frustrating at times. Simply observing a number of small conversation scenes, the movie provides some good moments to savor, but the movie somehow fails to engage me as trudging from one conversation scene to another, and the result is rather disappointing on the whole.

The main background of the movie is a small coffee shop, and the first conversation scene in the film is unfolded between a young woman and her male friend. Their conversation feels a little bland at first, but then the woman suddenly gets quite upset about a female friend who recently died, and she blames him for that friend’s death. He tries to be reasonable with her, but he also gets angry just like her, and that leads to the mutual bitter feeling between them.

As watching this conversation scene, we naturally come to wonder about whether he was really responsible for that tragic incident, and so does A-reum (Kim Min-hee), who has been sitting at the other spot in the coffee shop. While listening to the conversation from the distance, she writes her thoughts on the conversation using her laptop computer, and we become a bit amused as listening to her detached comment on the conversation.

The second conversation she observes is unfolded between an old actor and a younger woman. Apparently struggling with his difficult financial situation, the actor asks the woman whether she can provide him a place to stay, but the woman politely rejects his request for some unknown reason, and the mood becomes a little awkward although there is no bad feeling between them.

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A-reum’s attention subsequently moves to what is happening between a guy who has tried to write a screenplay and his female acquaintance. Still struggling to write his screenplay, he needs more help and stimulation, so he suggests to his female acquaintance that they should work together for his screenplay, but she flatly refuses to work with him, and she calmly advises to him that he should write the screenplay for himself because, in her opinion, writing is a very private business.

In the following scene, A-reum becomes more active. Shortly after her brother and his girlfriend come to the coffee shop, she and they go to a nearby restaurant for having a lunch together, and the mood becomes lightened as her brother and his girlfriend tell A-reum about how much they are willing to move onto the next step of their relationship, but then A-reum becomes quite harsh to them just because she does not approve of her brother’s relationship with his girlfriend.

And then there comes another conversation scene, which happens to be unfolded at some other spot in the restaurant. A man is quite bitter and drunken due to his colleague’s recent suicide, and a woman, who turns out to have had an affair with that dead colleague of his, is patiently listening to his sulky words. When he blames her for his colleague’s death, she replies that she did not do anything except loving that dead guy, but he keeps blaming her, and that leads to the most hurtful moments in the film.

After leaving her brother and his girlfriend, A-reum goes back to the coffee shop, and the people she previously observed at the coffee shop return as evening begins. Some of them look a little more cheerful than before, and they suggest A-reum at one point that she should join their conversation, but A-reum refuses while keeping hiding what she has written.

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Like director/writer Hong Sang-soo’s many notable works, the movie is packed with good performers. While Kim Min-hee, who has been Hong’s main actress since “Right Now, Wrong Then” (2015) and “On the Beach at Night Alone” (2017), functions as the center of the film, Jung Jin-young, Gi Ju-bong, Seo Young-hwa, Kim Sae-byuk, Ahn Jae-hong, Gong Min-jeung, Gong Min-jung, Kim Myung-soo, Lee Yoo-young, Sin Seok-ho, and Ahn Seon-young are also solid in their respective roles, and I particularly appreciated how Lee Yoo-young ably handles her intense scene where the camera firmly sticks to her expressive face for several minutes.

However, despite its good performers, the movie never engages us enough while failing to generate something coherent and interesting from its conversation scenes, and it also feels less playful compared to Hong’s more entertaining films such as “Hahaha” (2010), “In Another Country” (2012), “Our Sunhi” (2013), “Hill of Freedom” (2014), and “Right Now, Wrong Then”. Despite its short running time (66 minutes), I often felt impatient while not getting much fun, and I was only left with dissatisfaction in the end even though I appreciated the commendable efforts from its cast members.

Although I am not as enthusiastic about Hong’s films as some other critics, I admire how consistent and productive he has been during last 22 years since he debuted with “The Day a Pig Fell into the Well” (1996), and it goes without saying that he is one of the most interesting filmmakers in South Korea. Like “Claire’s Camera” (2017), “Grass” is a minor misfire from Hong in my inconsequential opinion, but he has already moved onto his next film at this point, and I hope that will be a more fun and engaging work.

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