The Woman Who Ran (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A three-act female comedy by Hong Sang-soo

Hong Sang-soo’s new film “The Woman Who Ran”, which won the Silver Bear award for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, is a breezy three-act comedy mainly focusing on the interactions amidst its female main characters. While I must confess that I do not fully grasp what it is about below its plain surface, I appreciate at least its humorous moments and good performances to be savored, and it is surely another enjoyable work from Hong.

The first act of the movie is mainly set in a residence located somewhere in a quieter area of Seoul, and the opening scene introduces us to a divorced woman named Young-soon (Seo Yong Hwa). She has recently moved to her cozy and peaceful apartment, and we see her beginning her another quite day at a vegetable garden near her residence before she happens to have a brief talk with some young woman in her neighborhood.

Some time later, Young-soon’s close friend Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) comes, and they soon have some drink together shortly after entering Young-soon’s apartment. As watching them drinking a mix of soju and rice wine, I was reminded again that soju has always been one of the recurring elements in Hong’s works, and that somehow takes me back to that exceptional moment in “In Another Country” (2012), which has Isabelle Huppert drinking a bottle of soju alone on the beach.

Anyway, the mood subsequently becomes cheerier than before when Young-ji (Lee Eun-mi), who has been Young-soon’s companion for a while, returns to Young-soon’s apartment. These three women have more drink along with some freshly roasted meat outside the apartment, and we get a little amusing moment as their pleasant conversation comes to revolve around the selective vegetarianism of one of them. While mostly sticking to its static position, the camera sometimes zooms in or out whenever something interesting seems to be happening among the characters, and we come to wonder what is exactly going on between them as they keep casually talking with each other on the screen.

While listening more to them, we notice a certain contrast between Gam-hee and Young-soon. Young-soon seems to be free of whatever happened before and during her divorce, but we often wonder about what she does not say, and you may also become curious about why she does not let her friend sleep on the third floor of her apartment (Her excuse: it is too dirty and messy at present). Although she emphasizes how inseparable she and her husband have been since their marriage, Gam-hee is now without her husband at present, and you will probably have some doubt on whether her marriage is really as strong and truthful as she tells in front of two other women.

And there is also a small funny moment involved with a male neighbor complaining about stray cats which have been fed by Young-soon and Eun-mi. No matter how much this guy argues that they should not feed those stray cats, Young-soon and Eun-mi show no intention of stepping back at all, and this scene brings us a little extra amusement thanks to a scene-stealing stray cat which happens to be at the bottom of this scene.

The second act of the movie revolves around Gam-hee’s subsequent visit to a place resided by her friend Su-young (Song Seon-mi), who has lived alone in some other quiet neighborhood in Seoul. As they talk more with each other, we come to learn that Su-young has earned a lot during last several years, and she accordingly wants to have more fun for her life, but she is not particularly interested in having somebody in her life. Naturally, Gam-hee talks again about her happy married life, but Su-young still prefers to have more fun and freedom.

This aspect of hers is more evident to us when somebody suddenly tries to see Su-young. The person in question is some young poet who has not still gotten over her breakup with him, and his pathetic pettiness surely takes you back to many silly and unwise male characters in Hong’s previous films. As your average no-nonsense lady, Su-young remains unflappable as clearly stating that their relationship has been already over, and she does not regret at all after this pesky dude is finally gone.

During the third act of the movie, Gam-hee visits a cafe run by another friend of hers. As she and Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk) continue their casual conversation, we come to sense that something happened in their past, but neither of them tries to specify that, and their conversation subsequently comes to revolve around Woo-jin’s writer husband, who has recently been enjoying some moderate success in public. Woo-jin thinks her husband looks increasingly hypocritical these days because of his success, and, of course, Gam-hee comes to talk a lot about her married life.

This scene is subsequently followed by the accidental encounter between Gam-hee and Woo-jin’s husband. Like two other male characters, Woo-jin’s husband is not shown much in front of the camera, which mostly focuses on capturing whatever Gam-hee feels about Woo-jin’s husband now. It seems they have some history between them, but Gam-hee does not care much about that now, and then we are served with the neat final shot to remember.

Overall, “The Woman Who Ran” is another minor success in Hong’s long filmmaking career (This is his 24th feature film, by the way). Although I am not so enthusiastic about Hong’s films as some other local reviewers and critics, I have admired how productive he has been during last 24 years since his first feature film “The Day a Pig Fell into the Well” (1996), and I often enjoyed how he has often taken a new artistic direction as shown from “HaHaHa” (2010) and “In Another Country”, and “Hotel by the River” (2019). Yes, his films are usually an acquired taste, but I have gotten accustomed to that, and I am already ready for whatever he will give us in the next year.

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