The Conversation (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A series of conversations

My mind struggled to follow the rather confusing narrative flow of South Korean independent film “The Conversation”. Mainly because my condition happened to be not that good during the first viewing, I did not feel like understanding everything in the film, and I thought I should give it a second chance later. After watching it again yesterday, I still remain baffled about what is about or how it is about, and I am even not sure whether I can describe well what I observed during the second viewing.

Please don’t worry, because the movie is actually not as labyrinthic as, say, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020). We simply get a series of seemingly random conversation scenes, and they look like being connected together, but you may struggle to some degree as wondering how they can be connected in one way or another. You will also notice some of the main characters appearing more than once throughout the film, but you may wonder how their scenes can be chronologically organized.

Okay, let’s start with the opening conversation scene with a woman named Eun-yeong (Jo Eun-ji) and her two close friends Myeong-sook (Kim Soy) and Da-hye (Seong Eun-ji). As listening to these three female characters’ private conversation, we come to gather that they once studied together in France, and the mood becomes more relaxed between them as they casually talk about their past and present. On the surface, they all seem content with how their respective lives are going, but we come to sense some discontent during the next conversation scene unfolded outside.

In many of conversation scenes in the film, the camera usually sticks to its static position, and that aspect is particularly exemplified by one interesting scene entirely unfolded inside a taxi going to somewhere. The camera only focuses on the female passenger in the back, and she looks apparently drunk, so we are not so surprised when she gets her smartphone dropped outside the taxi. Nevertheless, she does not seem to care that much about this accidental loss, and that leads to a long conversation between her and the taxi driver, who is incidentally not shown on the screen but may be the guy presented in one of the subsequent scenes in the film.

In case of the conversation scene set in a cafe, we observe two female characters meeting and then interacting with each other a bit before approached by some foreign dude. The movie goes back to Eun-yeong and her two friends, and, as they clumsily try to speak in French, we wonder whether the previous scene reflects some past experience of theirs in France.

Around that point, the movie shifts from ladies to guys. In the scene between two male characters, they simply talk about a book given to one of them by the other, but their conversation does not go anywhere as they are virtually circling around one spot. Because of one of these two guys happens to be accompanied with a baby, you may wonder whether he is married to one of Eun-yeong’s two friends who also has a baby, but the movie does not give any clear answer for that.

The subsequent sequence is unfolded among three male characters including Seung-jin (Park Jong-hwan), who later turns out to be connected with Eun-yeong. While having a little barbecue party on the rooftop of the residence belonging to one of them, these three guys talk and talk, and we get some little amusement as they come to know a bit more about each other.

After the conversation scene between two male characters who may be more than close friends, the movie gradually comes to focus on Eun-yeong and Seung-jin. During their first scene set in a coffee shop, they look like total strangers to each other, but we wonder whether they are doing a sort of role-playing, and that impression lingers on us when they meet each other again in an empty movie theater.

In the end, the movie arrives at a little private moment between Eun-yeong and Seung-jin, who now behave more like a married couple although nothing in their following conversation confirms that. As they come to bicker with each other over some petty matter, the mood becomes a bit more absurd, and it is implied that this is not the first time Eun-yeong gets frustrated with Seung-jin.

All these and other conversation scenes in the film are competent in addition to being supported well by its main cast members including Jo Eun-ji and Park Jong-hwan. Jo is particularly good during her two scenes with Kim Soy and Song Eun-ji, and I wish the movie kept focusing more on their engaging characters for getting us to know their characters more. In case of Park, he is also supported well by Kwak Min-gyu and Kwak Jin-moo, and he and Jo are convincing in the playful interactions between their characters.

“The Conversation” is the second feature film directed by director/writer Kim Duk-joong, who previously made a feature film debut in “The Education” (2019). Compared to “The Education”, “The Conversation” is more lightweight in comparison, but it did not click with me well in terms of storytelling and characterization, so I cannot recommend it despite some admiration on direction and acting. It is not bad at all, but, folks, I am still scratching my head even at present.

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