Comprised of four segments using the same characters caught in a love triangle at various points in their life, “Oki’s Movie” experiments with structure to humorously examine the connections and similarities between people. By jumping through various time periods and swapping perspectives, filmmaker Hong Sang-soo creates a little puzzle out of human relationships.
We first meet Jingu in “A Day For Incantation” as he exits his home, chanting a bizarre self-composed prayer before trekking to his day-job at a nearby university. He meets with his wife, who much to his internal chagrin accidentally calls him by the name of her childhood friend. She quickly dismisses it, instead pressing him to refrain from drinking after the night’s presentation of one of his short films. He complies, and through narration states their emotional distance while also pondering her bizarre and brief case of mistaken identity. At school, Jingu is invited to a small faculty get together to celebrate the arrival of a new teacher, but in his travels on campus he discovers that Chief Professor Song made a shady deal to hire the fresh employee. Drunken stupor causes our hero to sloppily bring up this “rumor” at the table, which sends Song into a rage — and as much as Jingu attempts to smooth things over, he only ends up digging himself a bigger, more embarrassing hole. Ending on a pitiful note, the Q&A following his screening turns into an argument when a patron inquires about an affair he had with one of her friends, one that ended a marriage.
“King Of Kisses” then begins, opening with a younger Jingu showing Professor Song the latest cut of his movie. His mentor is extremely complimentary of his work, and rumors around campus seem to paint Jingu as the winner of the local film festival. The student soon runs into Oki (also a film student but has given up on her project) and, in a Chekovian moment, he uncouthly confesses his love to her. The woman isn’t sure how to handle it, and later on it’s revealed that she is actually committed to Song, a married man. Awhile later we learn that the award for best film was given to someone else, and our upset/drunken hero camps out in front of his love’s apartment to seal the deal. She finds him freezing the next morning, and ultimately succumbs to his wishes — they consummate and end in a bona fide relationship. “After The Snowstorm,” the shortest of the four, follows Professor Song during a winter session. Faced with an empty classroom, the teacher laments the lackadaisical students and wonders whether or not he should continue in academics at all. Eventually both Jingu and Oki show up; the two ask personal questions (“Is love necessary?” “How do you overcome your sex drive?”) and their mentor responds with frank sincerity. Later that night he has a quick supper and decides to quit his profession on the journey home — but not before throwing up his meal. The final segment is “Oki’s Movie,” the first narrated by our female protagonist, which follows her relationship with both Song and Jingu. Cut side by side, each date takes the respective couple through the Acha Mountains and display the parallels and differences between the two relationships.
One of the most pleasurable things in a Hong movie is trying to decode his logic: what is real and what is a film? ‘King’ opens with two people watching the credits to a movie, so is ‘Day’ a film that Jingu made? Or, considering the title, is the entire thing actually a film made by Oki? The similarities between the two men definitely give this argument some weight, as the first film seems more like Song (unhappy marriage, accusation of infidelity at a Q&A) then Jingu — but then again, the filmmaker might just be commenting on their similarities and how they ultimately lead a similar life path. Movies or not, the changing of perspectives and time periods gives a meaty representation of these people and they feel like fully realized characters despite the simple, coincidental situations they constantly find themselvs in. As a filmmaker who often shapes his narrative with the real-life input of his actors, there always seems to be a large part of himself in his films — the uncomfortable Q&A session or the professed desires to quit teaching/making films hit doubly hard because they seem to be grabbed from his own experience. Something Jingu mentions during the post-screening also speaks of Hong’s work: “My film is similar to the process of meeting someone. You meet, get an impression, and make a judgement with that… but tomorrow you might discover different things. I hope my film can be similar in complexity to a living thing.” This personal, truthful touch makes already uncomfortable scenes much more wincing — but at the same time, his unabashed honesty is at times hilarious, and at others touchingly sincere.
Now in his fecund years, Hong has honed in on a very simple style, one that outlines the terribly agonizing interactions between those in front of the camera. A single shot covers all the ground he sees fit, and the director employs some carefully planned coverage within one long take: sometimes it will pan to a specific actor, other times it will zoom in or out to resize the frame. It’s simple yet unbelievably effective — all are more or less very talky scenes, but the rhythm between characters is perfectly tuned and his patented drunken outbursts or foot-in-mouth situations feel less deliberate (and more side-splitting) in this naturalistic style.
Distribution hasn’t always been kind to this filmmaker, and despite the guaranteed festival spots and awards, the last Hong film to secure any sort of distribution was “Night And Day” back in 2008 (subsequent films “Like You Know It All” and “Ha Ha Ha” remain legally out of our hands). This week sees two of his latest hit New York, and we couldn’t think of a more enjoyable double bill — insecure Korean filmmakers spilling their guts over one too many drinks, hilarity ensues. Humble and earnest, “Oki’s Movie” is a charmer with a yearning to be dissected. Treat yourself, see a Hong Sang-soo movie. [A-]