“People in film aren’t normal. They’re crazy.”
That’s a line from Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s lovely and absurd “Our Sunhi” and, for that matter, the gist of his entire oeuvre of fifteen films. Populating the Hong universe are pathological cinephiles and helpless romantics with a need to express every feeling and execute every impulse. Any social filter is dismantled by pints of beer, bottles of soju and an endless chain of cigarettes. And in this leisurely comedy of errors and manners, the characters intertwine at the crossroads of fate and chance.
Living in Seoul, Sunhi (Jung Yoo-mi) is a former film school student who asks a professor for a letter of recommendation to send to graduate schools. Surprised by the frankness of the letter he ultimately writes (“Sunhi may have some hidden talent, but I couldn’t verify it”) she confronts him and the two initiate a flirtation gradually troubled by the appearance of Sunhi’s ex Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun) and of a mutual male friend. Jaehak (Jung Jae-young) is a filmmaker who likes to sulk over his middling career and female troubles. But all are bewitched by the steady and resilient Sunhi, who in return flirts with the possibility of an affair with each of them — and at once.
Watching the film, in particular scenes that abandon Sunhi and follow one of the male characters and plunge into their repetitive and solipsistic monologues, I was reminded of the two men played by Michael Murphy and Woody Allen in his 1979 “Manhattan.” Like them, the men in “Our Sunhi” employ subtle methods of poisoning their fussy love object against each other in order to further their possession. And Jung Yoo-mi, who gives a delicate yet confident performance, is someone Allen would easily be drawn to.
This delicate confection slowly reveals itself as a bundle of Hong’s personal neuroses and cinematic anxieties. Using the characters as a mouthpiece, he rails against the “uselessness” of film school and the romantic ineptitude of egoistic male filmmakers. Decorating the film’s calm pace are fragile zooms and recurring gags and bits of dialogue. Not only is “Our Sunhi” pure pleasure through all its brisk running time, it is also a candid picture of male-female dynamics when one tries to upstage the other, in vain.