Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2018 3:54 pm 
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Boy hunting in the rough

Jeong Ga-young is most known in Korea as an actress, but as she turns to directing as well, she invites the description of "female Hong Sang-soo" with this film consisting, like Hong's, of long scenes of talking and drinking. This variation lacks the polish or the charm of Hong, but in its relative crudeness and its flipping of the gender roles, it may have more bite.

An aspiring female director, also called Ga-young and played by Jeong, seeks to seduce male acquaintance Jin-nyeok (Park Jong-hwan) through a lengthy, provocative interview, ostensibly conducted as parparation for a film (she takes notes). Ga-young delves into Jin-nyeok's love-life over a night of drinking. Jeong is small, with short hair. Jin-nyeok is tall, with bushy, boyish hair (Park has worked as a fashion model). Jeong started as a director with the 2016 Bitch on the Beach, which references Hong Sang-soo directly. This Ga-young is neither subtle nor romantic, starting right out with questions about how many times Jin-nyeok masturbates, whether he thinks of his girlfriend as he does so, and so on. Jin-nyeok is a sufficiently complex (and understated) personality to make the outcome uncertain.

Jin-nyeok may be the boy of Ga-young's dreams, and at least she hints that she's interested, but he repeatedly says that he isn't. Given her laughably inappropriate approach, that's no surprise. We also understand that she is paying him for this "interview," though its purpose as preparation for a film seems dubious. On the other hand, Jin-nyeok doesn't walk away.

The evening starts with dinner, then moves on to drinks, and ends with karaoke. The drinking they do at a kind of club with booths. When Jin-nyeok goes to the bathroom, he has a hard time remembering which booth they were in. At the Karaoke club, a plump, bespectacled friend of Jin-nyeok's appears. She goes walking with this new guy,who unlike Jin-nyeok, is quite willing to kiss her. They seem to hit it off. But she won't allow him to accompany her home. She calls back Jin-nyeok, saying the interview wasn't over, and there is more conversation, unsatisfying for her.

There is discussion of a film Ga-young made or wanted to make, a sort of knockoff of Park Chan-wook'sOldboy, and uncertainty about the ending. And so Jeong prepares us for the non-ending of this film, with Ga-young alone, back at her apartment, sitting at a desk.

As one who has watched with pleasure a dozen or so of Hong Sang-soo's prolific output, it was natural to be curious about a female version, but I was somewhat disappointed, since this movie not only lacks the fluency and sparkle of Hong, but also Jeong, as an actress, is blatantly no match for the beauty and vivacity of Hong's current muse, Kim Min-hee. On the other hand, one can see how Park Jong-hwan could have won an acting prize. He disappears into his role seamlessly, making every reaction and answer feel spontaneous. And there is finally something solid here. In the relative crudity of Jeong's film compared to Hong's, the awkwardness of the situation, with the confident but abashed man and the timid predatory woman, is allowed to feel complex without any external effort, and the role reversal, coming in Korea in the "Me Too" era, has resonance.

But all is not aces here. The minimal situation and talky two-hander wears out its welcome half way through if not before. The tech aspects are only so-so, with some imbalances in the sound.

Hit the Night / 밤치기 (Bam-chi-gi, "Chestnuts"), 85 mins., debuted at Busan, where it won the Actor of the Year Award (for Park Jong-hwan) and the Vision-Director's Award. It also showed at Rotterdam in Jan. 2018 and in competition in the Seoul International Woman's Feature Festival Jun. 2018. Screened for this review as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, showing July 6, 2018 at 6 p.m.

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