By Shim Sun-ah
Yonhap News Agency
People are usually surprised when they find themselves unconsciously behaving or speaking like their close friends.
In his fourth film "On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate", director Hong Sang-soo
subtly depicted how people imitate each other in their daily lives. But the movie was not popular at home because it was not easy for viewers to notice the moments of imitation in the main characters' seemingly unmotivated actions.
Hong is more focused on the same subject matter in his sixth and latest work "Tale of Cinema", which uses close-ups to clearly show the emotions and actions of its characters.
His elliptical reflection on imitation in the latest movie involves the relationship between film and reality.
As the title suggests, "Tale of Cinema" is a movie about the fact that films often depict experiences from real life. People who see such films sometimes unconsciously act like the protagonist.
Tong-su (Kim Sang-kyung
) is an aspiring movie director who has been out of work for about 10 years. He goes to see a film directed by his school buddy suffering from lung cancer and meets up with the movie's beautiful lead actress on his way home. Her name is Yong-sil (Uhm Ji-won
), just like the main female character in the movie.
Recognizing that the story is based on his own life, Tong-su tries to get closer to the actress, convincing himself that their encounter is the result of destiny. It is uncertain whether the movie depicts Tong-su's experience or Tong-su acts under the influence of the movie.
From this point, Hong uses repetition to apparently blur the border between the movie and reality. The film is divided into two movies that are closely related. Interestingly, the audience sees the first movie at the same pace as Dong-su sees it at the theater.
Some background scenery, habits of characters, and even the name of female lead of the first film is repeated in the second.
We sense that Dong-su has imitated the image and style of his director friend, judging from other characters' comments that the two resemble each other.
"Tale of Cinema" also repeats dialogues from Hong's earlier works.
In "Turning Gate", when lead character Kyong-su, who temporarily suffers from impotence, is in bed with his girlfriend Son-yong, he asks, "Shall we die together cleanly without having sex?" A very similar comment is made by Sang-won (Lee Ki-woo
), the character in the movie that Tong-su sees, who says, "Let's not have sex...I want to die". And a question by Yong-sil, "Would you mind if I become your mistress?", to seduce Sang-won is similar to a remark by the character of Su-jong in "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors".
This narrative generates lots of laughs because of the behaviors of the lead characters, which are not common in South Korean society. The scene in which Tong-su tries to keep Yong-sil from leaving the motel room where they have sex, while covering his body up to his chest with sheets, is comical because seemingly a woman, not a man, would cover herself in such a way.
In South Korea, it is unusual for a woman to declare her desire to have sex and for a man to ask for the telephone number of a woman that he has just met and to confess his love to her. But these characters awaken us to assumptions that exist but that we hardly recognize in our daily lives.
Thanks to Hong's insightful humor, the movie can be considered a good comedy for those who are not accustomed to his style of moviemaking.
His "deconstructive" narrative sleight of hand that refuses to follow a prototypical plot is the movie's driving force. Almost as unforgettable is a superb performance by Kim as the self-absorbed eccentric but who is as naive as a boy. His acting is natural enough to make us believe it is real.