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- Published on Amazon.com
Woman on the Beach
dir. Hong Sang-soo, 2006
Washed up at low tide 4*
I'm giving this one the same 4* review as a couple of other reviewers, but view it less favorably. From the tone of their reviews, I'm surprised they didn't award enthusiastic 5*s.
"Woman on the Beach" continues the male-female relationship theme of 2004's "Woman is the Future of Man," but is, for me, more successful. The males, if anything, are even more pathetic and wimpy jerks, but the women, though still pushovers, show signs of inner strength and are more in charge of their lives.
Once again two buddies vie for the attention of one woman. Film director Kim Jongrae (oddly, film maker Hong's films seem to involve filmmakers, like rock songs about musicians' lives on the road ;-) is stuck writing a script, and insists his buddy Changwook (who, the dvd cover informs us, is his production designer) accmpany him on a getaway to try to get the creative juices flowing. Changwook agrees, but only if he brings his girlfriend. So, in spite of a threatened "sandstorm" [??], the two buddies, somewhere approaching middle age, take off for the seaside resort town of Shinduri, with the pretty, younger Moonsook, and tension builds as the two vie for her attention ... or is it she playing one against the other?
Shinduri, oddly, is nearly deserted, perhaps because of the hotel rooms which are unexpectedly expensive? or the sandstorm, which never shows? or the surly restaurant waiters, which leads Jongrae to an explosive outburst? Anyway, the threesome totter about looking for a cheap room, getting drunk and pontificating a lot, and doing no writing. Jongrae and Moonsook form a connection, seemingly one with some depth beyond the simply carnal, and it's obvious that each has a troubled background. But Jongrae cannot even commit to a continuing relationship until he has sorted out his demons, and the group returns to Seoul.
Two days later Jongrae is back in Shinduri (or never left?), has a deep emotional experience on the beach and tries to reach Moonsook, to no avail. So when he meets a woman who reminds him of her .... it gets complicated. The rest of the film, and the resolution, is surprising but in its way encouraging.
What will really make you love or hate this film is not the plot but Hong's style, a concatenation of seemingly unrelated incidents which can be jarring or can seem like real life. Maybe which depends on what the people you know do in their lives. The story line of the dog Dori, who they first meet being walked on the beach, keeps popping up with some surprising but relevant twists. But the incident of the (mildly) sinister motorcyclist goes nowhere, serves only, perhaps, to expose aspects of Jongrae's and Moonsook's character. Or just to fill time. This style can be confusing, and seems like it would reward a second viewing. In the case of "Woman is the Future of Man" I just didn't care enough about the characters or plot to make that investment. But "Woman on the Beach" is intriguing enough, the flawed characters and their relations interesting enough, that I probably will pick this DVD up again soon. I don't expect it to become one of my favorite films, revealing layers and subtleties, but it does seem worth another go just to straighten out what's going on.
A word on the subtitles: it's nice that relevant traffic and commercial signs are interpreted (as they too often aren't), but unfortunately the subtitles are small and often nearly invisible against light background. Sigh. There does exist better technology.