Woman is the Future of Man
THE MOVIE Two college friends meet for a drink on a lightly snowy winter day. Art professor Munho (Yoo Jitae) lives with his wife; visiting Hunjoon (Kim Taewoo) is returning from film school in America. They repair to a nearby restaurant for some grub and a beer, with each separately-and failingly-trying to flirt with the waitress. A young woman waiting for her ride outside causes each man to remember Sunhwa (Sung Hyunah), a woman they both had a relationship with years before. She lives nearby, so they decide to go visit her.
Woman Is the Future of Man-the title comes from a Louis Aragon poem-unfolds like a laconic, dreamlike, and forlorn Jules and Jim in its center when the pair meet up again with Sunhwa, as memories, old feelings, and seemingly forgotten desires return. Too much drink is consumed, too little sex is actually had, and just enough is said to confuse, obscure, and inflame.
Director Hong Sangsoo makes movies like some cross between Michelangelo Antonioni and Eric Rohmer-snail's-pace studies of environments and the people who live in them in which what people say (or don't) defines them more than what they do (or don't). It's molasses-slow going, doubly tricky because Sangsoo does structure his tale somewhat anachronistically, and it takes a few shuffles before it's noticed and you can piece the puzzle together. Second, the performances are flat almost to the point of stoicism at times, which isn't helped by the movie pace's tranquility. But this surface veneer of calm cannily masks a volatile mix of misguided limbo, passive misogyny, and outright jealousy that Sangsoo quietly orchestrates out of his movie. This 88 minutes crawls by, but in the end it's as rewarding, peculiarly sad, and oddly emotive as an Amy Hempel short story.
THE DISC New Yorker Video gives Sangsoo's 2004 movie a grand DVD treatment, complete with enthusiastic-as if he were capable of any other kind-introduction from Martin Scorsese, four trailers for the movie (none in English), interviews with the three principal performers (in which you suspect the director gave the psychological portraits of who these characters are and why they do what they do and don't do), and a nearly 40-minute making-of featurette that is surprisingly rewarding. During this behind-the-scenes look you realize that, despite his movie's almost invisibly casual feel and mise-en-scène, Sangsoo meticulously controls every iota of screen information, each sound and gesture and infuriatingly long second of no dialogue serving a specific purpose in his vision. It won't win you over to this obviously acquired-taste movie, but if you have any soft spot for unabashedly arty, small character movies that even independent American cinema rarely makes anymore, you'll be impressed.