DVD Review: Hong Sang-soo’s 'Woman on the Beach' R3 Disc
Kim Joong-rae is working on the script for his next film and he feels that a trip to the quiet seaside will help him clear his head and help him overcome his writer’s block. He invites along his friend Chang-wook, a production designer, who would do anything for his friend. The problem is Chang-wook already has plans with his ‘girlfriend’ Moon-sook. Joong-rae tells Chang-wook to invite her along and is almost immediately enamored with Moon-sook complementing her in front of Chang-wook or taking her aside and telling her of his attraction.
His vocation and status as a director is clearly an attraction for Moon-sook and she accepts his advances and they evade Chang-wook and spend the night in an empty hotel room. Joong-rae’s attitude is different in the morning and he begins to push Moon-sook away. No sooner have they left the resort and Joong-rae has returned, calling Moon-sook and inviting her to join him. When she declines his offer he connects with another woman staying at the resort, repeating the cycle again.
Hong Sang-soo’s screenplay explores the human desire for something that you cannot have and the incapability to deal with it once you have it. It's a unique human response to getting what you want when in the back of your mind you don’t think you deserve it. And the tragic aspect of this emotional urging is that once you’ve had it you push it away and no longer wish to have anything to do with the other person, only to want it again. We watch Joong-rae enter this hapless cycle over and over again. He searches for a love that he should not have and every time watch him push it away after an evening of physical conquest. And when the target of his affection is really gone he looks for that forbidden love once again, sometimes with the same person.
Hong Sang-soo’s camera work is as calming as its surroundings, only making use of pans and zooms to really isolate key emotional moments for our characters. Sometimes Hong's direction will go far as cutting out other characters sitting at the same table to further emphasize the emotional responses of those in the shot. It’s brilliantly executed, especially when he pulls back to add another character. It just emphasizes the emotional punch of the scene once the conversations are over or continue. Hong also inputs an allegorical side story of a couple and their dog. Moon-sook is immediately drawn to the young pup [only a few months old] but the couple, now out of love with their dog, abandons it on the road.
I have had no prior experience with a Hong Sang-soo film so I cannot speak on how this compares or adds to his anthology of work [Tale of Cinema, Woman is the Future of Man and Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors]. It's hard to watch love evolve so tragically and even sadder to watch Joong-rae reach no resolution despite his pleas for help to some higher power and his confession to Moon-sook the morning after their encounter. Still, it is a beautiful film and may be worth your while.
Sadly the extras on the disc aren't subtitled so unless you know Korean you won't know what is being said during the production diary, photo shoot, interviews with I assume are the editor and composer and three trailers, which make the film feel more like a romantic comedy.
This R3 DVD is available at YesAsia