Hong Sang-soo’s new film is not what I expected at all. His last three (Tale of Cinema, Woman on the Beach, and Night and Day) all seemed subtle but substantial evolutions of a filmmaker unjustly accused of making the same movie again and again. Each had a discreet look, setting, and cast, but Hong’s new film, Like You Know It All, is puzzling, a remarkably amorphous film that harkens back to the feel of Hong’s first two movies while continuing to blend his structuralist rhymes and repetitions of the story deeper, more mysteriously and tenuously into the texture of the movie.
Like You Know It All is bifurcated—of course—between a film director (Kim Tae-Woo) visiting a festival as a guest judge and falling into drunken mishaps with the locals and a trip soon after the filmmaker takes to do a Q&A with a class of students where he experiences a more mature, streamlined version of the previous trip’s drama. So far, so Hong. Yet Go plays his character as the most polite and distanced of all of Hong’s frustrated intellectuals, so much so that it’s not until the final reel that he actually voices any frustration at all. He also keeps it in his pants, which is to say that the reckless abandon Hong’s heroes tend to awkwardly climax with after days and nights of wary estimation of everything around them is, here, minor. The encounters that serve that Rohmerian function of facing our hero with things in the world and people’s views of life so that he may set himself with or against them to define himself are haphazard and far less A-to-B as in the past. Instead, there is an onward, subtle, even barely detected and mysteriously provoked maturation of Go's film director throughout the film. This slyness in development is as continually rewarding as its sneakiness is unexpected.
Despite the self-reflexive story, the film never fully forms a specific identity as past Hong films have, like the many shots that start or end by panning or zooming to a blasé composition of nature. It exists, just so. Like You Know It All is provocative in this respect especially for Hong fans (and I would be curious to read a reaction to the film of someone unfamiliar with his work). Things seems to be to an even great degree than Night and Day’s episodic pathways through Paris and male desire in a state of constant, unstable flux. The wide, quite varied, and often very funny and erratically acted cast only makes the path more bumpy, more curious. What is going on in this film? Hong’s past work, up until Night and Day, tended to fold neatly in on itself. Not so here. Slant rhyming replaces the more diagrammatic plots of the past, and the Buñuelian surrealism of dreams, objects, and dangerous ellipses all fit so naturally into this film one might barely note the weirdness of it all. Like You Know It All is as quicksilver as a modest, slow, deadpan and very wayward drama can be. Every Hong film seems to point to the next, but this unexpected move towards something different, a new, more opaque sense of storytelling—and perhaps even an attempt at the mainstream—leaves one not knowing what to expect next.