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NYFF 2010. Hong Sang-soo's "Oki's Movie"

"The subtly intricate construction of Hong Sang-soo's harsh, self-deprecatingly comical romance, set in the milieu of a Korean university's film department, lends its four brief sketch-like episodes a novelistic density," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "The last three parts flash back from the opening story — of the young professor-filmmaker Jingu's marital struggles and departmental disgruntlement — to his salad days, half a decade earlier, in art and love. At that time, he pursued Oki, a young classmate, while he worked with a professor who was secretly having an affair with her. With dry, crisp visual wit and mercurial psychological insight, Hong probes the dreams and delusions of youth and age, and — in one bravura classroom sequence, one of the finest in the recent cinema — he sublimates the triangle into its rarefied, explosive essence."

"'Film as an art is finished,' says Professor Song (Moon Sung-geun) to his former student, now struggling filmmaker-in-residence Jingu (Lee Seon-kyun) shortly into Hong Sang-soo's Oki's Movie. 'It can't go back to how it was... Let's just read. In such a rotten world, only books will save us.'" Andrew Tracy in Cinema Scope: "For Hong, whose oeuvre is perhaps one of the most ostentatiously repetitive in contemporary cinema, such explicit baring of the device seems about the only avenue left for him to simply keep working in his chosen mode. Happily, Oki's Movie... not only sustains the pertinence of Hong's cinema but refracts it through an extra-cinematic device. In Hahaha, Hong repeated and jumbled the fiction by having two inebriated buddies tell each other a story, without the awareness that they are narrating the recent pasts of the same characters. In Oki's Movie, as per Song's seeming dismissal of cinema, Hong is even more daring, employing an almost novelistic (in structure rather than scope) narrative frame, which adds intriguing layers to the film's triangular scenario while also blithely admitting its inauthenticity."

"Oki's Movie has an unusual shape," writes Glenn Kenny. "It kicks of with hand-written opening credits designed and shot in the manner of amateur video, with Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance' as the theme music. This credit motif is repeated for each of the film's four discrete sections. But are they sections or in fact individual short films? It's difficult to say. We understand we're in an academic environment in which films are made; there's festival competition, a director's Q&A (one of the most awkward director's Q&A's ever committed to a screen, in fact, and one of the film's funniest scenes) rumors of tenure-mongering, and more. With the exception of the final section, the narration of which makes clear that it's a film-within-a-film — or, more accurately, a film within the film-world of the characters involved, those being two student filmmakers, male and female, and a married professor — I wasn't always on the surest footing as to the particular reality of each of the sections, at how far a remove from Hong the storyteller himself each particular section was set. Which is an entirely different proposition from being 'hard to follow' but which also means I'm going to need to see the thing again before I 'get' it."

"It's official, say critics: Hong Sang-soo's repeating himself." Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door: "Here comes another movie where the protagonist's a stifled filmmaker, where the men get drunk and embarrass themselves in public, and where a younger man and his mentor duke it out for a girl. The director of the gorgeously melancholy romance Woman on the Beach and spiky comedy Like You Know It All isn't just reproducing tones — he's mixing them. His new film, Oki's Movie, is at once abrasive and sweet."

Michael Sicinski for Cargo: "If you're going to keep making the same film over and over, 1) make it a good movie, and 2) get better at it. So while some critic acquaintances rolled their eyes at Oki's Movie on the basis of plot alone, I am happy to cheerlead for it, as it's one of his very best films in years, probably since Tale of Cinema."

 


"What's new about Oki's Movie, after so many Hong films dealing with the forceful sexual naivete of the male of the species, is a female perspective," argues the L's Mark Asch. "We've been invited to feel for the reluctantly compliant men in Hong's films, but never to know what they're thinking. In the final segment — tellingly titled Oki's Movie, same as the feature — the female film student, Oki, cuts between two hikes, a couple winters apart, taken first with her older, professor lover and then with a classmate boyfriend. Bemused and still recessive, with an understanding of chronology absent from the other sections, this last, female perspective is a stunning one: what it suggests, in contrasting her various experiences with men and boys who have no idea what she's thinking, is that, all this time Hong's viewers have been pitying his female characters, those female characters have been pitying the men, too."

Ed Champion, though, is met "with tremendous frustration, baffled as to why such a one-note offering would be selected for a world-renowned film festival." But Time Out New York's Keith Uhlich finds "a keenly profound sense of art and life refracting into infinity."

Viewing. A Q&A with Hong, live on stage at the BFI.

Earlier, Daniel Kasman: "Oki's Movie is probably the least attractive looking Hong film, and probably his least sophisticated use of location (look to his other 2010 film Hahaha for the opposite of these two qualities), but it still has the quiet charm of his deadpan-nonchalant entrances and exits, a mise-en-scène primed for the ridiculous declarations mentioned above (enter as if you are strolling to school, stop and say the most profound thing on your mind, move on)."

Update, 10/12: "In both Hahaha and Oki's Movie, Hong takes what's offered by tradition — in this case, the romantic comedy and the conventions of flashbacks, crosscutting, and restricted narration — and creates a fresh structure," writes David Bordwell. "The play of novelty and norm is engrossing in itself, apart from the vagaries of the drama. Our appetite for narrative will always be whetted when directors find ways to whip up something new out of familiar ingredients."

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