It takes dedication to continue making the kinds of films that Korean director Hong Sang-soo specialises in. He crafts slight, occasionally comedic relationship dramas with a handful of central characters, including at least one self-involved young man often chasing a young woman. Perhaps he’s going for a latter-day Woody Allen, and certainly his characters can at times be as infuriating as any in Allen’s comedies. Yet Hong’s films have their charms, perhaps for not sharing quite the same bitter worldview as Allen, putting him more in the company of French director Eric Rohmer.
Our Sunhi is no different from many of his films, though is a little more overtly comedic. It centres on the eponymous young woman (played by Jung Yoo-mi), who is in her late-20s and wants to pursue further study in the United States. She returns to her old campus film school after many years incommunicado, and there runs into a trio of men who all imagine themselves to have her special affections, though she is clearly wary of all of them. One is a fellow student, Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun), who was her boyfriend before she disappeared (and who has apparently since made a bitter film about their relationship). Another is a professor, Choi (Kim Sang-joong), from whom she wants an academic reference. The third is Munsu’s fellow filmmaker Jaehak (Jung Jae-young), and all three of course know one another — but not that each knows and admires Sunhi.
What follows is a delicate comedy of manners and misunderstandings, often conducted over restaurant and bar tables. Indeed, there’s a lot of drunk acting throughout, though, despite the omnipresence of chicken dishes, very little eating (they probably would have been wise to eat more!). And as the film unfolds, it becomes clear that each man has his own idea of who Sunhi is and what she’s like, and they keep forcing these opinions on her — to greater comical effect with each repetition, until eventually they’re left just telling each other about Sunhi in her absence. Hong seems to be self-aware about his propensity for writing films about enigmatic, unknowable women, as it’s the male characters here who repeatedly deny Sunhi her own identity, becoming in the process progressively more ridiculous.
It’s all very nicely judged, though it has an almost televisual quality to it with its two- and three-person setups, and awkward little zooms in on faces at key moments. It certainly has no grand pretensions as art cinema, which makes it refreshing in the context of a film festival, and it’s always good to see this kind of small, character-focused human drama.
Director/Writer Hong Sang-soo 홍상수; Cinematographer Park Hong-yeol 박홍열; Starring Jung Yu-mi 정유미, Kim Sang-joong 김상중, Lee Sun-kyun 이선균; Length 89 minutes.
Seen at ICA, London, Tuesday 15 October 2013.