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'Know': Hong's Realm of Comic Realism

2009/05/14 | 499 views | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

New in local theaters and currently showing in the out-of-competition section of the Cannes Film Festival is Hong Sang-soo's latest feature "Like You Know It All".

Like Hong's other films, "Know" is told in a live journal-like format that is reminiscent of Eric Rohmer. While it is set in a couple of Korea's top vacation spots, the movie, as typical of its minimalist director, features characterless hotel rooms and drinking spots and showcases more of the mirror-image structures inherent to Hong's stories of frustrated ideals and sexual desires.

Modest, fragmented and meandering it may be, but the low-budget digital franchise stars some of South Korea's most high-profile actors tangled up in mundane yet comic situations and engaged in phony talks about art, philosophy and love.

Like his previous feature "Night and Day", which was shown at last year's Berlinale, "Know" stars another one of the director's archetypal womanizing anti-heroes. Actor Kim Tae-woo (Hong's 2004 "Woman is the Future of Man") is Koo, a rising filmmaker known for his artsy works.

He is invited as a judge for the 2008 Jecheon International Music Film Festival (JIMFF). But the festival, set among the cascading mountains and scenic lakes of North Chungcheong Province, is just an excuse for everyone to have drinking parties. Here, Hong does not hesitate to bash the film industry, by depicting a know-it-all programmer (Uhm Ji-won) and superficial movie critics to the smug star director and the desperate actress trying to climb into his bed. Koo is at once the aloof observer and the passive participant in the shallowness.

Meanwhile, Koo runs into an old buddy, Bu (Gong Hyung-jin), and is invited to his happy home. Joined by Bu's wife Yu-sin (Jung Yu-mi), the three start another round of drinking. A series of mishaps, however, result in Koo being labeled a sexual harasser, and back at the festival, he again gets blamed for another accident involving too much booze and compromised sexual morals.

Twelve days later, Koo is invited to give a lecture at a film school on Jeju Island. Of course, the camera foregoes the beautiful palm trees and beaches of Korea's Hawaii, and instead takes viewers to more drinking parties. This time he reunites with a senior colleague, the elderly painter Yang, and is invited to his home.

Yang's new wife turns out to be none other than Koo's old flame, Koh (Go Hyun-jung). The two keep their past affair a secret from Yang, and end up in bed together ― a casual affair for Koh, while a pitiful, self-gratifying attempt for Koo to attach meaning to his frustrated past. Things become complicated, however, when the neighbor Jo (Ha Jung-woo), who swears a bizarre sense of loyalty to Yang, catches them.

"People don't make use of all the gifts in life", Hong once said. "They can be ungrateful about the good things in life while they agonize over unnecessary desires, beliefs that are unfounded, self-destructive or oppressive, and misguided ideals. I am intrigued by such things".

In "Know", Hong explores the small yet affecting results of misunderstanding and misinformation, and how history is bound to repeat itself when people fail to understand their mistakes. Running as long as "Night and Day", the director's longest film yet, "Know" develops in a tangential yet natural, and moreover, extremely funny, way. Some say that the realist always makes similar movies; Hong is consistent but is also consistently evolving, bringing new dimensions of small and subtle yet delightful rhymes.

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