Hong Sang-soo's second feature enjoyed as much success as the rest of his filmography in the festival circuit, despite the fact that the director had not yet gained the complete mastery of the medium he has currently, although his progress from his first film "The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well" is quite obvious.
The film starts with three girls, Ji-sook, Jae-wan and Eun-kyeong taking a trip to the Kangwon province, where they enjoy the beach and the mountains alike, talk to the locals and eventually end up spending their time drinking with a local policeman. The focus is on Ji-sook, who has just broken up from a relationship with a married man, and after a drunken fight with her friends, she finds herself sharing a bed with the policeman, who is also married.
The movie then changes focus and centers on Sang-kwon, the man Ji-sook was previously associated with. Sang-kwon is applying to become a professor, which involves some awkward attempts at networking, but soon decides to take a trip to Kangwon with a friend too, where they spend their time much like the girls did, drinking, fighting, and enjoying the scenery. However, his path does not meet Ji-sook's at any time.
Hong Sang-soo directs a distinctly art-house film that focuses on human relations through a nihilistic approach that highlights the alienation people feel both from others and from themselves. At the same time, some of his later traits are also present, like the fact that alcohol is a catalyst for human relations and that men are actually worse than women, in a concept that is highlighted by the way the two protagonists describe their relationship. His unique sense of humor is not so "in-your-face' in here, but the scene with the prostitute will definitely produce some laughs, despite its somewhat crude fashion.
Probably the narrative's best asset is the parallelism of the two stories, which highlights the similarities and the differences of the two protagonists in the most distinct fashion, by placing them in the same setting.
Hong highlights his knowledge of "normal" people in a quite thorough analysis of the human psyche, as much as the common actions of drunken people, with the fights that end up in apologies the next day being a distinct proof of the fact.
Regarding the film's technical aspect, Hong implements as much minimalism as possible, since even his trademark sudden zoom-ins are missing from here, having Kim Yeong-cheol, his cinematographer, use many long takes and steady shots. Nevertheless, the two of them do not fail in capturing the beauty of the region in a number of impressive images, in bucolic fashion.
The acting follows the same path, with the almost complete lack of exaltation, as Hong demands from his actors to be as natural as possible. Baek Jong-hak as Sang-kwon, Oh Yoon-hong as Ji-sook, and Kim Yu-seok as the police officer implement this tactic quite nicely, while all of them are quite convincing as drunkards.
"The Power of Kangwon Provice" showed Hong Sang-soo's potential and is an accomplished film in art-house fashion, but I felt that it stands on a lower level than his later works, like "Hahaha", "Right Now, Wrong Then", etc.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
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Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "The Power of Kangwon Province""
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