Yeong-hee (played by Kim Min-hee) is a film actress with surprisingly little to do in her copious free time. Allegedly, Yeong-hee does have friends, but Yeong-hee's conversations with them frequently descend into self-deprecating melancholy. I mean really, what else do you call nonchalant references to extramarital affairs, coupled with the suspicious insistence that nah, I don't really care even though it's apparently the only thing I can think of to talk about? Yeong-hee lives in her own sad little world, and through "On the Beach at Night Alone", we feel sorry for her.
If writer/director Hong Sang-soo intended "On the Beach at Night Alone" as apologism for his much publicized affair with Kim Min-hee, I have to admit he does use the most effective possible weapon- pity. After her turn as a sex bomb in "The Handmaiden" I never would have been able to visualize Kim Min-hee as so blatantly unattractive. And yet her performance as Yeong-hee is defined almost entirely by trying ever so desperately to look and act cool in front of people she doesn't even like all that much.
There's definitely a sort of modern parable at work in "On the Beach at Night Alone"- the film perfectly captures the warped way with which certain kinds of self-promoters improve their brand by pretending to be losers. Although really, in all fairness, that's pretty much Hong Sang-soo's entire argument. Being a loser is a state of mind, not a reflection of reality. Hence why Yeong-hee is on the losing end of a conversation when she is demure, and winning it when unnaturally aggressive.
But, you're probably saying to yourself, conversations can't have winners and losers. That's ridiculous. To which I can only reply, you must be new to the whole Hong Sang-soo game. Nearly all of his movies are about people who try to "win" conversations. "On the Beach at Night Alone" is more blatant about it than most because in this case, Yeong-hee is the only character whose perspective we can see.
I mean really, look at anyone else, and they're just vague personality blobs for Yeong-hee to toss conversation at. Actually listening never really comes into the equation. One particular scene stands out because the normally static Hong Sang-soo background is replaced by constant movement in the peripheral which is never at any point commented upon. It's obvious that Yeong-hee and her friends live in a bubble- that they literally can't even see people just off camera is taking that kind of pathetic to a whole new level.
On balance this works to make "On the Beach at Night Alone" so fantastically depressing to watch I had a lot of trouble paying much attention by the end. Even now, after the blatantly shameless statements Hong Sang-soo and Kim Min-hee have made to the press, I still have trouble coming up with an interpretation for this film more complicated than "these people are terrible please don't be like them". Someone, somewhere, is crying out for help, just maybe not the kind they actually need.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "On the Beach at Night Alone" + Poster Giveaway"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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