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January 23, 2008

Woman on the Beach

woman on the beach 1.jpg

Haebyonui Yoin
Hong Sang-soo - 2006
Bitwin Region 3 DVD

There is an illustration by Girish Shambu topping his blog entry that I immediately thought of during a scene in Woman on the Beach. The young film director, Jung-rae, creates an illustration made up of connecting points while discussing his ideas with the woman, Moon-sook. Earlier, Jung-rae discussed a script he is working on, about a character who discovers the coincidental aspects of his life connected by a barely visible string. As it turns out, the connections made by the characters in Woman on the Beach are revealed to be more tenuous.

Even though Hong's primary male character is a filmmaker, Hong is more interested in exploring the messiness of human relationships. This stands in sharp contrast with Godard, Fellini, Mazursky and almost any other filmmaker I can think of who would concentrate on the filmmaker and his writer's block. Hong's film is about people who weave in and out of relationships for the flimsiest of reasons. While most of the relationships in the film are of friendship, romance or purely sexual, the superficial aspects also inform other relationships, as when Jung-rae changes his mind about eating at a restaurant due to a perceived slight by the staff.

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Moon-sook is also an artist, a composer and singer, whose music is played in the scene introducing her. While not expressed in the film, there is a visual contrast between Jung-rae's black points of connection and music, which in its written form is a series of black dots that are organized based on precise lines and order. The man who introduces Jung-rae to Moon-sook is a set designer. Perhaps the point is too obvious, and one that Hong has revisited in past films, contrasting the deliberate structure of art with the chaos of life.

Filmmaking is an art form that frequently employs chance and accident in its final form. An interview with Hong by Kevin Lee brings that point across. Jang-rae's proposed film is about chance and coincidence interpreted as miracles. Hong has been noted by other critics for the literal and metaphorical geometry within Woman on the Beach. What is also deliberate is the setting - a resort town off-season sparsely populated by residence and tourists, and the beach itself, where any trace of activity will be washed away. As the film ends, there is the realization that Woman on the Beach is less about relationships, than about the memory of relationships.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 23, 2008 12:05 AM


Peter, it's funny. I saw this film at TIFF in '06 with Darren Hughes and Doug Cummings and the first thing we talked about as we were walking out of the theater was that drawing--what an inspired idea on Hong's part. I'm glad to hear that the film is available on dvd.

Posted by: girish at January 25, 2008 03:27 PM