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December 08, 2011

Turning Gate

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Saenghwalui balgyeon
Hong Sang-soo - 2002
YA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

A line repeated three times in Turning Gate is, "Even though it's difficult to be a human being, let's not turn into monsters." It's a line that is initially mocked by the main character when he first hears it, only to be repeated by him to the two women with whom he has thorny relationships.

It's not just difficult to be a human being, but often times awkward. Turning Gate is a movie about things said and unsaid, and the conversations between people that take often substitute for meaningful dialogue. While riding in the back of a cab, Kyung-soo receives a phone call from Sung-woo. It takes a few moments for Kyung-soo to realize who he is talking to, as the two men have been out of touch for about five years. Having just been told that his anticipated acting job will not happen, and with nothing else planned, Kyung-soo goes to spend time at the small town outside of Seoul where Sung-woo lives. The relationship between the two men is cemented by eating and drinking, but little else. For the two men, about 30 years old, there is not much else going in their lives as Kyung-soo's acting career is stalled, and there is no evidence regarding Sung-woo's description of himself as a writer.

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What limited fame Kyung-soo has as an actor is parlayed, with mixed results, with with his relationship with women. Sung-woo introduces Kyung-soo to Myung-suk, a dance teacher. While the three get together for dinner and many bottles of beer, Sung-woo steps outside for a moment. Myung-suk invites Kyung-soo to kiss, to "break the ice" between them. The invitation is expressed in a fragmented sentence, and to kiss, the two need to contort themselves with the small dining table between them. The two get together, spending the night in a hotel. For whatever physical passion is expressed, Myung-suk also declares her love of Kyung-soo, a feeling not reciprocated. Not only is Myung-suk angry that Kyung-soo is not in love, but her attempt as revenge, a night with Sung-woo, fails to elicit any jealousy.

While riding on the train back to Seoul, Kyung-soo strikes up a conversation with another passenger, Sun-young. Gradually, Sun-young reveals that she has seen Kyung-soo on stage. Kyung-soo gets off the train before reaching Seoul, to follow Sun-young to her home. Even when the two get together, it becomes clear that a real relationship will probably never happen.

The title comes from a legendary gate serves as a tourist attraction. The actual gate is never seen, and reportedly doesn't turn either. The legend is that a commoner, in love with a princess, was transformed into a snake that wrapped itself around the princess. The princess was free only when she departed at the gate to get food for the snake. The princess never returned. The legend is one that may well be incompletely told. Hong's film chronicles a series of unkept promises of return, of love and relationships that prove to be one-sided.

There is some kind of color scheme that takes place that I cannot explain. Sun-woo gives Kyung-soo a red t-shirt which is worn through the rest of the film. The same shade of red appears at various points in the film. There is a similar use of color noticeable when Sun-young wears a camel color jacket contrasted against other shades of light brown. Again, I can't point out any kind of specific meaning to the use of color other than that Hong manages to sneak in a painterly visual scheme to some of the shots.

The lives of the characters turn no more than the gate. The four either wait for something, or someone, to change their lives, or simply choose not to leave a life that may be unsatisfying, but also comforting in its familiarity. In the case of Kyung-soo, no matter where he goes, or what he does, his life is one of getting caught in the rain.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 8, 2011 08:00 AM