It’s official, say critics: Hong Sang-soo’s repeating himself. Here comes another movie where the protagonist’s a stifled filmmaker, where the men get drunk and embarrass themselves in public, and where a younger man and his mentor duke it out for a girl. The director of the gorgeously melancholy romance Woman on the Beach and spiky comedy Like You Know It All isn’t just reproducing tones—he’s mixing them. His new film, Oki’s Movie, is at once abrasive and sweet.
The movie is actually made up of four short films, each introduced with the same garish blue background and “Pomp and Circumstance” blaring on the soundtrack. The hero of the first short is a student filmmaker who can’t live up to his mentor. Adam Hartzell has written that Hong’s heroes “are not antiheroes as much as they are exercises in humiliation,” and this proves true when our man shows up drunk to a screening of his film. An audience member asks why he dumped her friend, he says he doesn’t remember (and besides, what business is it of hers?), and the handheld camera stays on them, moving back and forth between accusations. Writers often compare Hong’s films to Eric Rohmer’s, with the way they focus on a relationship’s changing dynamics by highlighting small, precise, delicate movements, but the spiky, nasty, very-funny scene here lies much closer to Albert Brooks.
It’s possible that he doesn’t remember the girl because he was someone else when he met her. The actor playing the director appears in all four shorts, as do the girl and the teacher, each playing some variant of their former selves. The next two segments also contain humiliation, as the two men fight for her attention, but it’s tough to recognize the violence of watching a man puke up a squid in the snow as coming from the same filmmaker who made the film’s sweet last segment.
Well, not exactly: The woman’s name is Oki, and the last segment is purportedly her movie. We see, and she tells us in voiceover, how she walked through the snow with the older man, and then years apart how she walked with the younger; how she ate squid pancakes with one, and noodles with the other; how she dreamed of different lives with each; and how both were nice. It’s rare for a Hong film to center on a woman, but coming after the previous hour of watching a man trip over himself, it provides a nice release. It’s surprising what a pleasure the entire film is. Oki’s Movie is a story about juvenile people that never once feels juvenile.
The 48th New York Film festival runs from September 24 to October 10. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.