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Binge-Drinking and Despair in Hong's Dour Love Triangle

Lee Eun-joo (left) and Moon Sung-keun
photo: Tai Seng Entertainment
Lee Eun-joo (left) and Moon Sung-keun

Sensationally pulpy as Korean films tend to be, the New Wave has room at least for one art-film maker: Hong Sang-soo, whose angsty, elusive 1998 masterpiece The Power of Kangwon Province may still be the most critic-revered film of the movement. A grim, rigorous, cerebral follow-up, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000) also examines modern romantic disconnection from a quizzical arm's length, contemplating all the while the temporal squishiness of cinema itself—which is just about right for a film co-opting a title from Duchamp. In shadowy black-and-white, the movie ruminates about a quietly unhappy trio of would-be lovers—an independent filmmaker, his still-growing-up art-dealer friend, and a decidedly charmless young scriptwriter—in a multi-chaptered relay that doubles back midway through and recounts itself as a ribbon of conflicting perspectives and revealed betrayals. Undramatic, dour, and photographed wholly in long medium shots that suggest Ozu by way of Stranger ThanParadise, Hong's scenario is reincarnated as its emotional antithesis—or as if the narrative had become rewritten by desire and memory. In the end, there isn't a stable story line so much as an evolving sense of the characters' inadequacies. At the very least, Hong's structuralist dissection is a withering portrait of an urban Korean generation lost in binge drinking, misogyny, and disaffection. Quoting from A Midsummer Night's Dream and nagged by the ubiquity of American film, Hong's sensibility is indelibly Korean; writing in these pages, Chuck Stephens described the oeuvre as "[b]rilliantly bifurcated and deeply suspicious of reunifications of any sort." Trailers, filmographies, and, oddly, a commentary by Hong Kong cinema scholar Ric Meyers.

 
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