Modern Love and Its Discontents

Despairing Korean New Wave structuralist Hong Sang-soo's second film, this 1998 ballade is surely the movement's most critic-revered work, and a sobering draught beside the intoxicated barn burnings of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. Like Hong's next film, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Power is a diptych, the hurting heart of which is not clear until the two narratives collide. First a wispy coed (Oh Yung-hong), sometimes on the verge of misery, visits the titular region with two friends for a few days hiking and touristing; midway through, the film hops over to an unemployed teacher (Baek Jong-hak) who is vaguely dissatisfied with his life and eventually joins a friend on a Kangwon trip of his own. The two vacations are simultaneous and are backgrounded by a current of mystery, but they never cross paths—the story of the protagonists' failed romance ended before the movie began, and what we see are its vapor trails and vacuums and bruises. Shot with Hong's symptomatic rigor, in a current of stock-still middle shots, the film unfurls like a haunting memory, replaying itself but always failing to find an elusive truth. In the end, Hong's clinical interrogation of modern love and its discontents holds at the center, more heartbreaking in its way than any tale of passion crippled by fate or society. For Hong's lost generation, the past never adds up to the present, and modernity is merely a fabric of unsatisfying lies. The DVD comes only with a score of language/subtitling options.

 
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