VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS
(Oh! Soo jung)
Directed by Hong Sang-soo (2000)
Wealthy art gallery owner Jae-hoon (Jeong Bo-seok) waits in a hotel room to have sex with screenwriter Soo-jung (Lee Eun-ju). She phones, however, and claims to be running late and expresses some doubts about consummating their relationship. Later, the scene is replayed but from Soo-jungs point of view with a different result. With its title derived from a surreal artwork by Marcel Duchamp titled The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Hong Sang-soos elliptical comedy drama A Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors is a process of discovery for both the characters and the viewer. Whether the theme is viewed as the subjectivity of memory or how our perceptions change with each new event, Hong strips away the illusion from romantic love and allows us to see how ambivalent we all may be beyond our idealization.
The film is divided into five parts, each chapter introduced by enigmatic titles such as Perhaps Intention, Perhaps Coincidence, and Perhaps Accident, and separated by a fade to black, reminiscent of Jim Jarmuschs Stranger in Paradise. The first, third, and fifth parts take place in the present; the second and fourth parts show the history of the couple from their first encounter to the present and reflect the characters different perceptions/memories. The chapter Perhaps by Accident seems to describe Jae-hoon as one who believes that reality is controlled by fate. Perhaps Intention describes the assumptions of Soo-jung who makes her decisions based on her assessment of mens true motives and values, judging them by their actions not their words.
From the outset, the films narrative appears to be linear as it traces a love triangle that develops between Jae-hoon, Soo-jung and Young-soo, an independent filmmaker. The characters are very real and their desires and frustrations are palpable. However, halfway through, the film begins to repeat episodes from earlier chapters which are dramatized from a different perspective and show slight variations in detail. The second chapter is a flashback to the couples first meeting. Filmmaker Young-soo (Moon Seong-keun) attends an exhibition at Jae-hoons art gallery with Soo-jung to gain some inspiration for the film they are working on. The two agree to have lunch with Jae-hoon, perhaps to persuade the wealthy gallery owner to provide some financial backing for the film.
A few days later, when Jae-hoon meets Soo-jung at Kyongbokgoong Palace, he discovers that she has a pair of gloves that he accidentally left on a bench and believes the incident to be very much a coincidence. When the incident is dramatized the second time, however, it appears that Soo-jung has intentionally scheduled the film crew to meet on the Palace grounds because she knows that Jae-hoon goes there for lunch. Jae-hoon becomes attracted to Soo-jung and asks her to have sex with him and become her lover. She tells him that she will accept his offer but only when they go out for a drink. The sex scenes are erotic but not graphic and reveal the lovers emotional pain lying just beneath the surface.
Enhanced by an exquisite original score by Ok Kil-sung and the striking black and white cinematography of Choi Yeong-taek, Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors is a beautiful and thoughtful film whose concluding epiphany left me with a lovely glow. Sadly, however, the glow was short lived as I soon discovered that on the night of February 22, 2005, Lee Eun-ju committed suicide at her apartment only a few days after graduating from Dankook University. She was only 24 years old. The memory of her great performance in this outstanding film will long remain.