Seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)
WOMAN ON THE BEACH (Haebyoniu yoin)
Directed by Hong Sang-soo (2006)
A film director with writer's block leaves the city of Seoul to finish his script at a Korean seaside resort. An entanglement with two women, however, reveals his inner confusion and forces him to confront his self-defeating behavior. Hong Sang-soo's latest, Woman on the Beach, is a comedy drama about love and the complications that develop in relationships when one partner is less than candid with the other. Like the films of Eric Rohmer, Woman on the Beach is simple on the surface yet explores a deeper layer of complexity in human relationships that is insightful and revealing.
As the film opens, director Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) travels to Shinduri Beach on Korea's West Coast hoping to renew his inspiration. He brings along his production designer Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) and Chang-wook's girl friend Moon-sook (Ko Hyeon-geong), a composer of popular songs. It becomes clear almost immediately that Moon-sook is enamored with the director and the two soon sneak away from Chang-wook and find an empty hotel room where they exchange vows of love. On the surface, she is a strong, independent woman, while Joon-rae gives the appearance of a calm and confident artist, yet both are rebounding from previous relationships and are very vulnerable.
When the morning comes, Joong-rae's warm emotions of the previous night have turned chilly. Unable to confront the feelings that reminded him of his failed marriage, he feigns anxiety and asks to be driven back to the city, leaving a phone message for Moon-sook. When he returns to the seaside after a few days, on the pretense of asking for an interview for his film, he meets Sun-hee (Song Seon-mi) who resembles Moon-sook. They spend the afternoon and night together, exchanging vows of affection, similar to those given to Moon-sook.
When Moon-sook comes looking for him in a drunken rage, however, he has to confront his deceptions and the tangled web he was woven. Woman on the Beach is a thoroughly engaging film with sparkling dialogue, complex characters, and outstanding performances from the lead actors. If it leaves us with a touch of sadness about people's inability to connect, it also leaves us smiling about their resilience and capacity for joy. Though Hong's characters are flawed, we identify with their weakness because they are all too human and may even reflect our own failings.