Woman Is the Future of Man
(Hong Sangsoo, South Korea, 2004, 35mm, 88 min.)
I like his films above all because they are amusing. Not in the style of comic films but they manage to capture aspects of everyday life that drift by without us really paying attention to them. They show things that we look at and say, "That's right, it's just like that." That's what's amusing.
-- Tae-woo Kim, actor
If, as Hong Sangsoo (Turning Gate) would have it, woman is the future of man, then man is in big trouble. The men in his fifth film, Mun-ho (Ji-tae Yu, Oldboy) and Hyeon-jun (Tae-woo Kim, Joint Security Area), are emotional idiots. The woman in their life, the willowy Seon-hwa (Hyeon-a Seong), may be marginally more mature, but she's just as passive. After college, when Hyeon-jun left to study film in the States, Mun-ho hooked up with her. The men stayed in touch, but Mun-ho never told Hyeon-jun about the relationship.
Years later, the two reunite. They've grown apart, but they're still jerks. Hyeon-jun is a filmmaker; Mun-ho is an art professor. Hyeon-jun is poor and single, while the married Mun-ho makes a comfortable living. After spending the afternoon reminiscing and hitting on their waitress, who resembles the college-aged Seon-hwa, they decide to visit the hotel bar she manages.
Long story short, Seon-hwa is the one that got away. Hyeon-jun is lonely and regrets dumping her. She's still hurt. Mun-ho has regrets, too, but keeps them to himself. Mostly, he seems bored. Seeing Seon-hwa again reminds him that he once felt more alive. In a Hollywood production, that would indicate reconciliation time. Instead, Seon-hwa indulges the two losers, letting them drink themselves into oblivion before crashing at her pad. The next morning, she gives Mun-ho a blow job.
Later that day, Mun-ho runs into some students while walking through the snow with Hyeon-jun and Seon-hwa. This results in yet another blow job. By this point, I was reminded of Carnal Knowledge (1971), in which Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel are depicted as dunderheads for mistreating Candace Bergen in college--plus, the Mike Nichols picture also ends with Nicholson being "serviced." It is presented, of course, as a degrading experience.
Woman Is the Future of Man offers a less definitive conclusion. I can only assume that this former SIFF Emerging Master (2003) has more love for his cretins. Hong doesn't punish them--as he does in his grimly fascinating debut, The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (1996), which ends with a multiple murder--but nor does he let them off the hook. The ménage à trois re-formed by this clueless trio simply collapses.
It may sound anti-climactic, but the filmmaker Michael Atkinson has called "Korean New Wave's answer to the love child [of] Antonioni and Hou Hsiao-hsien" has, for better or for worse, mounted one of the most realistic reunion films ever made. If The Big Chill (1983), with its kitchen-dancing and flag football games set to the boomer-friendly strains of Motown, is your favorite movie, you may wanna take a pass, but if you're looking for something with more of the messiness of real life: Here's your antidote.
Woman is the Future of Man plays at the Northwest Film Forum May 5-11, Fri.-Thurs., at 7 and 9pm. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave, on Capitol Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, please visit www.nwfilmforum.org. You can also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.