Hong Sang-soo’s quiet treatment of a romantic comedy has gained an almost universal admiration, but has curiously left me unaffected and umoved by its whimsical circular structure and its blatantly simplistic (read: one-note) narrative that’s unchallenging. Not a devoted follower of Hong’s oeuvre (his style is too slack, slow-paced and sometimes unbearably ponderous for my tastes), his recent addition to his body of work Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is not much of an improvement. Some would contend Hong’s auteurist approach allows him to craft variations of the same theme, the same story and characters, but in another cynical light, this can be read as uninspired repetition.
Much of the problem revolves around the film’s supposedly deeper faux-philosophical portrait of the central character’s aimlessness in life, when most of what Hong depicts here barely tread surface. It’s a danger in film criticism that storylines as simple as this are being read far too much, evading the actual narrative for what it really is. It’s gently poignant when the eponymous soon-to-be geographically parentless heroine Haewon gets abandoned by her perma-grinning mother who decides to move to Canada, astutely funny when she is confronted by film school mates regarding her actual relationship with her professor over shots of soju, but everything that follows from this point in the film evades interest and sympathy. Haewon’s listlessness and tentative fling with the said married professor, who also happens to be a man-child, would have made into a fascinating portrait of disconnection and the complexities of human relationships, but is rendered slightly dull and as aimless as its central protagonist. In between, Hong is busy zooming his camera to needless effect and swerving characters in and out of the frame, dropping them as quickly as they’ve been introducing leaving them frustratingly undeveloped. And then finally there’s the oblique ending, the film’s greatest revelation that it all might just be happening inside Haewon’s fickle head. Perhaps a dream wrapped up inside a dream? Halfway through that sentence, you’ve probably already stopped caring.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Hong Sang-soo | CAST: Jeong Eun-Chae, Seon-gyun Lee, Joon-sang Yoo | SCREENPLAY: Hong Sang-soo | DISTRIBUTOR: Studiocanal | RUNNING-TIME: 90 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: South Korea