(2006)Craig ButlerIn Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach (Haebyuneui Yeoin), a manipulative director named Kim Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) explains his latest script, titled "About Miracles." He says its goal is to unravel the secret of coincidence, that "there's a very thin string that links everything," and that this thing is like the soul. Later he claims to have discovered a triangle-shaped diagram that demonstrates the "repeating images imprinted on us by others," and a more complex unnamable shape on top of it that represents the more complicated unfathomable whole. These thin strings and oblique shapes glimmer in the background of this film, reverberating beneath Hong's cool eye, dry sarcasm, and disarmingly simple two-part structure.
The first portion concerns a typically caustic portrayal of the relationship between two male friends and a mutual love interest. The director Joong-rae coerces his submissive co-worker Won Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) to go to the beach with him, where he plans on finishing his script. Once there, he immediately seduces Chang-wook's girlfriend, Kim Moon-sook (Ko Hyun-joung), cruelly squeezing out his helpless friend. Eventually, the couple returns home. Joong-rae returns to the beach and woos a young woman on vacation with a friend, under the pretext of interviewing her for his film. Moon-sook returns and has a hysterical fit at being cheated on. Eventually the two women meet and Joong-rae finishes his script.
Hong uses recurring images and scenes to draw subtle connection on the themes of cosmic loneliness, the connection between the sexes (men/men, women/men, women/women), and the somewhat pathetic, comical, and destructive ways that men try to control women in sexual relationships. The topic of manipulation is echoed in the double layering of director characters, the fictional Joong-rae and the Hong himself. The film is caustic in its detailing of relationships, yet the foggy melancholy of the beach creates an atmosphere of psychological probing. Despite their selfishness, these characters, deep in cockeyed self-reflection, are attempting to overcome their character faults. Joong-rae is a cad and a fool, but there is both coldness and tenderness in Hong's depictions of his strivings.
Widely regarded as acclaimed Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo's finest cinematic accomplishment to date, Woman on the Beach concerns Kim Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo), a mercurially tempered writer/director drafting a screenplay during his stay at an off-season oceanside resort. Joong-rae becomes acquainted with two female vacationers, each of whom unwittingly exposes undercurrents of hostility and self-destructiveness inside of him; he then uses the encounters as script fodder. The film represents Hong's exploration of the machismo, aggression, and hostility that typically lie at the core of the male id and are often exercised in masculine behavior. Woman on the Beach was screened at the 2006 New York Film Festival, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.