Oh! Soo-jung (2000)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Run Time - 127 min.  |   Countries - Korea, South   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

While its English-language title might suggest something very tawdry, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors is of a piece with writer/director Hong Sang-soo's other films, in that it's a dryly amusing, cynical, and exquisitely shot (this time in black-and-white) rumination on contemporary sexual relationships in South Korea. While sly temporal play and narrative trickery inform most of Hong's work, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors takes these elements to another level. After the opening in the hotel room, presented from Jae-hoon's (Jeong Bo-seok) point-of-view, the film flashes back to the "beginning" of the story, introduced by a title that reads, "PERHAPS ACCIDENT." About an hour in, we are shown Soo-jung (Lee Eun-joo) phoning Jae-hoon at his hotel and see their conversation from her point-of-view. The film then flashes back to the same point as before, only now the title reads, "PERHAPS INTENTION." The viewer is led to expect that we will now see Soo-jung's perspective on the same episodes that were just presented, and at first, the differences between the two "versions" (virgins?) are minor enough that it seems Hong is illuminating a difference in perception. Later on, the differences are so severe (for example, Young-soo [Mun Seong-kun] leads Soo-jung down the dark alley so that he can put the moves on her, whereas in the earlier version it was Jae-hoon) that the differing perceptions of the two characters cannot logically account for the changes. It's instructive to keep in mind that this is a film about filmmakers, and there's a key scene in the second half that takes place in an editing room, where one of the changes in the plot is discussed. Perhaps Hong means for us to see the second half of the film as another "cut." In any case, it's a droll and consistently beguiling exercise.