by Sean Gilman Retrospective

Our Sunhi | Hong Sang-soo

October 25, 2018
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Our Sunhi is the culmination of a cycle of Hong Sang-soo films, each starring actress Jung Yoomi, about aspiring women filmmaker with a weakness for strong drinks and a tendency to find themselves in the middle of love triangles between older and younger men. All the men enamored with the characters Jung Yoomi plays all seem unable to see her characters as people, blinded as they are by their own perceptions of her beauty, her innocence, her artistic taste, etc. Nonetheless, Hong’s ‘Jung Yoomi Movies’ represent a major step forward for the filmmaker; it’s at this point in his filmography when the women start to take over, replacing the presence of often awful male characters in the leading roles. This has not only allowed for new perspectives on familiar Hong situations, but it’s also made the director’s movies much more fun to watch. Rather than continuing to create acerbic satires of male chauvinism and victimized women, Hong finally chose a fuller expression of human foibles.

Hong’s ‘Jung Yoomi Movies’ represent a major step forward for the filmmaker; it’s at this point in his filmography when the women start to take over.

The men in Our Sunhi see the titular character as nothing more other than a collection of virtues, which they each, in turn, describe to each other in exactly the same terms — but none of them are aware of the fact that they’re all in love with the same woman. Sunhi, meanwhile, has one clear goal: to get out of town. In order to do so, though, she has to navigate through all these needy, obnoxious, self-obsessed men, who have a vision of her that has very little relation to reality beyond the obvious fact — that she is very pretty (as they see her, she is their Sunhi). Again and again in Hong’s movies, women are described as ideals: the best person, good, innocent, pure, brave, honest. In Our Sunhi, these are exactly the reasons why Sunhi is never really treated like a person. And yet, she still chooses to hang around these men — and not just because one is writing her a recommendation letter. Sunhi genuinely seems to like at least one of these guys, it’s just that none of them know how to like her back, to actually see her. This point is made manifest at the end of Our Sunhi, when Sunhi herself slips away, and all three men are left alone. The Hongian two-shot is expanded to a three-shot, as the men wander blindly through one of those massive fort complexes that so dominate Hong’s later work — a vast and empty space. We — and, one suspects, they as well — will never see Sunhi again.

Part of Hong Sang-soo: Look at Everything Again Slowly.

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