Credit: First Look
by Morris Yang Featured Film

Mimang — Kim Taeyang [First Look ’24]

March 20, 2024

A curious counterpoint to Celine Song’s much-lauded Past Lives may be found in Mimang, Kim Tae-yang’s feature debut, and the relative prestige of the former — also a first full-length effort from its filmmaker — speaks, perhaps, to the way introspection has been mediated and even altered through cinematic representation. In Past Lives, the passage of time is romanticized and spun into schmaltzy metaphor, with the two star-crossed lovers at its center reminiscing over a life they wish they’d shared, but did not. The pathos therein, which has engendered some of last year’s most ardent critical praise, stems precisely from the distance between viewer and narrative, substituting melodramatic abstraction for a more concrete exploration of the desires and disappointments that come inevitably with adulthood. With Mimang, however, such pathos is tantalizingly placed out of reach. Little of the film lays bare any psychological interiority, and one could very well argue that Song’s characters emote a good deal more than Kim’s. But when emotions do come through, they are more keenly felt, their payoffs more rewarding.

Adopting a minimalist approach to scene and setting, Mimang takes place almost exclusively on the streets of Seoul, and is structured into three chapters, each professing to divulge the substance of brief encounters between friends old and new. The first follows a film critic/commentator (Lee Myungha) who surprises an acquaintance (Ha Seongguk) from behind as he tries to find his way to a drawing class, looking and feeling lost. They may or may not have a history, suggested (but never confirmed) by their courteous gestures and polite hesitation. After parting ways, the man meets his partner (Jung Suji), who likewise may or may not be his drawing teacher, while the woman, some time later, hosts a restoration of an old Korean film whose lost ending becomes the subject of speculation. In this segment of the triptych, she walks on the same streets on which the film, some decades prior, was set; and, following a dinner with some colleagues, is approached by one of them (Park Bongjun), eager to court her and walk her home.

Throughout Mimang, these circumstantial meetings sketch out the characters’ attempts at flimsy and transient connection, for the streets wait for no one and whole lives as such have to be condensed into briefings, phrases, smiles. Introspection, the film suggests, is both scarce in practice and inevitable in conversation; as they flit in and out of one another’s lives, the adults are colored in, the penumbra of their hopes and regrets palpably coming into some degree of focus. Some years after their initial counter, the film commentator and her friend — now a professional artist — meet up with a third man (Baek Seungjin) at their mutual friend’s funeral; the atmosphere is solemn, for death is hardly in the minds of individuals this young. The conversation is tinged with loneliness, revealing ever so slightly the trajectories taken by each across the years, with no common standard to judge them by. There is, admittedly, a hint of facileness to the proceedings given just how little we are allowed to be invested in this loneliness; but while Mimang does occasionally feel cribbed from the likes of Richard Linklater and Hong Sang-soo, it nonetheless speaks to the modern cosmopolitan who, lost in a sea of faces and voices, struggles to find his or her path forward.