Woman on the Beach

2006 [KOREAN]

Comedy / Drama / Romance

IMDb Rating 6.9 10 1047

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1.15 GB
Korean 2.0
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2 hr 8 min
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2.14 GB
Korean 2.0
24 fps
2 hr 8 min
P/S 20 / 34

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by howard.schumann 10 / 10

Insightful and revealing

A film director with writer's block leaves the city of Seoul to finish his script at a Korean seaside resort. An entanglement with two women, however, reveals his inner confusion and forces him to confront his self-defeating behavior. Hong Sang-soo's latest, Woman on the Beach, is a comedy drama about love and the complications that develop in relationships when one partner is less than candid with the other. Like the films of Eric Rohmer, Woman on the Beach is simple on the surface yet explores a deeper layer of complexity in human relationships that is insightful and revealing.

As the film opens, director Joong-rae (Kim Seung-woo) travels to Shinduri Beach on Korea's West Coast hoping to renew his inspiration. He brings along his production designer Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) and Chang-wook's girl friend Moon-sook (Ko Hyeon-geong), a composer of popular songs. It becomes clear almost immediately that Moon-sook is enamored with the director and the two soon sneak away from Chang-wook and find an empty hotel room where they exchange vows of love. On the surface, she is a strong, independent woman, while Joon-rae gives the appearance of a calm and confident artist, yet both are rebounding from previous relationships and are very vulnerable.

When the morning comes, Joong-rae's warm emotions of the previous night have turned chilly. Unable to confront the feelings that reminded him of his failed marriage, he feigns anxiety and asks to be driven back to the city, leaving a phone message for Moon-sook. When he returns to the seaside after a few days, on the pretense of asking for an interview for his film, he meets Sun-hee (Song Seon-mi) who resembles Moon-sook. They spend the afternoon and night together, exchanging vows of affection, similar to those given to Moon-sook.

When Moon-sook comes looking for him in a drunken rage, however, he has to confront his deceptions and the tangled web he was woven. Woman on the Beach is a thoroughly engaging film with sparkling dialogue, complex characters, and outstanding performances from the lead actors. If it leaves us with a touch of sadness about people's inability to connect, it also leaves us smiling about their resilience and capacity for joy. Though Hong's characters are flawed, we identify with their weakness because they are all too human and may even reflect our own failings.

Reviewed by Chris Knipp 8 / 10

Sexual competition and creative malaise

Where Hong Sang-soo's dramas differ from Eric Rohmer's, other than all the ways that come with being Korean not French, is notably in the egotism mitigated by irony of having one the main characters in his movies often happen to be a handsome, hunky famous director. In this one it's a "Director Kim," as he's respectfully addressed (Kim Joong-rae, played by Kim Seung-woo) who goes to the somewhat sterile environment of the semi-deserted Shinduri beach resort on Korea's west coast with his production designer, Won Chang-wook (Kim Tae-woo) in hopes of ending a creative block and penning the treatment for his next film. Won brings along a girlfriend, composer Kim Moon-sook (Ko Hyun-joung, a former TV star) and competition gets blatantly going when Director Kim takes Moon-sook aside and frankly says he's interested in her and asks her whether she'd prefer him over the designer, given a free choice.

The blatancy of Joong-rae's authority is underlined by his being older, better-looking, physically bigger and stronger-looking, and possessed of a deeper voice. In comparison Won's a mild, slightly nerdy fellow. But despite that, Joong-rae's not an out-and-out winner. He's comically chauvinistic in the way he damns the lady's music with faint praise. And in the time that follows he proves to be neurotic and indecisive, stuffing his hands in his jeans and wiggling around on his legs with comic unease. Moon-sook's dating men when living in Germany he admits is a turn-on for temporary dating, but the opposite for a long-term relationship. He has a serious hangup about mating with a woman who's experienced. Like a good Eric Rohmer character, he hesitates and they discuss. Moon-sook winds up saying that he's wonderful to her as a director, but in other ways just "a typical Korean man." Hong's stories often refer to sex and show couples in bed, but they aren't erotic and characters rarely go all the way. Kim and Moon-sook do however begin with some long kisses on the beach that evening.

At another point Director Kim has a violent outburst of anger at a restaurant the trio enters because the owners are half asleep when they come in, and Chang-wook gets equally over-the-top in anger over the injustice of this and insists Kim must apologize. This seems random, except to show that both men have little control over their male egos, and tend to flail about, while the lady remains cool and composed.

In spite of all this Moon-sook becomes fascinated with Kim and they spent a night in an empty hotel room, but the next day Kim says it's too quiet for him to work and they all leave Shinduri. Two days later Kim's back on his own though, and leaves a phone message with Moon-sook, regretting his indecisiveness. He "interviews" a woman he runs into who "reminds" him of Moon-sook and takes her up to the same room he was in two nights earlier. Things get complicated when Moon-sook herself reappears and has a drunken emotional outburst outside the room. The new woman eventually feels hurt and abandoned too. In the midst of all this there's a cute dog that gets abandoned by a mysterious couple, and Director Kim pulls an "unused muscle" and is temporarily disabled. Lots of snacking and drinking to a drunken state accompanies all these developments. By himself and with his leg semi-paralyzed Kim somehow turns out the film treatment. The relationships seem unresolved, but Moon-sook is by herself at the end leaving Shinduri again in her little car, which symbolically gets stuck in the sand and then gets out again so she can drive off on her own, free.

Woman on the Beach differs from previous Hong films in presenting its few main characters in the relative isolation of this new, somewhat drab resort during a cold spring season. The atmosphere is well used and the scenes are vivid. This film of Hong's is perhaps even more inconclusive than most, and a bit long, but the rhythms of the conversations and the clarity of the blocking and editing arouse one's admiration and this, like all Hong's films, is original and watchable and will not disappoint his fans – which include the selection committee of the Film Society of Lincoln Center: they've been choosing his latest film as one of the NYFF's primary offerings every year for three years in a row. It's also true that Hong's improvisational way of working always results in fluid, convincing performances by his actors.

Reviewed by liehtzu 10 / 10

More Brilliance From a Master

Pusan Film Festival Reviews 10: The Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo)

Leave it to Hong Sang-soo to blow everyone else out of the water. After a frustrating beginning to my last day at the fest, I capped the whole thing off with a masterpiece. It's a long haul for me to get to Busan from where I live, and the first movie, the awful "Hamaca Paraguaya" - which I'd raced across town to see - was easily the worst movie I saw in all four days.

Why isn't Hong Sang-soo more popular in Korea? The house was packed, the film got a lot of laughs, and I didn't see anyone walk out, but I thought I sensed a few awkward silences. Hong hits some painful bullseyes. More than most countries, Korea is a huge movie-date place, and why would a fellow take his sweetheart to a movie that paints such a wince-inducing picture of the local men? The filmmaker punches holes in the male ego, and though his little stabs apply to all men across the board, they're also very specifically aimed at Korean men. If only every country had such a razor-sharp dissector of the inadequacies of the male half - I shudder to think. His genius is that his male failures are usually artists of some kind (in the new one, for the third time in a row, a film director - a self-depreciating touch) whereas, say, Bruno Dumont's male losers are inbred country thug types who don't surprise much when they choose to act uncivil. Hong completely demolishes the notion of the sensitive, intelligent, elevated artist type. In the end, like everyone else, they're out to get laid.

Hong's women rarely emerge unscathed, either, but they're usually smarter and more grounded than the men. Their fatal flaw is their passivity. Hong gets criticism for this by feminists, but in Korea the kind of scenarios he presents on film - brutish fella, weak-willed gal - is a common occurrence. The women in the director's films know the men they shack up with are clowns, but for some reason - is it that they don't expect anything more? or that they're attached to the idea of the sensitive, intelligent, elevated artist type so strongly that they succumb to it despite being confronted with the brutal truth? - they almost always end up folding. "Beach" is Hong's finest illustration of the second possibility - that the idea holds power, though the truth inevitably disappoints. The woman of the title, Moon-sook, mentions a few times in the film how much she admires Joong-rae as a film director, with the unspoken indicator that he doesn't measure up as a man. Unlike most of Hong's women, though, Moon-sook has the strength to disentangle herself from a relationship that's bound to go nowhere (Hong's women generally prefer to wallow in their martyr complex).

Joong-rae, the film director, is stunned when during a late-night soju session Moon-suk says she "seriously dated" two or three men while living for a few years in Germany. He continues to be fixated on this idea throughout the film, bursting out in front of Moon-sook once or twice, "I can't believe you slept with foreigners!" Hong's men are stuck in an adolescent state, and though they may be able to pull a fair approximation of adult behavior while sober, soju brings it all crashing down.

"Woman on the Beach" has been called Hong's most "accessible" film, and that's probably true. Though it contains a couple of his priceless soju-drunk scenes, it's his first without at least one painfully awkward sexual encounter. A concession to mainstream tastes? Or did Hong (unlike Tsai Ming-liang and Bruno Dumont this year) feel that it had just been overdone, that he simply had nothing to add to his gallery of such scenes? The lead actress, Go Hyeon-geong, supposedly voiced some trepidation when signing for the film at the thought of taking her clothes off - it's almost a requirement in a Hong film. Did he simply decide to respect her wishes? Hong's painful bedroom scenes are always memorable, but this film loses nothing from their exclusion. More accessible it may be, but it's not a sell-out. The invention, the accumulation of brilliant little details, and the cutting portraits of people in their folly is still there - and I haven't even mentioned the second woman yet, or I'd go on all day - and Hong Sang-soo is still one of the sharpest, and very best, filmmakers working today.

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