By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo carries a reputation as his country’s Woody Allen. Unlike Woody Allen, he’s never dated or married his stepdaughter, nor been caught up in child abuse allegations. But Hong makes films about older men, usually filmmakers like himself, chasing after younger women. In real life, he’s reportedly dating his leading lady from “Right Now, Wrong Then,” Kim Min-hee, who’s 34 to his 54.
All of which wouldn’t concern me so much except for the director’s tendency — like Woody Allen — to run over the same old ground conceptually. Here’s another middle-aged director, Ham Chun-su (played by Jung Jae-young), who meets a younger woman, Yoon Hee-jung (Kim Min-hee), at a shrine as she slurps banana milk. He chases after her. He gets her drunk. He plies her with false modesty, with wild declarations of love, and with more soju. She plays along, but for how long, and how far? He has to be back in Seoul soon, so the clock is ticking.
Then, at roughly the hour mark, the action resets. Same shrine, same banana milk, same scenario, but different directions. I appreciated that the second time around, Yoon sticks up for herself, calls Ham on some of his bluster, confidently laughs away some of the rest. She pushes back.
I’d care a lot more about the story told twice, though, if I cared about either of its protagonists to begin with. Ham is all ego. Yoon hints at deeper elements within her, but because the action (both times) is about Ham chasing Yoon, hints are all we get. She’s a painter. She might have some talent. For a few precious minutes, they’re talking about the creative process, and the hard row to mastery. Then they’re back to Ham skirt-chasing.
I recall Hong’s “Another Country,” where he wove together a French actress and an amorous Korean lifeguard — a male lead, for once, younger than the lady he chases! That one I singled out.
Here, I fear, it’s back to business as usual, and I wait for the director to demonstrate the inspiration he’s shown before, however rarely. I may be waiting in vain.
“Right Now, Wrong Then” plays through July 17 at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Avenue, Seattle.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.