Woman Is the Future of Man: Hong Sang-soo/South Korea, France/2004/ 88 mins
Tale of Cinema: Hong Sang-soo/South Korea, France/ 2005/89 mins
Available on Blu-ray Now.
Released together by Arrow Academy, Hong Sang-soo‘s Woman Is the Future of Man and Tale of Cinema feel like they could not exist, or at least be entirely understood, without the other. Together, they form a deliciously slow-paced tale in two installments about humans’ relationship with the past and the absurdity of their actions, desires, and regrets.
Woman Is the Future of Man rests on a delicate feeling of nostalgia, as two friends Kim Hyeon‑gon and Lee Mun‑ho (Kim Tae-woo and Yu Ji-tae) meet after years apart and reminisce about the past, and Park Seon‑hwa (Sung Hyun-ah), an old lover they shared and hurt. Hyeon‑gon is now a frustrated film director, and Mun‑ho is now married — things have changed. But they decide to track down that girl they once knew, and end up spending the weekend with her. The men’s old regrets and bad habits reemerge, while Park Seon‑hwa seems to be the one who has been able to go forward and is happy, excited, in control.
The film navigates gender stereotypes (men who are too keen on sex and have a disturbingly naive attitude towards rape, women who make good wives and women who don’t shave their legs), but Hong Sang-soo nonetheless allows real life to beautifully seep in: bickering between old friends, a joyous laugh, the excitement of stepping on the immaculate first snow.
In Tale of Cinema, a man (Lee Ki-woo) and a woman (Uhm Ji-won) are reunited after some time, and make a pact to die together. It is only here, halfway what seems to be a rather absurd story, that what we have seen is revealed to be a film-within-the-film. As an unsuccessful filmmaker leaves the cinema, it takes us a few seconds to realise that we have been watching the same thing as him. When he later meets the actress from the film, the line between fiction and reality becomes even more blurred, and Hong’s film becomes quite daring.
Its intricacy, together with a certain degree of absurdity; as well as dreamy, gentle romance, makes the film fascinating: Tale of cinema has a rather complicated way of exploring our experience of film as much as our experience of other people. It is about memories, regrets and delusions, and their influence on our present.
Hong Sang-soo’s films have the slow rhythm of life, where repetition plays an important part in giving the impression of everything falling into place, as if by destiny. They are delicate dramas, sometimes lacking in warmth but nonetheless beautiful, where an experimental style only hints at something deeper: our frustrations, our naivety, our illusions.