The Woman Who Ran
Directed by Hong Sang Soo. South Korea. 2020. 77mins. # FILMeX
Hong Sang Soo, who won the Berlin Silver Bear as best director for this film, has become a filmmaker whose name seemingly cannot be removed from discussion of his work. The system, the method at hand and what he is attempting to do with cinema as a structural object places him in the company of major formal auteurs.
His experimentation with structure, at play in his nearly thirty films have led, as is well documented, to his nearly doing away with a screenplay. Rather, he focuses on a number of fragments that will drive both the narrative and more importantly the filmmaking process, which has both grown in ease and urgency since he adopted digital technology. In turn, these fragments, if handled correctly, would crystallize into pure moments of cinema, as if in the province of Robert Bresson.
Let us consider his work in light of another company of filmmakers, those termed ‘women’s directors’ that include both straight and gay artists including King Vidor, Kenji Mizoguchi, Ingmar Bergman, R.W. Fassbinder, Todd Haynes etc. All of them benefited from their collaboration with one or several indispensable partners, from Kinuyo Tanaka to Harriet Andersson to Margit Carstensen… In the process, they also explored the organic materiality of cinema, something Hong’s project does not concern itself with.Through the films he has made with Kim min-hee since 2015, he has emerged as a voice that addresses how women confront South Korean masculinity, which comes with its share of toxicity. It is fair to say that part of his audience came to his work after that partnership began.
The Woman Who Ran, a film that displays its methodology even more glaringly than the films of the masterful Eric Rohmer, sees Kim Min-hee plays Gam-hee, a woman whose husband is away on a business trip; this is the first time they are apart in five years, allowing her the opportunity to spend time with three consecutive female friends. That it took her five years to begin this odyssey is not examined. Instead, each encounter illustrates dysfunctional mechanisms within the notion of what is a couple, ultimately and predictably leading to the one Gam-hee chose to flee from, mirroring what drives each reunion in its immaculate formal structure: catching up on life events, interruption in each instance by a man who doesn’t understand ‘no’, and the use of the Visconti/Fassbinder zoom as a marker.
French critics admire both the film and its director and in a manner that is both heartfelt and, inevitably, filmically colonial, have deemed him ‘the’ South Korean director who has become international (while remaining Asian), more deserving than the brash Bong Joon-Ho and more viewer-friendly than Im Kwon Taek, whose films belonged to a family that included Wajda and Angelopoulos as it laboured to find an audience abroad. Now comes that political moment wherein Hong takes us where that woman ran ‘to’.
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