Written and directed by Hong Sang-Soo
South Korea, 2013
Our Sunhi, the newest film from Hong Sang-Soo, is enamoured with interconnected romances and the mysteries of affection. A charming and patient comedy, the film excels at presenting the trials and tribulations of desire, offering a rewarding and funny take on the mysteries of love. Though there is nothing exceptional about the title character, Sunhi, she captures the elusive affections of three friends.
Injecting charm and patience into a familiar story of misunderstandings, Sang-Soo demonstrates himself to be a true master of cinematic romance. Playing at once to our interest in seeing people fall in love, he also pokes fun at the absurdity of romance and desire. He does this with expert attention to detail, utilizing repetition and long takes to suggest the impossibly simple nature of the human heart. There does not exist a moment of “coup de foudre” in this movie; love is not presented as something transcendent, perfect, or even logical. Above all, the film highlights the irrationality of romance as well as its ordinariness.
Among the most effective running gags is a letter of recommendation Sunhi asks of her professor so she may apply to grad school. His letter is neither harsh nor glowing; it reveals very little about who she is and yet over the course of the film, it becomes a simple manifesto that perfectly describes her suitors’ feelings towards her. The running joke is that none of the men are aware that the other is in love with Sunhi, in spite of multiple discussions over the mystery girl each of them has fallen for. Each of them repeats endlessly the empty descriptions of the letter, never drawing the link between her and each other.
The use of long takes has rarely been more impressive, and it simultaneously lends a sense of incredible realism and grandiose fantasy to Our Sunhi. In some respects, the film evokes strongly Shakespeare’s comedies of errors, with cuts rather than scene breaks representing breaks in the mood. The orchestration of certain sequences that extend for upwards of 10 minutes is done with the precision of a musical conductor. They feel organic, natural, and yet are injected with the incredible nuance of performance and timing. The shifts in mood and conversation unfold effortlessly and it is only through reflection that you realize the effort that must have gone into pulling them off. The element of fantasy is the same magic element one would find in a classic Hollywood comedy like the best of Lubitsch or McCarey. It is this streamlined version of reality that is heightened with emotions and perfect cadence and pacing. It is the fantasy of a slightly better version of reality.
Hong Sang-Soo ranks among the lightest touches in the world of contemporary cinema. There is a sense of such mastery and magic in everything he touches, creating a synergy of romance and confusion. Charming and funny, there are few cinematic experiences this year that will sincerely lift your spirits as much as this one. Though it could best be described as bittersweet, with no real winners emerging, the joy of living and the passion of love remain beautiful motivators in this crafted world. The lack of clarity the characters feel regarding their love for Sunhi and the fact that it becomes clear that their love for her is simply a means of filling an emptiness they feel does not disregard the beauty of love, nor its impact. Our Sunhi is a rare treat that will surely illuminate the spirits of all those who watch it.
— Justine Smith