Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo
South Korea, 2013
The TIFF programmer introducing the new film from South Korean master Hong Sang-soo mentioned that because Hong is so prolific (he’s currently shooting another film) he couldn’t be at the premiere of his own film. It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to miss their own premieres, even at world-renowned international film festivals. Then again, nothing about Hong is by-the-books, from his delightfully whimsical cinematic reach to the pleasing way he eschews aesthetic convention. Some filmmakers delight in, and most critics celebrate, subverting filmmaking conventions, and while Hong’s march is definitely to his own drummer’s beat, it’s not different for the sake of being so. He’s more invested in helping change the way a viewer sees and engages with a film rather than pushing the boundary for some personal edification. His newest film, Our Sunhi, uses his freewheeling approach to greatly satisfying ends.
Sunhi (Jung Yoo-mi) is a recent college graduate/aspiring actor in her mid-20s who returns to her former school to solicit a reference from her favorite professor, Choi Donghyun (Kim Sang-joong). Their relationship is light and jovial, as you’d expect from characters in a Hong relationship comedy. Two other men weave in and out of Sunhi’s life, Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun), an ex-boyfriend with whom she’s recently reconnected, and Jaehak (Jung Jae-young), a friend of both Munsu and Donghyun. In varying configurations the group convenes to talk about this and that, mostly dealing with Sunhi’s future plans to go to America and study, but occasionally about Munsu and Jaehak’s nascent filmmaking career or general trivialities.
Hong’s signature visual techniques perfectly suit this sitcom setup, as the tone remains light throughout but the film never feels banal. Once you realize that the hangout rhythm is going to buoy the content’s lightness, you can sit back and be swept away by Hong’s flair. He rarely shoots in close-ups, and, unlike most modern filmmakers, rarely cuts a scene too early or uses reverse shot during things like conversations. Most of his framing remains at medium length, but he adjusts the camera’s focus in anticipation of what the audiences may be. For example, zooms in and out and horizontal pans are common practices for Hong. It takes a bit of getting used to if you’ve never seen one of his films, but, for a comedic film such as Our Sunhi, the style perfectly gels to bolster the story’s lightness. When you’re watching them, you feel as though you’re part of the action rather than a disconnected spectator. There’s a harmony in Hong’s singular approach that is rare and wonderful to behold.
Comedic aspects aside, there’s also some thought-provoking discourse going on. The title indicates that the female protagonist is perhaps not her own woman, or even a possession of a group. Throughout the film the men, at different stages, repeat similar phrases about Sunhi’s character, be it positive or slightly negative aspects of her personality or quality as a student. Hong plays these scenes for laughs, and they are quite funny, but there’s also a very subtle critique of ingrained, subconscious misogyny. By the end, the men are left on their own in a trio while Sunhi has left the picture, her physical absence a consequence of their gendered absence of reason.
– John Oursler
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.