Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2010 5:35 am 
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KIM TAE-WOO (LEFT) STARS IN LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL

Bumbling hero

Hong Sang-soo has been one of the darlings of the exclusive New York Film Festival; this time his new one is included in Lincoln Center's also important but less visible Film Comment Selects. As has happened before, Hong focuses here on a Korean film-making auteur, an ironic version of himself, and the subject matter is man-woman relationships, with infidelity a key issue, and macho self-importance an ever-present given. Though the title may be an over-simplification of the Korean original, the implication is there, of a man who's too full of himself -- but is having that pointed out to him repeatedly either by implication or directly in the dialogue. There are two main, and parallel, sequences in this 126-minute but surprisingly light and watchable film, one of the director's visit to a local summer film festival in the town of Jecheon where he's meant to be a juror, the other a lecture to a group of film students where he becomes momentarily involved with the young wife of a local art celebrity. I liked this one better than Hong's last, the 2008 Musée d'Orsay-commissioned and Paris-set Night and Day. Hong works best in Korean settings, and this new film further pushes its narcissistic Hong hero out into the world. Being in Korea, the protagonist has lots of people he can talk to, and, importantly, get very drunk with; and with no homesickness to contend with, the laughs flow as never before in a Hong film.

The director is Koo Gyung-nam (Kim Tae-woo), and in the film festival section he's delicately but cruelly mocked -- though that's balanced somewhat throughout by his appealingly self-questioning voice-over. Seen falling asleep at screenings and later involved in a very embarrassing meeting, he eventually has to withdraw before his jurying job is done, and he gets a surprising blast of abuse from the woman organizer that satirizes the egomania and personality clashes of the festival scene. Earlier Koo encounters a now popular and well-paid director (Kim Yeon-soo) who was his admirer when they were younger, practically his groupie. He can claim artistic superiority, but he still can't help envying the money and the popularity. Koo also encounters a young porn star (with her mother!) who's recently been cast in an art house film and now promotes herself as a legitimate actress. This shows off Koo's hypocrisy, as he makes absurd promises to people he'll never see again. It's when he meets an old friend and is invited to dinner at the man's house and meets his young wife that things eventually get very uncomfortable for Koo and he is forced to leave town.

Part two begins twelve days later when Koo goes to Jeju Island to talk to a film class. Still more drinking happens, with proclamations on the meaning of life, arm wrestling (which Koo at first wins -- Kim Tae-woo is one of Hong's fittest and trimmest protagonists), and a meeting with a yet older friend, a famous painter, again with a young wife, Gosun (Ko Hyun-jung). Sure enough, Koo is going to have a connection with her, and as in part one, a handwritten letter from a married woman initiates a disastrous encounter. The parallelisms of the two parts and the artificiality of some of the dialogue, especially when it's pointing to the egotism and poses of the art film and festival world, strangely do not keep Hong's film from having a natural, easy flow, and the predicaments Koo gets into are always surprising enough to keep you interested. Think Rohmer, the foreign director most often mentioned in connection with Hong: both combine sometimes obviously written dialogue with improvisation -- on the part of actors and director, who in Hong's case tends to make up scenes from day to day during shooting. This blend makes both filmmakers' artificial cinematic worlds somehow seem absolutely natural and right. In both cases you plunge into that world with delight, even though sometimes what you've seen in their various films tends to blend together a bit, while certain scenes remain in the mind, classic and unforgettable.

The sequences between Ko Hyun-jung as Gosun and Kim Tae-woo as director Koo are the most memorable, intimate, and serious in the tale; Gosun is a fascinating woman who's articulate, sure of herself, and attractive enough to be more than a match for director Koo. Variety's Justin Chang has suggested that while Like You Know It All can be seen as a smaller diptych, this film and Hong's Woman on the Beach can be read together as a larger one, a point underlined by the presence of both these actors in both films. Some who've commented on Like you Know It All online seem to have suddenly fallen out of love with Hong Sang-soo. But the arrival of a film as accomplished, rich, and entertaining as this one is hardly the right moment to desert him.

Like You Know It All/Jal aljido mothamyeonseo was presented at Cannes, Toronto, Vancouver, London, and other film festivals, mostly in 2009. Shown as part of the Film Comment Selects series at the Walter Reade Theater of Lincoln Center, March 2010.

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