Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country

In the working class seaside village of Mohang, there is not a lot to do except drink.  Fortunately, that is what Hong Sang-soo’s characters do best.  Intimacy on the other hand is a problem, especially for a trio of French women stumbling through cultural and linguistic barriers.  Isabelle Huppert plays all three of them in Hong’s sort of English language debut, In Another Country (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Dodging debt collectors, film student Wonju and her mother are laying low in a sleepy Mohang inn.  To pass the time, she starts writing a screenplay very much in the style of Hong Sang-soo.  It is a triptych in which the French expat Anne comes to the very same hotel under different circumstances, yet has similar experiences each time.

The first Anne is an accomplished filmmaker, who tries to discourage the attentions of a drunken colleague with a very pregnant wife.  The second Anne is cheating on her wealthy husband with an almost famous film director.  The third Anne bitterly resents her ex-husband leaving her for a Korean woman, but it is not hard to understand why he dumped her.  In each case, she flirts with the meathead lifeguard with varying degrees of ambiguity, half communicating through their broken English.

Country is just so Hong Sang-soo, but the tone is a bit lighter than Oki’s Movie or The Day He Arrives.  Nor is it as self consciously post-modern in its approach to narrative.  Each of the three Annes’ stories are discrete and completely self contained (though take 2 includes a dream sequence that could almost count as a fourth strand).  In fact, it is a rather sunny film, taking long walks on the beach and chatting amiably with the cute but shy Wonju, who also appears in each arc as the daughter of the hotel proprietor.

Still, it is rather fascinating to watch Huppert brings successively darker shades to each Anne.  Frankly, the third is a bit of a pill, whereas the flawed but self-aware second is the most fully developed.  Yu Junsang, the only other constant besides Jung Yumi’s pleasant but rather inconsequential Wonju, is a perfectly believable lunk, but his best dramatic moments come during the first go-round.  However, Youn Yuh-jung, the veteran leading lady of Korean television and cinema, is absolutely perfect as Anne #3’s academic friend Park Sook (and appearing as Wonju’s mother in the opening segmentas well).  Smart, somewhat tart tongued, and likably world weary, she brings some real verve to the talking and drinking.

Indeed, Country is a chatty film, utilizing English as a second language, so communication is always an issue.  The manner in which Hong repeats certain key phrases is often very droll, but there are no great profundities to be found here.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  Watching Hong’s latest is like falling in with a group of strangers at a party who are amusing for an evening, but you don’t really want to make a habit of seeing afterward.  Again, if they are good for some laughs, that is not so terrible.  For Hong and Huppert’s fans, it works quite well.  Recommended accordingly, In Another Country opens this Friday (11/9) at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.