Wednesday, July 04, 2018

NYAFF ’18: Hit the Night

Jeong Ga-young’s latest film has been described as a female counterpoint to Hong Sang-soo’s work and when judged according to the sheer volume of alcohol consumed by the characters, the comparison could not be more apt. Watching this film could make your liver hurt. Some of the awkward silences and brutal truth-telling sting a little too. There will be talking and drinking in Jeong’s Hit the Night (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Jeong, playing Ga-young, a deliberately meta version of herself, has invited a dude acquaintance out for drinks to ask him a series of questions on sex and relationships, ostensibly as research for a prospective screenplay. However, as the night advances and the questions probe into increasingly personal territory, Jin-hyeok starts to understand this may all be a gambit to seduce him. In fact, Ga-young will say as much herself, but the potential screenplay is probably still a secondary concern.

Even though Jin-hyeok has a girlfriend, he is perversely fascinated by Ga-young’s frankness. The alcohol is probably a factor. They also load up on sugar from grazing on fruit and pastries at a late-night tea house. Initially, Jin-hyeok seems to betray the intimate vibe when he invites a friend to join him, but perhaps there is a method to his madness.

If you dig talky movies, then Hit the Night will be like The Avengers assembling in Jurassic World for you. They talk in Night—boy, do they ever—but it is some razor-sharp, lethally pointed dialog. The NYAFF description suggests this is an empowered feminist response to Hong, but that is really more what the writer wants it to be, rather than what it necessarily is. Arguably, Jeong is way harder on herself than she is on horndog guys. Indeed, she gives Jin-hyeok the upper hand throughout the second and third acts. Yet, that only reinforces the Hong parallels, because few filmmakers have so thoroughly deconstructed the male ego as has Hong.

Jeong makes her namesake sly and likable, but also more than a bit of a mess. She looks at herself with gutsy honesty. As Jin-hyeok, Park Jong-hwan constantly surprises, playing the part like he has one foot in a Neil LaBute film and the other foot in My Dinner with Andre. Yet, it is Hyung Seul-woo who comes out of nowhere and completely charms us as Jin-hyeok’s karaoke buddy, but the film is too realistic to let him take over as Jeong’s romantic interest/foil.

After watching Hit the Night, you definitely feel like you spent the night haunting Seoul’s late-night hang-spots, mostly in a good way. Jeong seems to know the scene well, because she conveys a strong sense of its vibe. So, gun-bae everybody. Recommended for fans of Hong and dialog-driven indies, Hit the Night screens this Friday (7/6) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.