WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN
Korean-born writer-director Hong Sangsoo delves beneath the surface of a love triangle by examining the gap between experience and the recollection of experience. With Proustian pretension, Woman Is the Future of Man focuses on man's idealization of woman, yet however noble the effort, you'll soon have a remembrance of better films past.
Hong Sangsoo's story takes place when two friends, Hunjoon (Kim Taewoo) and Munhoo (Yoo Jitae) reunite in a Seoul noodle shop to reminisce about old times. Soon enough, the men are thinking about Sunhwa (Sung Hyunah), the beautiful woman Hunjoon abandoned when he left for America to study filmmaking. What Hunjoon does not realize is that Munhoo had an affair with Sunhwa after Hunjoon's departure and Munhoo continues to try keeping his dalliance a secret.
The conversation inspires the friends to find Sunhwa. Fortunately, she is still working at the same place-a hotel bar. As they wait for Sunhwa to get off work, the men continue recalling their relationship with her. But Munhoo gets increasingly angry and frustrated with the way Hunjoon characterizes his former girlfriend. Finally, Sunhwa diffuses the tension by inviting the two men back to her apartment for an evening of sexual and psychological realizations.
No doubt, Hong Sangsoo has lofty ideas he wants to express in the cinematic medium, but Woman Is the Future of Man owes more to a Japanese "pink" movie than the kind of European art-house offering that was once the specialty of French New Wave director Alain Resnais. Yes, the film is a chamber piece with temporal shifts on the order of Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel and Providence, but most of the content is really quite shallow. The men's simmering rivalry is as moving as something from a Hollywood teen flick, while Sunhwa becomes objectified by the filmmaker as much as she is by the immature male characters.
In one scene, Hunjoon asks Sunhwa to "suck him off," and she does so obligingly-but this moment of fellatio is gratuitous and degrading. While not nearly as graphic as the infamous blowjob climax of The Brown Bunny, this throwaway sex scene has a similarly queasy effect (as does an earlier episode where Hunjoon and Sunhwa perform intercourse as a way for him to "cleanse" her having been raped).
Inspired by another French director, Robert Bresson, Hunjoon uses long takes and long shots to tell the story, which at least keeps the sexual sequences from being as offensive as they might have been. But the distancing technique also makes the drama tiring (despite being under 90 minutes long, the film feels much, much longer). At least the actors play their parts sincerely and the production values are satisfactory.
Woman Is the Future of Man isn't terrible. but it doesn't linger well in the memory.
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