WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN (Yeojaneun namjaui miraeda)

(director/writer: Hong Sang-soo; cinematographer: Hyeon-gu Kim; editor: Seong-weon Ham; music: Yong-jin Jeong; cast: Yoo Jitae (Munho), Kim Taewoo (Hunjoon), Sung Hyunah (Sunhwa), Park Jeong-wan (Kidnapper), Bae Yun-beom (Min-soo); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lee Hanna/Marin Karmitz/Han-na Lee; New Yorker Films; 2004-S.Korean/France-in Korean with English subtitles)

“Hong’s linear fifth feature film is much more than what meets the eye.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A quirky comedy of manners and mores film by introspective and controversial South Korean director Hong Sang-soo (“Turning Gate”/”Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors”/”A Tale of Cinema”). The title is lifted from a Louis Aragon poem and is purposefully misleading. The beautiful Sunhwa (Sung Hyunah, former Miss Korea) again meets two former lovers from a few years ago but knows there’s little chance of seeing the men again in the future. For Hong, the future is literally only a concept that doesn’t exist; the future of man is nothing. The former lovers of the barmaid are Munho (Yoo Jitae), a married college professor of Western art in Seoul, and his friend, from their student days, aspiring filmmaker Hunjoon (Kim Taewoo).

Hunjoon has just returned to Seoul from his studies in the US where he majored in filmmaking. He meets the settled Munho outside his gated luxury suburban house. Munho shows his friend around the grounds but curiously never invites him in to meet his wife. It’s the season’s first snow and Munho instead invites his friend to walk with him on the snow on the lawn. Curiously, Hunjoon walks back over the same tracks thereby leaving only one set of footprints (indicating a pattern of repetition and a symmetrical existence, Hong’s usual themes). The two then go to a noodle shop, where Hunjoon tells about wanting to write a screenplay and make films. He mentions teaching as a second choice he would take only to pay the bills. Munho only desires getting tenure on his university teaching job. The two drink a number of beers and both when alone make crude and obvious passes at the pretty young waitress, who turns down both the offer to be in a film for the director and pose nude for the art teacher. The foolish rejected young men try to hide their bruised feelings by talking about Sunhwa whom both haven’t seen her for years, but Munho knows she settled down in a nearby town and works in the local hotel’s bar. We learn through flashback that Hunjoon dated her first. On one occasion Sunhwa fails to meet Hunjoon for a date, he learns later that she was kidnapped and raped by a boy she knew from high school who just got out of the army. The couple tenderly make love, as Hunjoon deems this as a cleansing and promises to keep in touch when he goes to study in the States. But he doesn’t (giving rise to the rape really bothering his foolish pride), and the abandoned heartbroken woman falls for Munho at a time she’s most vulnerable and has an affair with him. Hunjoon never knew this.

Though reluctant to join Hunjoon in his quest to see Sunhwa, Munho can’t resist tagging along. They meet after she finished her night shift, as they wait in a nearby restaurant and continue to drink beer. Apparently the vast differences between the friends (both recall the girl in a different light: Hunjoon as the erratic romantic puts her on a pedestal, while Munho as the insecure lover with a big ego sees her as an easy lay) and their rivalry and jealousies begin to create a tense mood by the time Sunhwa arrives. She takes them back to her apartment, and the love triangle repeats itself and the film ends abruptly (perhaps too abruptly) with painful emotional repercussions.

If anything, Hong shows that you can’t retrace your past and expect things to radically change. The boys tried to renew their absentee friendship, but couldn’t. Finding the same failure with trying to go back to the past and renew their love affair with the elusive Sunhwa. They fail even though both fell for her again and she was receptive. Munho wishes to remain at his alma mater and relive his glory days in college (welcoming a return to the past as idyllic), but his hubris is shaken when in the group of students he befriends he’s attacked by one male student as a coarse individual and fears that he might bring up one of his student affairs and ruin his chance at getting tenure. Meanwhile the unsettled Hunjoon has rudely had his idealized notions about romance shattered and one can assume only awaits to have those same notions about filmmaking shattered.

Hong’s linear fifth feature film is much more than what meets the eye (bed hopping), but about something as elusive as finding yourself with no place to go and repeating the same mistakes over again. What’s left for the trio is a state of void, where they wander obliviously around seeking hedonistic pleasures (with their lovemaking seeming not that different from rape or unfeeling lust) that evoke a beguiling sense of confusion as to time, place and identity.

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