Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea
Prolific Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo keeps pursuing both inner sensitivities and the truth in human relationships with a cinéma vérité that enchants with simplicity. Sang-soo remains faithful to a simple yet highly efficient filmmaking style that goes against any contemporary cinematic trend that attempts to turn everything visually spectacular through fabricated settings, eccentric special effects, or excessively pre-staged situations. Instead, he prefers tackling a good emotional story by taking advantage of an observant sincerity, naturalistic performances, and a forthright approach. Gentle dramas such as “Oki’s Movie”, “The Day He Arrives”, and “In Another Country” (featuring Isabelle Huppert) are highlights of an undeviating career that incorporates three more titles this year: “Claire’s Camera”, featuring Ms. Huppert once again, “The Day After”, and “On the Beach at Night Alone”, the object of this review.
Just like the former two titles, the latter stars the talented Kim Min-hee (“The Handmaiden”), winner of the latest Silver Berlin Bear, who has been the director’s inspirational muse since the release of the well-received “Right Now, Wrong Then” in 2015. The film comes wrapped up in autobiographical controversy after Sang-soo has admitted his extramarital affair with Min-hee at a press conference in Seoul.
Feeling abandoned after the terminus of an affair with a married man, the celebrated yet stranded actress Young-hee (Min-hee) flies to Hamburg, Germany, where she finds solace in the company of a longtime friend. The disenchantment with her actual life is quite perceptible when we listen to their conversations. She wonders if her lover misses her like she misses him and even tests her friend with “should I come living here with you?”.
Unfitted, she returns to the Korean coastal town of Gangneung, where she reunites with some old friends at a restaurant. This section is a staple in the director’s written statement since food and drinks always play an important role in his narrative process. At the dinner, she gets tipsy in just a few minutes, proclaiming her male friends unqualified to love or be loved, except Jun-hee (Song Seon-mi) with whom she has a special chemistry.
After being rescued of her dreams while lying down alone at the beach, she is taken to drink with her former director/lover, an encounter that gains extra dramatic agitation. There is a thin line separating loneliness and friendship here, an idea reinforced by the main character herself when she admits her emotional complexity and destructive side. Also, one can feel a strong sense of misplacement and surrender that translates into emotional aggressiveness rather than resilience.
Sang-soo operates the camera in a very efficient way, regardless if he opts for static or dynamic shots, occasionally complemented with zoom ins and wide pans. His lucid quests for the meaning of love, consistently clever and exclusive, keep enriching the contemporary cinema with modesty and virtue. Hence, “On the Beach at Night Alone” brings some truths attached and is definitely worth exploring.