Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Monotony vs. Chaos

The Woman Who Ran (2020) - Hong The Woman Who Ran Gamhee (Kim Minhee) is visiting Youngsoon (Seo Younghwa)'s house in the outskirts of Seoul. It's an almost pastoral setting. Youngsoon has a back yard and her neighbor has a chicken coop. Gamhee, married for five years, tells her long time friend that her trip to the house is the first time she is not accompanied by her husband. They never have been not together for even a day. How is that possible, Youngsoon and her roommate wonder over the grilled meat that Gamhee brought along with liquor. Gamhee says her husband believes that if they love each other, then they should be together all the time. And she doesn't seem to mind.

Again, Hong's new film is built around his muse Kim Minhee's character as she observes her surroundings. And of course the conversation naturally leads to reveal her relationships with men. Although Kim played many roles in slightly varying degrees in previous Hong's films, her characters were, however beguiling, more often than not, confrontational toward her male counterparts. In The Woman Who Ran, Gamhee seems to be more subdued and more comfortable with her situations and herself. Being a little bit older, it's as if she is tired of human entanglements and unnecessary interactions. But as the title suggests, Hong might be playing with something here. And everything is not what it seems. Who is the woman who ran if not Gamhee?

While they are having pleasant BBQ dinner, a new neighbor visits them. It's a young man and he passive aggressively complains about Youngsoon and her roommate feeding stray cats. His wife is afraid of seeing cats in their backyards and he wants to discourage them to feed the cats. They decline to do so, arguing the cats needs are just as important as humans. There are many references to animals in the film, including chickens, cows and cats, as women make case that humans are not the only animal with a conscience. With that, Hong seems to suggest that these relationships and entanglements are silly, in a larger scheme of things.

The next house Gamhee visits is Suyoung (Song Seonmi), a pilate instructor and a dancer friend. She lives alone in a modern apartment with a great view of a mountain. She recently bought the place with divorce settlement and some bank loan. She even scored a major discount because the building owner favors artistic types to live there. Gamhee again, tells the story about how she and her husband being inseparable. She could be so lucky. Their peace is interrupted by a 26 year old lovelorn poet at the door. He is in love with Suyoung. She shoos him off. The young man makes matters more complicated since she likes the neighbor who frequents the bar also frequented by the young man, she tells Gamhee. Gamhee makes an observation, "You live an interesting life!"

Considering Hong's penchant for a double take, these two encounters with older female friends might be a variation of the same encounter, suggesting infinite possibilities. And both of these encounters are interrupted by irate males.

Now Gamhee is in a cafe of a cultural center, coincidentally run by her frenemy Woojin (Kim Saebyuk). Gamhee used to date Woojin's now husband Jung (Kwon Haehyo), who is doing a book tour in the same building downstairs. Gamhee says she is there to watch a movie. Woojin, feeling guilty about stealing a man from her, apologizes to Gamhee who says it's all in the past and insists that she is not there to see him. Gamhee asks if he changed in any way since his career took off. Woojin says he is a chatterbox now and he comes across as insincere as he repeats his stories a lot in front of other people. It's becoming annoying.

She runs into Jung who was taking a cigarette break outside the building. Did she really come to see a movie or did she come to tell him off?

Deceptively simple yet deliciously playful, The Woman Who Ran again shows that Hong, a truly unique voice in cinema at his best, honing his skills as a storyteller by constantly experimenting with his usual theme.   

She goes back to watch the movie that she just came out of. It's the same scene of a beach with a jangling guitar soundtrack seen previously. Is Hong suggesting watching the film again to give it a second take? Or does the movie theater work as a sanctuary, a comfortable place for our heroine? In these Covid times, whether Hong intended or not, I'd like to think the latter is the case. As Gamhee sits alone in a cushy movie theater seats alone, eating a piece of bread, I want nothing more than being in the comfort of a movie theater, preferably alone.