Oh! Soo-jung (The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors) (Sang-soo Hong, 2000)
Oh! Soo-jung was Sang-soo Hong’s third film; since then he has directed over a dozen more, most of them much better-known. (Those on this side of the pond probably know him best for 2004’s Woman Is the Future of Man.) That is, in general, early on in a director’s career, but Hong had already gone quite a long way toward mastering the subtleties of relationships; this is a fun little movie, amusing and pointed in one breath and bitter in the next, about humans and the foibles that occur when they interact on any meaningful level. You’ve seen two hundred movies like that in the past month, probably, especially if you’re a devotee of the Lifetime or Hallmark movie channels, but Hong’s senses of subtlety and propriety blow all that stuff out of the water.
This would normally be where a plot goes, but there’s not much plot to be had in this simple slice-of-life story detailing the on-again-off-again romance between videographer Soo-jung (Unborn but Forgotten‘s Eun-ju Lee) and gallery owner Young-soo (Green Fish‘s Seong-kun Mun). Hong instead focuses on character development, letting the story grow organically over a series of encounters, rather than driving the relationship towards its ultimate goal. That’s how it feels, at least, which makes this something quite masterful if it was scripted; it feels far more like Four-Eyed Monsters than it does When Harry met Sally….
I want to tell you this movie is a comedy, but that would plant too many expectations in your head. But it is funny, although Hong’s sense of humor here is alternately gentle enough to miss if you blink and black enough to make you wonder if you should be chuckling at all. I want to tell you it’s a romance, as well, and perhaps that part is a little more obvious, but this is not a Hollywood romance. It’s not even an Ozu romance, and when it comes to realistic depictions of human relationships, it’s hard to beat Ozu. But Hong’s warts-and-all approach to this relationship manages to let us see the warts without focusing on the warts (and anyone who doesn’t get the difference needs to watch Ozu’s brutal Tokyo Story for a good example of the latter, though the relationship is familial rather than romantic there). It’s quite a balancing act, the kind where Hong is on a tightrope AND keeping plates spinning, and he pulls it off tremendously. If the film has a fault, it’s that it’s such a quiet, unassuming little thing that it fell well below anyone’s radar; released in America it probably would’ve been passed off as mumblecore or something. Don’t make the mistake of missing it—this is very good stuff indeed, possibly great (I’ve been going back and forth in my head for weeks whether to kick it up to four stars, since it landed very high in the 3.5s when I added it to the 1000-best list). See it, and sooner rather than later. *** ½
Trailer. The full film is available on Youtube subtitled in Mandarin.