Monday, October 03, 2005

broken narratives and drunken conversations

A Tale of Cinema (Hong Sang-soo, 2005)
Just saw this, and while I am aware that I should probably see it again before attempting to discuss it, here I am with an expression of appreciation.

[contains spoilers]

Hong Sang-soo is my favourite Korean filmmaker right now and A Tale of Cinema marks a truly refreshing addition to his body of work. I guess the first two things that stand out the most are the much-discussed voiceover narration and the frequent use of zooms, tools which initially surprise anyone who has ever seen Hong's films, which are usually much less 'showy' affairs, normally unfolding in long takes as his characters exhaustedly trudge their way through seemingly banal situations and encounters that frequently end up with establishing an intense feeling of cinematic déjà vu, or in long, drunken confessions. A Tale of Cinema exhibits these established repetitions and rhythms of a Hong Sang-soo film, along with the bifurcated narrative which he put to similar use in earlier films like The Power of Kangwon Province and Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors. As for the zoom-ins - they never bothered me, but I was surprised when they continued into the 'reality' of the second half. This makes sense retrospectively though - Dong-soo and Young-shil share spectatorship of the first half with us, so when full spectatorship passes onto us in the second half, Hong makes us no less aware of our position as a spectator by employing these devices. More intriguing are the parallels between the two halves, especially how our failed director and rising actress of the second half uncannily end up on sites which were featured in the short film, in said director's attempts to recreate his idealistic romance (= a suicide?!). Other classically Hongian elements linking the two halves, besides this doomed pursuit of romanticism/obscure objects of desire, are mechanical sex (which he still cuts to suddenly) and death (the dead fish in Kangwon Province makes sense now). A Tale of Cinema may not be his masterpiece, but I can't think of another film of his which I could identify with as immediately. After all, this is about a (morbid) attraction to the illusion of cinema, creating films of our own and projecting ourselves as the performers. Truly a film for anyone who allows themselves to be lost in the tales of the cinema.

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