Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (2000) 오! 수정

Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Theme: Romance/Erotica
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Lee Eun-ju, Moon Sung-keun

Ratings: IMDB: 7.0/10

Film Festivals:
2000 Cannes Film Festival: Un Certain Regard
2000 Asia-Pacific Film Festival (APFF)
2000 Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF)
2001 Singapore International Film Festivkal (SIFF)

Awards:
2000 APFF Best Screenplay
2000 TIFF Asian Film Award: Special Mention
2000 TIFF Special Jury Prize

Nominated:
2001 SIFF Silver Screen Award for Best Asian Feature Film

This film by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo is a comedy-drama that is significant for its use of black & white cinematography, a rarity—and a quirky trait even—given the modern day color cinematic technologies. Yet another unique editing feature is how this movie is packaged in the form of a novel, with chapters and sub-chapters separating each disparate portion of the film. Parallel editing structures are used, with the core of the movie revolving around the courtship and romance of art gallery owner Jae-Hoon (Moon Sung-keun) and scriptwriter Soo-jung (Lee Eun-ju).

We see identical scenes occurring in Chapter One (Day’s Wait) and Chapter Four (Naught Shall Go Ill When You Find Your Mare), but taking on different perspectives in each chapter. The movie opens from Jae-Hoon’s perspective and casts light on his inner desires, before adopting Soo-jung’s perspective of the affair in the later half of the movie. There are slight differences in the recount on both parts, and what actually happened is, really, anyone’s guess. But this also means that identical scenes are featured in the film, with identical dialogue, such as at 06:11, the scene outside the art gallery. Further, the hotel room conversation at 04:10 is recaptured at 55:40, albeit from a different perspective. The first scene captures Jae-hoon with Soo-jung over the phone while the latter captures Soo-jung with Jae-hoon over the phone, whilst Hong intersperses this scene with a cutaway of Jae-hoon sitting by the coffee table in his hotel room to crystalise and exemplify the concept.

The still shot at 11:00 as we see Jae-hoon and several students staring and gossiping about something that is occurring in the distance. We can only focus on their gaze that leads beyond the camera. We soon realize it is a film scene, and the camera cuts away to Soo-jung walking down a path, framed towards the extreme right of the picture. This pivotal scene which involves Soo-jung picking up the winter gloves Jae-hoon accidentally left behind is repeated later on, albeit from Soo-jung’s point of view of picking up the winter gloves.

Jae-hoon makes his feelings known to Soo-jung through a forced kiss at 18:17, a clandestine action that goes on behind the back of their mutual friend Young-soo, who also has the hots for Soo-jung. Hong uses an off-center framing as Soo-jung warily follows the male protagonist, who wanted to show her something interesting and funny, down the very dark alleyway. She stops and hides in the shadows, before slowly backing towards the light and waiting. This creates an impression that even though she knows her actions are perhaps improper deep down, she was ready to commit to Jae-hoon in spite of all that she is vocally saying. If she wasn’t commital, Hong would perhaps have made the directorial decision to have Soo-jung turn around and walk away, or remain cast in the shadows to create a greater sense of rape, forced action and secrecy.

At 28:25 she volunteers to be his girlfriend only when he drinks – and this is shown through his more humane and less eccentric ways when he is slightly tipsy. The camera remains still and focused on the faces of the two characters as the taxi brings them to their destination – a cutaway shows them in a park sharing an intimate moment, in the shadows – an indication of Jae-hoon’s wish for the relationship to remain discrete (28:40). The scene is absolutely silent save for the ambient chirping of crickets in the background. Contrast this with Soo-jung’s later interpretation of the two sharing an intimate moment in the lighted foreground, an indication of a will to be open about their relationship (1:24:13)

Yet there are several cinematic decisions that has left me baffled. While differences in story plot and actions do prevail throughout the story, there are other minor differences that confused me and I can’t determine their significance to the study. For instance, in the dinner scene at 07:41, we see a still camera frame as the characters discuss paintings and the trust the two male characters place on each other. The three characters in the foreground are in focus while two other customers fill the empty space in the background with their meal. Yet the scene that directly complements it at 1:03:07 shows that the customers have left and the shop assistant clearing up the dirty dishes instead — could this be sheer happenstance, a discontinuity that was overlooked?Also, by my film notes (and unless I have really been quite inattentive), Jae-Hoon (the name of the male protagonist)’s name was only introduced midway through the show – but I am unable to make of any reason for it.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors is ultimately a very sexually suggestive movie with dialogue littered with sexual innuendoes and plenty of sexually-charged scenes throughout the film. Soo-jung, for instance, is accustomed to not wearing a bra during winter, and the camera captures via a medium shot both the tender action of Jae-hoon licking her nipples and the violent thrusts of Soo-jung masturbating the latter mid-way through the movie. Soo-jung is a virgin who throughout the film appears unwilling to give up her virginity to Jae-hoon. The camera captures his hand strategically placed under her skirt, and the audience can logically complete the mental image that he is feeling up her vagina. Examples of suggestive dialogue exchanges in the movie include: “This is all you want to do” / “You’ve got my breasts, haven’t you?”. Later on, there are lines such as: “I want to suck your whole body. Every inch. I want to sleep with you.” “Really?” “Yes” “I want to do it too”. Lastly, we know Soo-Jung gives up her virginity through the violent thrusting action of anal sex in one of the climactic scenes. Jae-hoon guides her along as she screams in pain, making sure he remains conscious throughout the process to prevent the error of calling out a wrong name as he did earlier.

Yet there is a notable absence of one cinematic device that has frequently been used to convey the sexually-fuelled scenes: that of cigarettes and the act of smoking. Rather, Hong opts for a more linguistic and visual approach than such a semiotic function. Testament to the quirky nature of the film is the light-hearted soundtrack that is used virtually throughout the film, ranging from the light-hearted children’s folk beats as the credit rolls at the start of the film, as well as the music used whilst transcending the different chapters.

It is unfortunate that leading female actress Lee Eun-ju would commit suicide five years after the release of this film following her involvement in The Scarlet Letter (2004). Passing on virtually at the peak of her career at the age of 24 following notable performances in Brotherhood (2004), The Scarlet Letter (2004), Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001) and this film, I cannot help but wonder if she will one day take on the legendary prominence and impact that Ruan Ling-yu had on the Hong Kong film industry in the 1930s. Granted that Ruan Ling-yu was much more prolific in the number of films she was involved in, both stars are similar in their realistic portrayals of subtle nuances in everyday characters. Yet whether the huge churn of actors and actresses today would have rendered such a death insignificant and perhaps even forgettable remains to be seen.

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The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well (1996) 돼지가 우물에 빠진 날

Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Kim Eui-sung, Lee Eung-kyung, Cho Eun-sook, Park Jin-song, Bang Eun-hee
Theme: Romance/Erotica

Ratings:
IMDB: 6.6/10

Film Festivals:
1997 Asia-Pacific Film Festival
1997 Rotterdam International Film Festival
1996 Vancouver International Film Festival

Awards:
1997 APFF: Best New Director
1997 RIFF: Tiger Award
1996 VIFF: Dragons and Tigers Award

It is very tempting to infer that the title of Hong Sang-soo’s 1996 directorial debut “The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well” draws direct reference from the 1954 John Cheever novella “The Day The Pig Fell Into The Well”. I have yet to read the book and thus am unable to draw literary references between the book and the film. However, going by the brief abstract I found online, the book is a story about a New York family that never fails to remember, on random nights, the day the pig fell into the well and the other corresponding events that also occurred that very day – such is the impact such an out-of-the-ordinary event poses on an average person. It is tantamount to how it is alleged that most Britons are able to remember what they were doing the instant they heard that Princess Diana died in 1997, or how Michael Jackson fans can remember what they were up to when news of his death broke. “Pigs falling into wells” is definitely a more light-heated reference than death, but the gist is there, the awkwardness one experiences from the abrupt disruption to the routine of everyday lives.

This movie paints such a portrait, and the well in which the pig falls into is a metaphor for the city of Seoul in 1996, says director Hong Sang-soo in his interview notes (Pusan International Film Festival Daily, 1996, cited on asianmediawiki.com). The director, considered one of South Korea’s best contemporary auteurs, depicts four individuals seeking fulfillment amid the urban jungle that is Seoul and their progressive attitudes. Four separate stories come together through a running narrative thread as they go about their everyday routines in the city in an editing structure akin to future acclaimed films like Crash (2004) and Babel (2006), albeit the latter two films occurring in different locales. The movie intermingles the incidents of the four protagonists: Hyo-sub (a struggling novelist), Bo-kyung (housewife), Dong-woo (salesman) and Min-jae (box office girl) through unobtrusive storytelling techniques.

Through an inference of relations drawn within the first fifteen minutes of the film, we know that Hyo-sub is juggling two relationships at the same time. He is with Min-jae in the restaurant at (04:08; Part 2) and observed by Bo-kyung in a bookstore (00:20; Part 3). The prominence of the latter is amplified by Hong’s framing, as the secondary character in the distance remains in focus as Hyo-sup continually steals glances at the character. The scene then shifts to a hotel room as they engage in a tight embrace. The dialogue, frequently sexually-suggestive in the movie, includes lines like “Do you have sex with your husband?” as the camera casts a top-down shot on the couple sitting on the floor eating fruits (03:20; Part 3) in a whimsical scene that conveys lust and desire between the two characters, while harboring metaphorical references to the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve. At 05:33, the camera cuts away to Hyo-sub, shirtless, sucking the toes of the woman in an erotic gesture that must be a fetish. He lovingly clings onto the feet of the woman, biting her toes, and the close-up sequence gives the viewer both a voyeuristic sense of spying into an intimate moment. Later on, different angles follow before the camera finally cuts to a top-down shot of the couple making love. The camera is high up in the ceiling and the wide shot creates the perspective of the couple being small in context of the room.

Hyo-sub the struggling novelist is despondent even in social situations such as the karaoke scene, where he sits despondently by the corner of the frame (03:26). To make matters worse, the waitress spills hot food on Hyo-sub, who reacts violently by throwing a tantrum. In a sign that nobody cares, the others move on with their respective conversations. At 05:26, the framing takes a wide angle such that we see the goings-on in the whole restaurant rather than an egocentric focus on the center of Hyo-sub’s universe. This creates an impression of how small an individual is in context to his/her surroundings, and no matter how he attempts to make a scene by thrusting himself in the center of attention, it is fruitless when people simply don’t care. The incident rears an ugly head when at 05:46 the camera frames the scene outside the restaurant with the door to the right and Hyo-sub on the telephone to the left. The waitress walks out and he kicks up a fuss, with his unreasonable attitude pissing her off. Alienated by his friends, he turns to a prostitute. The palpable sexual tension resonates between one very willing woman for the money and one very unwilling client. The woman appears stark naked on screen, and helps herself to the entire penetration act in a scene that is just weird. That is perhaps a problem that arose only because of the frequent jumps in character focus. This makes it virtually impossible to connect, to empathize or sympathize with any of the characters.

The main problem with such movies is how the focus jumps from character to character intangibly. They are introduced, ditched, and then brought forth again. It requires plenty of patience to understand the four separate narratives, and to glean an actual understanding of their connections. Yet it is indicative of Hong’s aesthetic and stylistic device that will be seen in Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (2000) that has also been reviewed on this site. The slow pace of the movie makes it frustrating as the audience wills for something to happen. Even if Hong aspires to capture the essence of mundane humdrum nature of everyday life, there is usually much more going on. The muted emotions bottle up, only to be unleashed through sexually explicit scenes that sometimes occur without any distinct purpose. And it is a struggle, indeed, just to keep track of the disparate characters and how their story arc intersects with each other. If anything, this is a movie in which nothing much happens.