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SFIFF Review: Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Our Sunhi’ Is Pleasing, But Not Lasting

Reviews
by Sean Gillane
May 1, 2014 5:04 PM
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For his 15th feature film, director Hong Sang-soo (“In Another Country,” “The Day He Arrives”) delivers “Our Sunhi,” a playful comedy tracking film student Sunhi (Jung Yoo-mi, of several Hong films) through a trio of obstacles. Those obstacles come in the form of three usually drunk, always too confident, men. The “our” in the film’s English title belongs to those men, all three of whom become enamored with Sunhi over the course of a few days. It’s a layered phrasing, allowing for a friendly recognition of the uniqueness of the Sunhi that they all know but at the same time allows for selfish possessiveness. This word game is a great setup for the film itself as language, misunderstandings, and presumption are all themes played for some solid laughs.

Returning to her alma mater, Sunhi seeks out one of her most familiar film professors (Kim Sang-joong) in hopes of convincing him to write a letter of recommendation she can use in support of a grad school application. She encounters him sitting on a bench alone, gazing amazed at the sky. Between his turtleneck, coat and posture, he’s immediately recognizable as an academic, if only a caricature of one. The professor speaks as if impressed by every word that leaves his mouth and Sunhi plays along as a willing audience. He’s first disappointed that Sunhi is interested in studying in the United States for grad school, but eventually agrees to write the letter she requests.

Soon after this first encounter, Sunhi accidentally runs into her ex-boyfriend Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun), and they chat over drinks and chicken. Munsu starts off reserved, chatting bluntly about the state of his career as a film director, but several bottles of Soju later, he’s flopping over the table between them, lamenting their failed romance. The awkward nakedness of Munsu proclaiming all his films to be about Sunhi is met with Sunhi’s own cold drunkenness. It makes for an entertainingly honest observation on relationships, though maybe more specifically it suits yet another caricature, the overly romantic artist.

Annoyed and drunk herself, Sunhi bails, leaving Munsu to soak in his misery. A bouncy tune with melancholy lyrics pops out of the speakers in the restaurant. The song is later repeated at opportune moments becoming a goofy theme song for the heartbroken Munsu, who spends most of his time on screen inebriated. Here, repetition and its perceived value starts to occupy the story and provide a ground floor for most of the humor to follow.

Rounding out the team of fools is Jaehak (Jung Jae-young) who initially acts as confidant for both the professor and Munsu. He’s jaded and angry, making for a fantastic odd couple sequence when he advises a sputtering Munsu on how to handle his strained relationship with Sunhi. He also acts as a bridge between the professor and Munsu’s obsession with Sunhi. As they describe her and their feelings for her, he too falls under her spell.

The three bumbling men pair off back and forth discussing Sunhi and eventually become confused about what’s an original thought and what’s an idea that snuck into their head during their drunken discussions. There is much talk of establishing an identity as a goal, but all the mixing of ideas and repetition of lines has the men merging into one hazy character. The joke gets stretched pretty thin by the end, but for the most part it balances out nicely with all the melodrama. Hong doesn’t ask us to become emotionally involved with the proceedings. Instead he requests we stick through the setup to get to the worthy punchlines ahead.

Most scenes are played out in long wide shots with the characters arriving and exiting the frame. It works, depending on your patience levels, well-enough thanks to some sharply designed dialogue and performances that land confidently even when takes reach double-digits in run time. Hong has an expert sense of just how long he can hold on to his audience through these scenes and a few times offers hilarious non-sequiturs as reward for sticking with him.

Hong uses the film not as an investigation into men's perception of women in film even though that theme is front and center. Instead he takes what has become a recognizable scenario and bloats the format with winking caricatures guided by his skilled hand. The results make for an objective experience that is pleasing, but not lasting. [B]

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