Early in Hong Sang-soo’s 2010 film Oki’s Movie, film professor Lee Sun-kyun berates one of his students, yelling, “The form will take you to the truth. Telling it as it is won’t get you there.” Is this meant to be Hong delivering a mission statement? Or is he making fun of himself? Because few filmmakers today are as form-conscious as Hong. The content of his work doesn’t vary much: Again and again, he tells elliptical stories about egotistical artists and the women they neglect, usually relying on love triangles and repeated patterns of misbehavior to drive the plot. But Hong’s approach to each film is different, as he experiments from project to project with pace, image, tone, and structure.
Oki’s Movie is one of Hong’s most unconventional films, taking the form of four vignettes: “A Day For Incantation,” in which Lee squabbles with his mentor Moon Sung-keun and endures a torturous Q&A after a screening of a short film; “King Of Kisses,” which flashes back to Lee’s early days in film school, when he falls for classmate Jung Yu-mi, unaware that she’s having an affair with Moon; “After The Snowstorm,” which focuses on Moon’s lonely life and his decision to quit teaching; and “Oki’s Movie,” which is meant to be Jung’s documentary about her relationships with Lee and Moon, seen through the prism of two hikes up a mountain. Even the non-documentary segments of Oki’s Movie create the impression of reality caught on the fly, via vérité-style camera moves and zooms. And all four pieces deal with disconnection, as Lee and Moon prove so caught up in their own self-created problems that they can’t really appreciate what Jung has to offer them.
As always with Hong’s films, Oki’s Movie goes through stretches where it seems aimless and self-indulgent, followed by stretches where it’s sharp, funny, and poetic. Yet by skipping through time, Hong shows how young people start out eager and willing to learn, and then by middle age, become embittered know-it-alls. The fourth segment of the film implies some small amount of hope, as Jung edits her movie to place Lee and Moon back-to-back in the same locations, scrutinizing them the way a detective might. As with Hong’s films, it turns out there are differences between these two, for those who pay attention.