(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in
SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- Dozens clapped at the end of the preview night, their face broad with smiles and their heart as light as a feather: not the most ordinary scene for director Hong Sang-soo.
Hong may have always been funny, but not all managed to catch his sharp humor. Despite applause at international film fests, the 48-year-old director has never been successful box office-wise, with some discomforted by his male-centered perspectives on romance, sex and life in general.
Since 2006, though, with the Berlin Film Fest-commended "Woman on the Beach," Hong appears to have grown an attitude that speaks to a much wider range of fans. His humor is softer, funnier and easier to comprehend.
Hong's trademark self-mockery is clearer in his ninth feature "Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo)," with the protagonist being a lowly film director.
Opening the two intertwining stories is Gyeong-nam (Kim Tae-woo), a self-claimed art films director who is much duller and more ignorant than he'd like to think he is.
Traveling to Jecheon in the central Chungcheong province to participate as a jury member of a regional international film festival, Gyeong-nam meets several people including sharp-tongued festival programmer Hyeon-hee (Uhm Ji-won), who later accuses him of being a hypocrite who "literally ruins her life."
Running from the regional town after several embarrassing and uneasy incidents -- involving women, alcohol, chain-smoking, but never work -- Gyeong-nam lands in Jeju Island where he encounters his first "real love" Go-sun (Ko Hyeon-jeong), who appears amused by him, but has no intention of giving Gyeong-nam what he wants.
The truth is, though, there is nothing really "new" about Hong's new movie.
Again, he sneers at self-claimed intellectuals who, in reality, are only interested in getting laid and outshining each other with their shallow knowledge.
But the film is nonetheless a delight as Hong makes a noticeable effort in conveying the same message in a vehicle that evidently cuts back on the fidgety boldness shown in his previous works including "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors" and "Woman is the Future of Man."
While far from appealing, none of his characters are detestable as they all portray a hypocritical part of us: sleeping through most of the films he must judge, Hong's alter ego Gyeong-nam tells others he came as a jury to support the "superb films that ordinary people miss out on." Men -- old or young -- childishly try to score more points with women through arm wrestling, and women say "they might or might not" have been raped in alcoholic vulnerability.
"There is naturally a bit of me in all the characters, but I do my best to keep a distance from them," Hong said after the movie's preview Monday night. "Unless I maintain this distance, I could easily be confined in my own movies -- the worst thing to happen to a filmmaker."
Proving himself to be among the most adored film creators among actors and actresses, Hong again managed to cast several big names in his newest release, all of whom agreed to work without any fees upfront.
"He never told me anything beforehand," said actor Kim Tae-woo, playing the main character Gyeong-nam. "I was given the script on a daily basis. Actually, it looked more like scribbles on a torn piece of paper than a script."
Although they may be laughing through most of the film's 126-minute-running time, audiences are given something to ponder after the humorous images fade with the memorable line: "Don't act like you know it all. Just live by things you really know."
"Like You Know It All," which has been invited to a non-competition juror section of the upcoming Cannes International Film Festival, will hit the local cinemas beginning May 14.
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