Movies about artists who find inspiration via a string of female “muses” often strike me as tiresome, even when they’re done well (it’s partly why I don’t revere Fellini’s 8½ as much as some). Woman on the Beach, a Korean film from writer-director Hong Sang-soo, is as formally dreary as it is thematically suspect, leaving little for me to appreciate.
The artist in need of inspiration this time around is a well-known filmmaker named Kim Jung-rae (Kim Seung-woo). Stumped with his latest script, he heads to a gray little resort town on the west coast, accompanied by a friend (Kim Tae-woo) and the friend’s supposed girlfriend (Go Hyun-jung). The girlfriend, named Kim Mun-suk, quickly declares her independence and hooks up with Kim Jung-rae by the end of the first night, setting off a few days of relational angst and artistic anguish.
None of it is very compelling, thanks in large part to Hong’s painfully perfunctory camera style.
None of it is very compelling, thanks in large part to Hong’s painfully perfunctory camera style. Much of Woman on the Beach consists of standard medium shots that awkwardly zoom in as the characters begin speaking. In fact, visual elegance of any kind is hard to find. Early on, as the main characters’ car travels down a road, Hong’s camera pans along with it, stops, then jarringly begins panning again to take in a sign noting that they’ve arrived at the resort town.
Overall, Hong seems averse to edits, but not because he wants to take advantage of the opportunities offered by long takes, which can emphasize space and unbroken performances. The spaces here are mundane – even the seaside landscapes – and the histrionic performances would actually benefit from a few judicious cuts.
All of this makes it harder to swallow the movie’s central position: that the only thing that really matters is the completion of Kim Jung-rae’s screenplay. He accomplishes this, though only after dismissing Kim Mun-suk, connecting with another woman on the beach (Song Seon-mi) and then reuniting with Kim Mun-suk for a climactic, claustrophobic rental-room showdown that feels like subpar Cassavetes. It includes the movie’s low point, a suddenly fawning Kim Mun-suk telling Kim Jun-rae, “You’re amazing!”
I didn’t quite see it.