DIR: Hong Sangsoo | Dragons & Tigers | South Korea | 2013 | 88 min. | DCP
Hong Sangsoo’s Our Sunhi is simple to follow but intricately crafted. It is a dialogue-driven character piece with touches of light comedy that follows the intersecting of four lives over the course of a few days.
The protagonist is Sunhi (Jung Yoo-mi), a film student who returns to her school to obtain a crucial reference letter that would allow her to pursue her studies in the States. In turn, three men romantically pursue Sunhi: her former professor Choi Donghyun (Kim Sang-joong), fellow film student Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun) whose last film project was about their failed relationship, and Jaehak (Jung Jae-young), the only one of the three who shows no interest in her until an evening of drinking comes to change his perspective.
Choi writes Sunhi a reference letter in 30 minutes that is “honest”, describing her as smart but weak. After flirting with him, he writes an overly-positive one. She recites her new reference letter, which describes her film work as, “free from the typical traps of self-absorbed expressions. Free from the constraints of certainty, there were poetic messages effectively expressed within.”Perhaps this is Hangsoo’s statement on his film.
There is certainly motivation behind each one of her meetings, but it becomes tricky to decide who she truly loves. Each courter assumes she has fallen for himself. Does she fancy any? It hardly matters. Sunhi sets her cellphone ringtone to that of a cricket courting song. The answers are not important. The perspectives are. Even different people who live as they please, though they may not realize it, can still see things, or people, the same.
Channeling Japanese Director Yasujirō Ozu, the camera peers, childlike, in long, static shots as seated characters converse about life and love. Like many of Ozu’s works, Our Sunhi takes place during a transition in season. In this case, it is Autumn: the chilly breezes and changing colours of leaves helping emphasize transitions of the characters’ own experiences.
Is this a must see? It’s certainly not for everyone. The chain of scenes alone is consistently (frustratingly?) minimalist, free of complex actions or cuts. Characters enter or leave in long, master shots. Consider one dialogue scene which lasts for 11 minutes in one take from the same, below-eye-level angle. Static, head-on shots of two people speaking seated are frequently used and occasionally accompanied by either a slight zoom-in or a pan.
Still, Hangsoo has crafted a confident and resonant film that is beautiful to think about.