Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo is a film teacher, and yet it is uncanny how much his cinema flaunts the well-established rules of what makes narrative film. Undoubtedly you need to know the rules inside out to be able to undo them the way he does: his films are usually modestly-budgeted affairs shot mostly on location with seemingly improvised stories that are mainly collages of episodes or situations around specific themes. Everything in Mr. Hong's cinema seems to be hanging together by a thread, and yet it all works; though, admittedly, those who are immune to the charms of slight flâneries about love and life, often soaked in the Korean rice liquor soju, may ask themselves what all the fuss is about.

     Mr. Hong has been regularly championed by critics who see in him the reincarnation of the can-do early spirit of the Nouvelle Vague, and often compared to the late French master Éric Rohmer, who worked within the same coordinates of deceiving slightness. The structure of Another Country, though, is closer to a contemporary of Mr. Rohmer, Alain Resnais, and to his experiments in narrative playfulness; and the "French connection" is made even clearer by the presence of Isabelle Huppert in the lead, letting - literally - her hair hang out as a French tourist come to the Korean seaside town of Mohang-ni. Or, rather, as three French tourists - since In Another Country features not one but three separate stories set in the same location, with Ms. Huppert playing three different tourists (though all named Anne): a film director returning home from the Jeongju festival, an adulteress about to meet her lover (Moon Sungkeun), a recent divorcee traveling with a friend (Yoon Yoojung) to forget her heartbreak. In fact, though, all three stories are merely a script-writing exercise by a film student (Joong Yoomi) bored at having to stay in Mohang-ni: there are recurrent characters in all (Yoo Joonsang's hapless lifeguard, for instance) played with as pieces in a chess board, their position changing according to the demands of each tale.

     In many ways, In Another Country is a sort of un-romantic comedy of errors, where the concept of "lost in translation" is put to the test. Anne doesn't speak Korean and everyone's English is pretty approximative, heightening yet another French connection to the boulevard and vaudeville comedies built on misunderstandings, but at the same time exploring Mr Hong's traditionally deadpan humour, so dry it reminds occasionally of Woody Allen. It's good to see that the presence of a European film star hasn't changed anything about Mr. Hong's work, though it merely underlines just how much of an acquired taste his cinema remains, its delights remaining too cinephile and rarefied for general admission, like an after-dinner liqueur.

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Yoo Joonsang, Joong Yumi, Yoon Yoojung, Moon Sungkeun, Kwon Haehyo, Moon Sori, Kim Youngoak
Director and writer: Hong Sangsoo
Cinematography: Park Yongyeol, Jee Yunejeong (colour)
Music: Jeong Yongjin
Editor: Hahm Sungwon
Producer: Kim Kyounghee (Jeonwonsa Film Company)
South Korea, 2012, 89 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, May 25th 2013


Popular Posts