Oki’s Movie -- Film Review

A sporadically absorbing romantic drama that’s ineffectively low-key.

"Oki’s Movie" again finds South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo preoccupied with the nature of cinema, the complications of love and the difficulty of genuine communication. Best suited to festival play and eventually DVD, the film lacks the humor and gravitas of some of his previous titles, as themes he’s explored previously fall rather flat with further repetition.

Hong unfolds the narrative in four episodes (constructed as short films with titles and credits) in a time-shifting storyline that covers the evolution of two relationships linked to the same woman. Events begin with Jingu (Lee Sun-kyun), who is studying filmmaking at a local university while his wife manages a café. Their relationship appears a bit rocky, as she nags her husband about his shortcomings, particularly his frequent drinking.

Jingu, however, is absorbed with the faculty politics in his department, as rumors of graft threaten to unseat his mentor, Professor Song (Moon Sung-keun). During a departmental lunch at a local café, Jingu’s drunken attempts to engage Song on the topic only make things more uncomfortable. A particularly intense scene follows during a Q&A after Jingu’s short film screening, when he’s confronted by an audience member regarding his former relationship with another student. His questioner’s public haranguing strikes an uncomfortable note, as she describes the devastating effect of the breakup on his former lover. Jingu awkwardly dissembles.

Shifting further back in the chronology, Jingu struggles with completing his student film project and confronting the hostility of competitive colleagues eager to derail his career, even as he attempts to woo Oki (Jung Yumi), another film student initially indifferent to his approaches. Her ambivalence appears rooted in her tentative relationship with Professor Song, which although emotionally intimate is rarely physical.

A third section depicts Song as he listlessly carries out his teaching responsibilities, showing little regard for even his two most loyal students, Jingu and Oki. The final installment shifts to Oki’s point of view, as she relates her feelings for both men based on relationships spaced a year apart, after she’s already separated from Song. Visiting a local park with Jingu on New Year’s Day, she reflects back on her relationship with Song, comparing him to her new lover in an almost poetic voiceover filled with bemusement and longing.

These developments all prove recognizably self-referential as Hong recaps his frequent themes of artistic and romantic confusion. The film feels more like an exercise than a fully developed, interlinked narrative -- it’s all a bit enervating and not especially penetrating.

Throughout Oki’s Movie, Hong maintains a measured pace and formalistic distance from his characters, frequently framing them with a fixed camera in continuous two-shots for dialogue scenes or hemming them in closely when they’re alone. The film’s performances are all fairly low-key, which suits the dramatic structure, but does little to animate the narrative.

Cast: Lee Sun-kyun, Jung Yumi, Moon Sung-keun
Director /screenwriter/executive producer: Hong Sang-soo
Producer: Kim Kyoung-hee
Directors of photography: Park Hong-yeol, Jee Yune-jeong
Music: We Zong-yun
Editor: Hahm Sungwon
Not rated, 80 minutes