Our Sunhi (U ri Sunhi): Locarno Review

Booze. Conversations. Light humor. Repeat. 

Korean director Hong Sang-soo makes another low-key and loquacious film, this time about a film student who needs a recommendation letter.

LOCARNO -- South-Korean arthouse favorite Hong Sang-soo delivers another pleasurable, loquacious and low-key film with Our Sunhi (U ri Sunhi), the tale of a female film student who has to deal with the rigid ideas three men have of who she is and what she should do with her life.

Though it is unlikely to win the prolific writer-director -- his Nobody’s Daughter Haewon premiered in Berlin just six months ago -- any new followers, this Locarno competition entry should prove a familiar good time for festival devotees, which, given the importance of repetition in Hong’s work, feels entirely appropriate. However, even compared to much of the filmmaker’s recent output, such as the Cannes-selected Isabelle Huppert vehicle In Another Country, this is a pretty minor entry; the digitally shot cinematic equivalent of a fluidly drawn, customary doodle.

Sunhi (Jung Yumi, the scriptwriter in In Another Country) is a girl who wants to become a film director but is also such an introvert that her peers stopped trying to get in touch with her since she graduated a year or two earlier, because she would never get back to them. After she’s finally determined what to do with her future, she asks a handsome former professor, Donghyun (Kim Sangjoong), to write a recommendation letter for a post-graduate course in the U.S. (where Hong also studied).

On the way back from her campus visit, Sunhi stops for a drink -- or two, or three, as the number of bottles keeps augmenting in the background in a typical visual running gag -- and finds herself talking to Munsu (Lee Sunkyun, the teacher from Nobody’s Daughter Haewon). He’s a graduate student who’s already made a film, which happens to be about his and Sunhi’s past love affair. It becomes clear, as the empty-bottle quantity keeps growing, that Munsu still carries a torch for the pretty and smart if “slightly bizarre,” as Munsu calls her, Sunhi.

When Munsu tries to tell his best bud, Jaehak (Jaeyoung Jung, a newcomer to the Hong universe), about Sunhi, another drinking session lasts long into the night, and like in Hong’s other films, much of the quiet humor and thematic undercurrents are gently teased out by offering variations on and repetitions of what has come before.

Paradoxically, Jaehak, who’s also not keen on leaving his own space to mingle with others, and Sunhi finally become interested in each other, though only after Donghyun has also insisted she was his favorite student.

The final showdown, if such a word can be used for anything in a Hong film, is set in a beautiful, autumnal-colored park where the three men converge on the protagonist. The main message seems to be that people have a tendency to think they know others and know what’s good for them and their future, even though the person they are discussing might be far from an open book. Indeed, the titular character remains something of a mystery, almost entirely seen by the men around her, who all think they know who she is and what she needs, essentially depriving her of her right to privacy or a self-determined identity (something the leitmotif of the recommendation letter, which is rewritten at Sunhi’s request, further highlights).

As usual, the performances are all appropriately unfussy and well synched. The modest technical package is led by the digital cinematography of Park Hongyeol (who also shot Haewon and In Your Country), which is again punctuated by zooms and lets most of the action play out in single takes.

The sound quality was difficult to gauge at the Locarno press screening, as the theater had technical issues during the projection.  

Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Competition)

Production company: Jeonwonsa Film Co.

Cast: Jung Yumi, Lee Sunkyun, Kim Sangjoong, Jung Jaeyoung

Writer-director: Hong Sang-soo

Producer: Kim Kyounghee

Director of photography: Park Hongyeol

Music: Jeong Yongjin

Editor: Hahm Sungwon

Sales: Finecut Co. Ltd.

No rating, 88 minutes.