'The Table': Film Review | Busan 2016

Courtesy of the Busan International Film Festival
Lim Soo-jung in 'The Table'
Talking, talking and more talking.

Four of Korea’s brightest actresses headline this talky, single-location drama that grapples with romantic dilemmas.

For anyone that found My Dinner With Andre lacking in variety of character, Korean indie darling Kim Jong-kwan’s latest verbose, estrogen-heavy drama, The Table, could be the ideal tonic. Unfolding over three separate days and one night, the film offers a peek inside four different women’s love lives at different stages of commitment as they grapple with their decisions. This is the kind of performance-focused film that underserved actresses covet, and for the most part writer-director Kim does the considerable cast justice. But it’s a featherweight as far as movies go, with little meat on its bones and mired in hackneyed subject matter. The Table is bound for festival play, and will work well in both niche (women’s, Asian) and broad spectrum events, but any exposure beyond that will be a stretch, though cable and download services could be a viable option.

Like Eric Khoo’s In the Room and countless others that have used a similar concept, The Table’s four episodes are linked by a single location, in this case a very specific one: a table in the window at what must be Seoul’s least busy coffee shop. In the first segment, a famous actress, Yu-jin (Jung Yu-mi, Train to Busan), meets up with a former boyfriend and quickly discovers he’s less interested in chatting about old times than in proving to colleagues that he once dated a famous actress. In the second, Kyung-jin (Jung Eun-chae, Nobody’s Daughter Hye-won) reconnects with an aimless man she only saw three times before he suddenly vanished to India, but for whom she harbors affection. In the weakest link, a wedding guest surrogate who will be known as “Kim Hee-nam” prepares to play mother to Eun-hee (Han Ye-ri, Haemoo), who’s planning a sham wedding for herself. The Table’s final encounter is at night, between Hye-gyeong (Lim Soo-jung, who burst onto the scene in 2003 with A Tale of Two Sisters), and her ex-boyfriend. She’s engaged to be married, but boldly suggests they have an affair, at least until her wedding day. He takes the high road and turns her down.

Though not officially an anthology, like an anthology The Table runs hot and cold — or perhaps cool and warm in this case, as there is neither a dreadful entry nor an astounding one. It’s wisely bookended by its strongest episodes, but limps through its middle with the curious reunion and the muddled wedding guest plots. Kim’s aim is to drop just enough clues and suggestions for us to piece together the puzzles of these relationships ourselves, but Kyung-jin’s fixation on an immature, flighty sweet-talker never rings true. Eun-hee’s wedding plot sets itself up to be more sinister (and therefore much more compelling), but its murky narrative takes the wind out of its sails.

But The Table is a “slice of life”-type story, and despite its conventional filmmaking (lots of soft focus close-ups), dearth of challenging situations (it’s still all about the guy?) and rampant heteronormalcy, Kim combines his penchant for putting women at the center of his stories (Worst Woman) with the structure of his multiple broken couples film Come, Closer, drawing some excellent work from his leads along the way. At the top of the heap is Jung, who balances disappointment with impatience as the star who slowly realizes how she’s being manipulated. Her growing exasperation is pitch-perfect. Lim is a close second as a woman unashamed to ask for her cake and to eat it, and then be adult enough to deal with the answer. There’s nothing new to be gleaned from The Table, but it’s nice to see some of the Korean film industry’s most underrated actresses in performances more significant than that of a pretty houseplant that cries.

Production company: Vol Media K
Cast: Lim Soo-jung, Jung Yu-mi, Han Yeri, Jung Eun-chae, Kim Hye-ok, Yeon Woo-jin, Jeong Jun-won, Jeon Sung-woo
Director-screenwriter: Kim Jong-kwan
Producer: Jenna Ku
Executive producer: Lee Jong-ah
Director of photography: Kim Ji-yong, Lee Seung-hun
Production designer: Shin Yoo-jin
Costume designer: Lee Mi-young
Editor: Wong Chang-jae
Music: Narae

In Korean

Not rated, 72 minutes