'Yourself and Yours' ('Dangsinjasingwa dangsinui geot'): Film Review | TIFF 2016

Yourself and Yours -Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of TIFF
Game of clones.

Multiple versions of the same woman search for love on the city streets in Korean director Hong Sang-soo's latest Toronto premiere.

Love becomes an unsettling hall of mirrors in the latest light-headed reflection on dysfunctional romance from prolific Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo. Yourself and Yours is less formally daring than last year's superior Right Now, Wrong Then, though it plays similarly sly tricks on audience perception with look-alike characters and shifting identities.

Hong cites Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, which featured different actresses playing the same woman, as an influence on Yourself and Yours. But as ever, Woody Allen's breezy urban ensemble pieces and Richard Linklater's talk-heavy Before Sunrise trilogy feel like closer cousins. That said, this lightweight, longwinded experiment in magic realism is unlikely to win the director any new converts outside his established festival and arthouse fanbase. World premiered in Toronto, it makes European landfall in San Sebastian later this week ahead of a U.S. launch at New York Film Festival next month.

In the midst of worrying over his mortally ill mother, sensitive painter Youngsoo (Kim Joo-hyuck) is suddenly distracted by rumors that his girlfriend Minjung (Lee You-young) has been spotted boozing and brawling in bars around Seoul. Youngsoo insists the reports must be false since he has banned his future wife from excessive drinking, but the seeds of suspicion have been planted and he confronts Minjung later that night. Sick of his controlling ways, she wearily denies the gossip, but breaks off the relationship.

Lonely and remorseful, Youngsoo quickly regrets his mistreatment of Minjung, conjuring up fantasy visions of reconciliation while fruitlessly trying to track her down at home and work. Meanwhile, the city seems to be awash with multiple doppelgangers of his ex-girlfriend, all drinking and flirting with different men in late-night bars, then apparently forgetting their names before their next boozy encounter.

One version of Minjung begins an affair with middle-aged writer Jaeyoung (Kwon Hae-hyo), only to casually dump him on a park bench. "I'm not interested in you any more," she beams winningly, "can't he helped." Another look-alike takes an interest in filmmaker Sangwon (Yu Jun-sang) , a typically Hong piece of archly self-referential narcissism. But are they really all different women? Is Youngsoo hallucinating? Or is Minjung purposely playing games to confound the useless men she disdainfully sorts into two categories, "wolves" and "children"?

Spoiler alert: Yourself and Yours offers no firm answers to this central riddle. The dramatic device of multiple Minjungs could be read as a wry commentary on narrow male views of women, on the inherent sexism of Korean society, on the need to maintain some mystery in a relationship, and so on. But of course, none of the characters actually explain anything clearly. Instead they just talk and talk and talk. This being a Hong film, almost every scene is a verbose, meandering, static conversation over food and drink. Typically, each is shot in a lengthy single take with clumsily obvious zooms during longer speeches.

The discreet charm of Yourself and Yours will depend entirely on your tolerance levels for such playfully amateurish stylistic tics. And, more importantly, for the ramblings of these tedious slackers and their minor relationship dramas. Alas, as with most self-pitying drunks, I confess I found them to be crashing bores within 15 minutes and utterly unbearable by the film's midway point. Hong has a distinctive voice and an interesting track record, but his latest exercise in flimsy whimsy is for indulgent hardcore fans only.

Production company: Jeonwonsa Film Co.
Cast: Kim Joo-hyuck, Lee You-young, Kwon Haehyo, Yu Junsang
Director, screenwriter, producer: Hong Sang-soo
Cinematographer: Park Hongyeol
Editor: Hahm Sungwon
Music: Dalpalan
Sales company: Finecut
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Masters)
No rating, 86 minutes