The Nakedness of Modern Lovers

in 12nd Brisbane International Film Festival

by Ruth Hessey

In his deceptively simple if intricately plotted fourth feature, Korean director Hong San-soo exposes the nakedness of modern lovers set adrift from the moorings of traditional expectations. Gyung-soo (Kim Sang-kyung) loses his way when his acting work dries up, and his last film bombs. Confused by the alternate tugs of lust and romantic yearning, Gyung-soo follows a whim to the door of a woman’s heart, twice.

In the first half of the film, he visits a friend in the country, and sleeps with his friend’s girl. Disturbed by the unexpected intimacy, he leaves in haste, but not before hearing the legend of the Turning Gate, the tale of a princess and a young man who turns into a snake. The myth seems to resonate at some deep level with his own guilt and confusion. As he flees back to the city and a still uncertain future, Gung-soo is tempted by an impulsive flirtation with a young woman (Chu Sang-mi) on the train. He follows her home, and despite the vigilance of her relatives, charms her to a love hotel. She is married. He declares his love.

Hong San-soo keeps his camera quiet, building from random coincidence as the characters undress themselves by the light of each others gaze. Do they love each other or mere reflections of love? The director follows the clues in each frame. Hong San-soo wrote the script as he filmed. It feels as fresh, raw, and unpremeditated as something real happening before our eyes.