Hong Sang-Soo doesn’t confuse reverie with nostalgia. The two never come close to colliding in Woman is the Future of Man (2004), and the result is a thankfully unsentimental romantic semi-comedy. Having graduated from an American film school, Hunjoon (Kim Tae-Woo) returns to Korea for the first time in many years. He reunites with MunhoYu Ji-Tae), an old friend currently teaching art at a local university. The two share lunch, and then go off in search of Hunjoon’s old girlfriend, Sunhwa (Seong Hyeon-A).
The ensuing search and reunion occupies the second half of Woman, which is just less than 90 minutes total. The film’s conclusion is as inauspicious as its beginning, as Munho and Hunjoon stand on the sidewalk under falling snow, unable to find any rhyme or rhythm in conversation. The ending finds them separate and alone, not so aware of any great change, but with a few memories that won’t be leaving them anytime soon.
Memory is key to Woman is the Future of Man. Ironically, these men can’t see into the future: their vision is blurred by inextricable memories of humiliation and regret. A passing woman wearing a purple scarf sends both of them into their pasts, as they remember how horribly they treated Sunhwa. Their trip to see her isn’t so much about finding a lost friend as it is about wiping out these old memories, finding some moment of reconciliation. Given the chance, they screw it up once again.
As a storyteller, Hong is more in tune with chance and coincidence than genre and plot. A scene’s importance may not seem readily apparent, and it may never shake its shroud of seeming insignificance, but to Hong such moments are things of beauty. The science of transience is Hong’s specialty, and he knows how to film a movie like writing between the lines.
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