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With: Yu Ji-tae, Kim Tae-woo, Seong Hyeon-a
Written by: Hong Sang-soo
Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Korean with English subtitles
Running Time: 88
Date: 05/14/2004

Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Doubt of the Past

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Hong Sang-soo is among the most respected of modern Korean directors, even if his work has barely received distribution in the U.S. His films are simple but elusive. They feel a bit like Antonioni or Jarmusch, but sometimes take jarring leaps off to one side that can be confusing and alienating. But the more one sees of his work, the easier it gets. After The Power of Kangwon Province (1998) and Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000), my third Hong film is Woman Is the Future of Man, newly released on DVD by New Yorker Video. Like the other two films, it's about a trio, two men and one woman. During separate cinematic threads, the men each try to control or possess the woman. But she emerges as more powerful than she initially appears, while the men are usually reduced to neurotic children, incapable of surmounting their weaknesses, fears and neediness. In the film, tall art professor Mun-ho (Yu Ji-tae) and short, bespectacled filmmaker Hunjoon (Kim Tae-woo) meet up after years apart for a meal and a few beers. Afterwards, drunk and standing around in the snow, they decide to see an old girlfriend that both dated. Despite the passing years and their supposed new levels of maturity, the men eventually pick up right where they left off, and the girl, Sunhwa (Seong Hyeon-a), once again controls the situation. Hong never shies away from embarrassing sexual situations, fumbling, hurried, deceitful, and otherwise un-erotic. Throughout, he sticks to lengthy, static shots, but still somehow manages a heartbreaking grace. It may seem like just an uncomfortable comedy, but by the end, we realize that he has gone just a little bit further.

DVD Details: New Yorker's DVD comes with a making-of featurette (with great, on-set footage of Hong in action), interviews with all three leads, trailers and a photo gallery. The liner notes include essays by former Village Voice film critic Michael Atkinson and professor Kyung Hyun Kim. Best of all, there is a short introduction by Martin Scorsese, who talks about his passionate appreciation for all current Korean cinema. The transfer is one of the best I've seen from New Yorker, but unfortunately, the all-white subtitles sometimes disappear into the picture.

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