I’ve always been very unsure about how I should approach the work of Hong Sang-soo because his style is something so hard to pinpoint, but it’s one that I know I need to see more of. It’s something that I just know that I need to see more of because something about it rings a peculiar bone within my own sensibilities that isn’t so easy to point right at. In a case like Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, what we do have at hand is one of his most intriguing narrative experiments to date; because the dry nature of his work finds itself working wonders within an equally fitting style and it makes every conversation feel meaningful.
This is a film that tells the story of a love triangle that centers around a video producer, a gallery owner, and a screenwriter. As the story of this complicated relationship unravels all the more in front of our eyes, it is broken into chapters almost like literature. But in these chapters we still have bits repeating in front of our own eyes, with the feeling of another perspective being present. It unfolds almost like a mystery, where different perspectives examine another layer of the same story that we would have missed from the first time around through even the most subtle of changes. You’re left to wonder whose eyes you are viewing from, but you feel impacted in a different way than you would have remembered from the last time you saw that same sequence.
Hong Sang-soo’s use of black-and-white is a fitting one, for not only is it a beautiful aesthetic choice but it helps elevate the mood in which its characters are feeling. Not only is it a pleasing look, but how Hong Sang-soo uses it in order to create a background for his characters and their perception of this affair makes for a rich work. There’s a load to unpack, because you can really tell that Hong Sang-soo cares for how these characters are set to turn out it really shows from how much of a mirror he seeks to create for their own perspectives. But at the very end, it sticks in your mind how they all are going down the same path just to different results – like the very complicated nature of the human being’s thought process.
I’ve already let enough Hong Sang-soo sit within my own mind but I’d never been so sure how to approach them because it feels like walking into another conversation. You never talk, but you listen in because of how thoughtful everything sounds. This isn’t exactly one of my favourites from what I have seen of Hong Sang-soo, but what catches me about watching it is just how everything sounds so thoughtful. You walk into a museum to gaze at a painting without even knowing how you can describe how such a work of art has managed to evoke such a reaction from yourself. Sometimes, I like to think that Hong Sang-soo’s films are that painting.
All images via Mirashin Korea.
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Screenplay by Hong Sang-soo
Produced by Ahn Byeong-ju
Starring Lee Eun-ju, Moon Sung-keun, Jeong Bo-seok
Release Year: 2000
Running Time: 126 minutes