By Lee Marshall
Dir/scr/prod. Hong Sang-soo. South Korea. 2009. 140mins.
An elliptical, meandering but often quietly hilarious tale set around the downtime of a Korean arthouse film director, Like You Know It All sees Hong Sang-soo attempting nothing particularly new in his ninth feature, but rarely has it all come together so smoothly and breezily.
Hong seems to be mellowing, moving away from the prickly impenetrability of early works like The Power of Kangwon Province towards a gentler, more observational humour – though he has not abandoned his tendency to make films about filmmakers, or his fascination with two-part structure.
Hong’s films are well considered in Korea but make little impact on the box office; his last, Night and Day, failed to break the $100,000 barrier. With its healthy humour quotient, Like You Know It All should top that figure, but the producer/director needs to look at territories such as France – where he is a cult favourite – to fully recoup his modest budget. CTV International picked up Francophone rights from Finecut on the eve of Cannes, and given the right release the film should enjoy a modest but sustained arthouse run in Gallic urban centres. Elsewhere, theatrical prospects are uncertain.
One of the commercial limitations on Hong’s films is that so much of his visual style is rather dreary point-and-shoot work in available light. In a way, however, this serves to de-gloss the characters and focus attention on their deadpan interactions. These begin in Like You Know It All when arthouse director Ku (Kim Tae-woo) turns up at a (real) film festival in the northern town of Jecheon, where he is on a jury organised by a skitty, Tourette-ish festival director (Uhm Ji-won). After some heavy drinking, an old friend and business partner invites Ku back to his house, and the next morning, the director appears to have a liaison of sorts with the young wife of his friend, who attacks Ku in a jealous rage.
Twelve days later, Ku turns up on Jeju island, where he has been invited to address a class of film students taught by an old college friend. Distorted parallels between the two parts abound; Ku is approached by an attractive younger woman – a kudos-seeking porn starlet in part one, a flirtatious young film student in part two – who eventually ends up in bed with an artistic rival of the director’s – a scuzzy fellow director in part one, a respected older painter in part two. And when the painter invites Ku back to his house to meet his young wife (Go Hyun-jung), we sort of know what to expect – though as always with Hong, that’s not exactly what we’re given.
Like You Know It All may be breaking no new ground, but it’s wryly perceptive in its deconstruction of artistic egos, sending up pretensions while at the same time making what sound like first-person declarations about creativity. It’s also – and this is no small part of of its appeal - Hong’s funniest film in years.