Woman on the Beach (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
Director Jung-rae Kim (Seung-woo Kim) needed to work on the story for his next film but he needed inspiration to get started. So he accepted an invitation to come along with his co-worker, Chang-wook (Tae-woo Kim), and his girlfriend, Mun-suk (Hyun-jung Go), for a weekend at the beach. But from the moment Jung-rae met Mun-suk, Chang-wook became the third wheel because the other two were intensely attracted to one another. When Mun-suk had to return to the city, Jung-rae tried to replace Mun-suk with Sun-hee (Seon-mi Song) because he desperately needed a muse in order to continue writing his screenplay. Written and directed by Sang-soo Hong, “Haebyeonui yeoin,” also known as “Woman on the Beach,” was told mainly from the perspective of a man as he used women to fuel his artistry. I was blindsided by the film because the first forty minutes was romantic. But it was really more about how an intense attraction could be misconstrued as genuine romantic love and how some men manipulated women in relationships. What captured my interest was the unlikable Jung-rae attempting to lure Mun-suk away from his co-worker. Sure, Jung-rae and Mun-suk disregarded how Chang-wook must have felt when they openly flirted after a couple bottles of soju but the scenes, often driven by offbeat but nonetheless interesting conversations, maintained a light-hearted, never mean-spirited, feel to it. We learned that Jung-rae took a certain pride in being recognized in the streets as a renowned director, liked to take advantage of his celebrity, and he was deathly afraid of dogs. As for Mun-suk, we learned that she studied abroad and dated a number of German men (and sleeping with them), she didn’t have much respect for Korean men for undisclosed reasons, and she delivered her opinions with a certain bluntness that reminded me of myself. The two characters had strong, often polarizing, personalities but they shared magical chemistry because of the way the actors controlled their body languages in the scenes where they shared a first awkward kiss and the way they would give each other certain looks when the third wheel wasn’t paying particular attention. However, I did have a problem with the second half’s pacing. When Jung-rae met Sun-hee, although interesting at first, it became painfully obvious that Sun-hee was very different from Mun-suk in personality and view of the world. Jung-rae and Sun-hee’s relationship was explored in the same places where Jung-rae and Mun-suk shared their most intimate moments: the seaside, the bedroom, and in front of various shops. In a way, some of realism was lost. It no longer felt like I was watching two people who happened to meet and fall hard for each other. It felt like I was watching a movie with contrived comparisons and ongoing themes. In other words, the self-awareness was a distraction. While I understood that Sun-hee was a replacement of Jung-rae’s fantasy of Mun-suk (“fantasy” because Jung-rae was convinced the two women looked alike but no one else saw the resemblance), but it felt too Movie 101. I kept waiting for the writer-director to inject a twist, something unique only to Jung-rae and Sun-hee’s relationship, but there wasn’t any.