By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) — “In Front of Your Face” is prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s 26th feature film and the 11th work that has been invited to the Cannes Film Festival. And it is the second of his 2021 works after the three-part black-and-white drama “Introduction” that earned him the best screenplay award at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.
Like his typically minimalist films, it has a simple and linear storyline, with a handful of main characters who exchange long meandering dialogues in a few extended takes.
The movie begins as Sang-ok (Lee Hye-young), a retired middle age actress, wakes up on a couch at her sister’s apartment. She makes a rare visit to see her sister in Seoul after spending long years in the United States.
The laid-back camera follows Sang-ok’s 24 hours without remarkable incidents in the city where she was born, raised and went through a short acting career when she was in her 20s.
Having an intimate conversation with her sister Jeong-ok (Cho Yun-hee) during brunch at a suburban cafeteria, Sang-ok is surprised at Seoul’s rapid development in the past decades. Jeong-ok keeps complaining that she barely knows her dear sister.
At a small snack bar run by her nephew, she spills a drop of soup on her fancy pink blouse. She first wants to get changed as she has a meeting with a famous film director in the afternoon but decides to let it go, saying that appearances no longer matter to her.
The highlight of the movie comes at the meeting with film director Jae-won (Kwon Hae-hyo) at a bar in downtown Seoul. The director admits that he admires Sang-ok’s performances in old movies he loves and asks her to join his next project in a half-flirting tone.
Sang-ok does not say yes but tells a story of her past when she wanted to kill herself. When she was a teenager, she saw faces of strangers in the crowd passing Seoul Station and thought they were so beautiful that she could not die at that moment.
From the beginning of “In Front of Your Face,” Sang-ok laughs at strange moments and becomes sentimental from time to time, whispering prayer-like words to herself.
Her exaggerated reactions and overly sensitive voice tones seem incompatible with the monotonous and innocuous 85-minute story by Hong.
But the performance of actress Lee Hye-young, who took the main role in Hong’s film for the first time after years of hiatus, is powerful enough to hold the eyes of viewers until the very end of the movie when she reveals the secret that is behind her awkward attitude.
As in many of Hong’s recent films, like the Berlin Silver Bear winners “On the Beach at Night Alone” and “The Woman Who Ran,” the latest film takes a sympathetic look at the internal journey of a woman, who is far stronger than her male counterparts.
And it also poses some questions on whether you look at the reality right in front of you.
“In Front of Your Face,” for which Hong worked as producer, director, screenwriter, editor, cinematographer and composer, will hit local screens next Thursday.