There was one feature that’s a real standout at today’s two-day seance by the 28th Annual SF International Asian American Film Festival at the Camera Cinemas in San Jose. And what a subject: The angst of someone surviving a film festival, cast away on the Island of Misfit Movies…it’s about time someone addressed this all-important issue.
Happily, the ever-talented Hong Sangsoo handles it beautifully in Like You Know It All (Mar 20, 7:45 at the Camera 12) a film with vinegar wit and sensuality, and with perhaps the most alluring title since You Can Count On Me. Hong’s comedy concerns the misadventures of a film director in a milieu of personal spinelessness and forlorn love.
40 year old Ku (Kim Tae-Woo), is a hitless art house director.
He’s in the Korean hinterlands, judging a film festival. The humidity is killing, the films aren’t up to snuff, and the people are being too nice to him. Like anyone who has been petted too much, Ku starts to grow the fangs and exude the scent of a weasel.
The partying gets out of control. Sometimes a friend, trying to teach personal responsibility to a hangover sufferer, will remind them solicitously: “No one poured those drinks down your throat, you know.” In South Korea, though, they sort of do. And amid the hurt feelings, and days drowsing through screenings, Ku runs into an old friend, Boo (Gong Hyeung-Jim).
Now running the family restaurant, Boo the old buddy has left the capitol for good; his life has turned around since the days when he was guzzling himself to death in Seoul. In voice-over Ku notes: “Boo had high ideals and a drinking problem.” (That’s what killed F. Scott Fitzgerald). Now married, Boo boasts of wife as his angel, his soul-mate. This happiness, too, Ku mucks up before he has to get out of town.
The film’s second half takes place on a seaside resort where Ku has gone to address a college class. In this more pleasing spot, the director reconnects with Ko (Ko Hyung-jang) a woman he once loved when he was going to college. Ku promptly tangles himself again with angry locals, a boorish professor, and Ko’s husband, an aged painter who is a local legend.
Director Hong (Woman on the Beach, The Day A Pig Fell Into the Well) does what Henry Jaglom would do if he were more comically adroit, or what Woody Allen would do if he could sustain his insights, instead of being drawn into the gags. Sometimes a no-comment glance is the best punchline of all; sometimes the hint at the possibility of wisdom, is better than an underlined life-lesson.
Hong’s gifted use of the small, single camera ought to become a new standard. It’s so old it’s refreshing: steady with measured zooms to take in inflections, secrets and lies. It’s opposite of the depressing zoomarama of indie film.
And Hong has a point beyond mere self-castigation here (though the self-castigation will keep you grinning). He records those late-night conversations where when one shares the space of a simple great idea, embraces it for a second, lets it go, and watches it wander off to reveal itself as a platitude.
Likely you’ve never seen a less exotic movie from the far East. Hong’s crabby, one-upping, decadent power drinkers, and self-deluders are as near to you as your closest art-ghetto. The one night only screening here gives us the universality always promised, but not always delivered, by film festivals.