With its quiet portrait of a lovesick actress, Hong Sang-soo’sOn The Beach At Night Alone reveals a disappointingly light vision of a male fantasy.
The Portrait Of A Ladyby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Divided into two unequal halves, Hong Sang-soo’s On The Beach At Night Alone takes place in both an unnamed and unrecognisable Hamburg, apparently “the world’s most livable city”, and Gangneung, Korea. Like previous works, including Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Sang-soo’s film takes its name from the title of a work of art, in this case a poem by Walt Whitman. But there’s little of Whitman’s lyricism here. Instead, it’s a concatenation of dialogues through which the portrait of a forlorn actress gradually builds. The dialogues are quietly diverting, recognising in Younghee’s (Min-hee Kim) interactions in both Germany and Korea her tendency towards anger and the delicacy of human relations, which run both hot and cold.
Where On The Beach At Night Alone runs into trouble is the autobiographical thread that emerges, of a director who the actress had an affair with and who is now making a film about it. As such, Sang-soo’s film becomes a male fantasy about his ex-lover’s mooning after their separation. And makes of its heroine a very male-conceived Pygmalion; lesbian kiss included. She’s pretty, humble and occasionally fiery or melancholy – a heady mix indeed. On The Beach At Night Alone hangs undoubtedly on one’s personal engagement with its dialogues, and while it touches on such broad topics as the nature of success or the redundancy of reason in love, its organic structure – Sang-soo’s stand-in suggests the filmmaker just starts filming and sees where it takes him – creates tendrillar storylines while tying itself up in knots.
On The Beach At Night Alone is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival