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Film review: On the Beach at Night Alone – Hong Sang-soo, Kim Min-hee channel real-life affair in indulgent mood piece

South Korean director and actress, who are having an extramarital affair, make dreamy, largely plotless film in which a director and actress have an affair

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 11:54am

2/5 stars

Directed by South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo and featuring a mournful turn by The Handmaiden star Kim Min-hee, which won her the best actress honour in the recent Berlin Film Festival, On the Beach at Night Alone arrives on the heels of a real-life scandal involving the two: Hong, who is 56 and long married, and Kim, 35, confirmed their extramarital affair at a press conference last month.

The controversy is unmistakably addressed in the movie, which takes a primarily linear approach – as opposed to Hong’s signature use of alternative storylines to play with narrative possibilities. Kim plays Young-hee, an actress taking a break in Hamburg after her affair with a married director went awry. A quarter of the way into the film, she’s back in her home city of Gangneung, sharing long, soju-fuelled chats with old pals.

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On the surface, this is a melancholy mood piece in which Young-hee slowly gathers, and then reluctantly tries to accept, that the older man she’s fallen for may not be running away with her after all. For audiences aware of its back story, however, it’s hard not to also see this chatty but largely plotless film as an indulgent excursion for its director and star – an impression that the casting decisions clearly invite.

Kim is eminently watchable as the heartbroken and sometimes comically outspoken protagonist, although it’ll likely take a diehard Hong fan to truly admire this dreamily scripted fare, lacking as it does the writer-director’s usually rigorous musing on fate and perception.

On the Beach at Night Alone opens on April 6

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