Review: Like You Know It All


[In case you’ve forgotten, four of Hong Sang-soo’s movies will be playing this weekend at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. For more information on that, read our announcement post.]

Perhaps the most poignant moment in Like You Know It All comes relatively early in the film. At a party, the protagonist of the film meets a former porn star who has made her acting debut. He looks at her with disdain, and his voiceover tells the audience that she has just starred in a “bogus art film.” I laughed when I first heard him say it, but the irony was as lost on me as it was on him. By the end, though, I realized that it had been a warning, telling people like me to stay away.

But I didn’t get it, which is kind of the point.

Like You Know It All (Jal-al-ji-do Mot-ham-yeon-seo)
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Rating: NR
Country: South Korea

Like You Know It All has an identity crisis. I never figured out what the tone of the film was supposed to be, because it changed constantly. Sometimes it was a lighthearted comedy. Others it was a story of betrayal or worse. But, aside from protagonist/film director Ku Kyeong-Nam (Kim Tae-Woo), there is no thread connecting any of these moments to any other. They’re a series of scenes that have been haphazardly thrown together without all that much explanation.

Now, that would be fine if the scenes themselves were compelling, but they really aren’t (especially as the film drags on). The takes are really long (I’d guess that they averaged 2 minutes or more), and, although the camera pans and zooms (which is kind of weird in and of itself), I don’t think it ever actually moves, which leads to a lot of static conversations and not much else.

These conversations are where the Like You Know It All’s tonal issues come to the forefront. It’s clear that Director Ku (as he is called) is not a particularly nice guy, but he’s not really a villain either. At least, I don’t think he is. I could be completely off base though, because, by the end, pretty much everybody in the film hates him. Sometimes that hate is justified, but most of the time it comes out of nowhere. One moment a character is talking about his and Ku’s future business ventures, and two minutes later he’s left a note telling Ku that he hates him and never wants to see him again. I don’t know what happened over the course of those two minutes. I spent the rest of the film trying to figure it out, and nothing came to me. The one thing that could have justified the hate turned out to have been a dream, so I was left with no real justification.

Like You Know It All

But there’s one conversation in particular where everything became really problematic for me. It takes place around midway through the film, and I would guess that it is four or five minutes long (though it was probably shorter and just felt long). In my review of Park Shin-Woo’s White Night, I talked about a film’s need to earn its emotional use of disturbing subject matter. Simply saying the word “rape” can be enough to play with the viewer’s emotions, and exploiting that is unacceptable. I can say without question that Hong Sang-soo exploited it in Like You Know It All. Out of absolutely nowhere, a character tells Ku that not only was she raped but that it’s his fault. Yes, it makes more sense in context… but not much. It’s simply brought up, shouted about a bit, and then completely ignored for the rest of the film. It’s not justified, and it’s not okay.

Like You Know It All feels like it was written by a college student who had just taken his first philosophy course. I’d say about one-third of the movie consists of a character making some grand statement about what life is, what life means, or how life should be lived. I’ve never particularly liked philosophy, and this film reminded me of why. Philosophical conversations and soliloquies are only interesting for so long, and Hong Sang-soo doesn’t seem to know when that point has been reached.

This may be the first time I have wished that the writer and director were not the same person. Had Sang-soo’s screenplay been put in the hands of a different director, I imagine it would have been pretty dramatically cut. Sang-soo is clearly proud of all of the things he’s written, and he forces the audience to deal with it, whether they want to or not.

Like You Know It All

But I imagine that some people are okay with that. Most people who would take the time to go see a film like Like You Know It All are probably not as adverse to philosophy as I am. Those people will find things to like in this film. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy anything about it (I mostly liked the first half of the film), but by the end I was only thinking about the things I didn’t like about it. As you can tell, there are plenty of those things, and I’ve only scratched the surface. This film has an audience, but I’m not part of it.

During one scene, Director Ku is forced to justify a movie he has made and then screened to a class. He is asked why he makes films that nobody understands, and he tells the student that he does it because he wants to. As I watched Director Ku talk, I couldn’t help but feel like it was actually Hong Sang-soo making a thinly veiled attempt to justify Like You Know It All.

But it didn’t work. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to to tell me, and, more importantly, I didn’t care enough to figure it out.