Review: Oki’s Movie


[As a reminder, a final film (this one) in the Hong Sang-soo retrospective will be playing this Friday at 7 PM at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. For more information on that, read our announcement post.]

Oki’s Movie is the movie that Like You Know It All should have been. That’s not to say that it’s good, necessarily. It’s only to say that Oki’s Movie takes pretty much everything that Like You Know It All did (and I do mean everything) and then shortens it by about 50 minutes, while also removing the completely unacceptable emotional manipulation found in that film.

So, even though, at times, I felt like I was basically watching Like You Know It All 2: Oki Harder, I was much more accepting of its quirks, and in the end, I found that I had actually liked it.

Oki's Movie Lee Sunkyun Jung Yumi 2

Oki’s Movie (Ok-Heeui Younghwa)
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Rating: NR
Country: South Korea

Oki’s Movie is broken up into four sections, each lasting about 20 minutes and each with its own opening credits. I initially assumed that this would mean there would be four loosely connected stories about different characters, but that’s not the case. Each section features essentially the same cast of characters: Jingu (Lee Sunkyun), a filmmaking student and a really awkward guy; Oki (Jung Yumi), a filmmaking student who Jingu claims to be in love with; and Professor Song (Moon Sungkeun), Jingu and Oki’s filmmaking teacher, who is also in love with Oki. There are a few others, but they don’t necessarily recur, nor are they significant in the grand scheme of the film.

The first three sections, “A Day for Chanting,” “King of Kiss,” and “After the Snowstorm,” are all basically the same. It’s not until the fourth section, “Oki’s Movie,” that things actually change in any meaningful way. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oki's Movie Jung Yumi Moon Sungkeun

I wonder if only seeing Like You Know It All and Oki’s Movie has unfairly turned me against director Hong Sang-soo. I feel like generalizing about a director’s work after only seeing two of his movies is kind of unjustified. That being said, those two films are so similar that I can’t just ignore it. Everything about the filmmaking conceits behind those two films are basically identical. And beyond that, the characters themselves in Oki’s Movie are barely outside of those in Like You Know It All.

Like You Know It All is about an awkward filmmaker who has woman issues. So is Oki’s Movie. Like You Know It All has weird moments where said filmmaker is weirdly confronted by women about things he did in the past, and it’s not entirely clear how much merit they have. So does Oki’s Movie. Like You Know It All doesn’t really resolve anything, nor is there all that much to resolve in the first place. Oki’s Movie is the same way. 

I could probably name at least a dozen of those things, but it gets weirder than that. In my review of Like You Know It All, I pointed out the fact that the main character (Director Ku) gives a speech about why he makes movies that nobody understands. When I saw it, I felt like it was Hong Sang-soo trying to justify his film. Oki’s Movie does exactly the same thing. Jingu is asked why he made his movie (which we are never shown) and what it’s about, and he gives some weird answer that really just seems to be coming from Sang-soo himself, and I don’t understand it. I don’t need (or particularly want) an explanation of the film, certainly not as part of the film itself.

Oki's Movie Lee Sunkyun Jung Yumi

It doesn’t help that the visual style that he uses is pretty boring. The camera zooms and pans all around (some of which is really janky), but it never actually moves. There are also not a lot of cuts, which is fine if the scene is interesting but is not interesting in and of itself. Perhaps the strangest thing is the exclusive use of deep focus. I don’t think there’s a single shot in the movie where something is clearly out of focus. Everything is in focus all the time. Again, it’s not problematic in and of itself, but it looks like he’s filming a play rather than making a film.

And on the note of making a film, we get to why the fourth story, “Oki’s Movie” is a meaningful change. For the first hour or so, the story is completely linear. When things were referenced in the past, I couldn’t always tell when they were referring to, but the events in the film had a very clear progression. In “Oki’s Movie,” however, that’s no longer true. First, the perspective shifts. Whereas the first three stories are told through Jingu, the final story is very explicitly Oki’s. She introduces it as a film, as something she is using to help her see something about Professor Song and Jingu and juxtaposing her relationships with them. She does voiceover, narrating the events and explaining her reactions to them. Due to what I think must have been a translation-related error, I wasn’t really sure when the two events (one with each) she was talking about took place in relation to each other.

Oki's Movie Lee Sunkyun

Regardless, the sequence itself was interesting, much moreso than the rest of the film. In the context of Oki’s Movie, it was fine, and served as a relatively satisfying conclusion, and I think it would have worked just as well as a standalone short film. Perhaps it would have even worked better. 

Just like with Like You Know It All, it’s clear to me that there are people who will like what Hong Sang-soo is doing, or at least trying to do. Paradoxically, what he does is often interesting even when it’s boring. The writing is verbose and a bit preachy (though less so Oki’s Movie), the visual style is weird, and the overall frame is kind of confusing, but I was willing to accept it this time. Nothing made me angry, and when the final credits rolled, I felt okay about the time that I had spent with it.