Love Will Tear Us Apart: Tale of Cinema (2005)
Editor’s Notes: The following review of Tale of Cinema is a part of Rowena’s coverage of the 6th Annual Globus Film Series at the Japan Society in New York, Love Will Tear Us Apart.
Tale of Cinema is Hong Sang-soo’s own take on the coming together of sex and death, as well as film. One encounters here Hong’s usual formal and narrative preoccupations with repetitions and parallel situations between three characters. But Tale of Cinema not only presents what could possibly be the most unfulfilling, discomfited sex scene in all of Hong’s films, complemented by a death wish that also ends up being unconsummated, but also introduces two new aspects of Hong’s film grammar. Voiceovers and zoom-ins/outs make their first appearance in Hong’s cinema here, appropriately enough, given the film title and narrative of the mirroring of life and cinema. How this mirroring wreaks a kind of quiet, tortured havoc in those who happen to fall into it constitutes the film’s perverse charm. Lead actors Uhm Ji-won, Lee Ki-woo, and Hong regular Kim Sang-kyung bring to life the distressed characters in a marvelous, blasé way.
Tale of Cinema is Hong Sang-soo’s own take on the coming together of sex and death, as well as film.
Their characters become connected to each other through a film and, more specifically, through Young-shil (Uhm), who plays the lead role in the short film within the film. The first man who meets her is an old flame, the delicate Sang-won (Lee). The second man who meets her is Tongsu (Kim), quite the opposite of Sang-won in his verbosity and pushiness. But aside from their physical attraction to Young-shil, both men share the trait of emotional waywardness that compels them to project onto Young-shil an ideal of love, art, and death all rolled up into one. The first half of the film involves Young-shil and Sang-won bumping into each other, spending the next couple of days with each other, and isolating themselves from the buzz of the city. Their time together gradually becomes marked by thoughts of a double suicide. The second half of the film concerns Tongsu’s dogged, comical pursuit of Young-shil, connected by their friendship with the filmmaker whose film they watched together, starring Young-shil herself. Though they do not engage in thoughts of a double suicide, their time together strangely repeats that between Young-shil and Sang-won and is lined with death because the negative prognosis of their filmmaker friend’s condition in the hospital is a silent, invisible presence between them.
When a form such as Hong’s is so economical, every (non)movement of the actor and the camera, individually and collectively, becomes all the more conspicuous and accumulates multiple meanings as the film progresses.
Hong’s treatment of this death-tinged, metafilmic love triangle is tremendous. For the simplicity of the form translates paradoxically into a multilayered reflection on—to arrogantly paraphrase John Keats—“life is cinema, cinema life,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” When a form such as Hong’s is so economical, every (non)movement of the actor and the camera, individually and collectively, becomes all the more conspicuous and accumulates multiple meanings as the film progresses. His use of voiceover serves as wry, informative asides in relation to the image-track. They appear in seemingly random moments, draw attention to themselves as an audiovisual device, and thus fit into the playful metafilmic commentary that the title promises. The zoom-ins/outs, for their part, are not unlike the act of boldfacing or italicising words as one types. In short, the pleasure of form and unease of narrative make for a notable tale of cinema, indeed.