Directed by: Sang-soo Hong.
Written by: Sang-soo Hong.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert (Anne), Yoo Jun-sang (Lifeguard), Kwon Hae-hyo (Jong-soo), Moon So-ri (Geum-hee), Moon Sung-keun (Moon-soo), Jung Yoo-mi (Won-ju), Yoon Yeo-jeong (Park Sook).
Sang-soo Hong is one of those filmmakers whose films pretty much only play at film festivals in North America. Eventually, his films achieve a cursory theatrical release over here – but if often takes time. In 2012, his 2010 film Oki’s Movie, his 2011 film The Day He Arrives and his 2012 film In Another Country all got released. They get praised in all those film magazines I read – like Film Comment – but until In Another Country, I had only seen one of his films (The Day He Arrives) – and quite liked it, so I was looking forward to seeing more of Sang-soo Hong’s work. I enjoyed In Another Country, but still it felt somewhat lacking. Is this what all the fuss was about?
In Another Country is really three films set in a small Korean town, all written by a young female screenwriter, and contains similar character in each, in similar situations. Isabelle Huppert stars in all three as a French woman on vacation – either a filmmaker scouting a location, a woman looking for a quiet place to resume her latest affair with a Korean man, or as a woman looking to get away from her latest divorce. In all three she meets a famous Korean director – and in a few, his wife – as well as a lifeguard. While the director seems to be a better match for her – both in terms of age and education level, she keeps coming back to the lifeguard.
The film is amusing while it is playing – not least because it reminds us that Huppert, who usually plays darker characters in heavy movies, can be a gifted comic actress in the right role. Here, playing a trio of neurotic characters, she is sweet and charming, even while she is making mistakes, which is often. She is the heart of the movie, and she carries it effortlessly.
The film itself seems to be built on miscommunication. Huppert doesn’t speak Korean, and the locals speak broken English at best, so she is never quite sure is happening, as the character speak around her, but very rarely directly to her. The one exception is the Yoo Jun-sang’s lifeguard character, He is much younger, but is seemingly the only character who takes her seriously – and is genuinely interested in her. The two could not be more mismatched, and that is almost their charm together. They are not unlike the couple at the heart of Lost in Translation, with the genders reversed. They may never quite fall in love, or even into bed, but they share a deeper connection.
I was amused by In Another Country. It reminded me of Woody Allen – especially something like Melinda and Melinda, where Allen experimented with telling the same story as both a comedy and a tragedy. Hong’s screenplay is simple, but funny, and the characters are well drawn. His direction needlessly calls attention to itself at times – strange zooms are prevalent throughout. But I certainly did enjoy the film. I’ve been reading about Hong for years now, and The Day He Arrives seemed to confirm, for me, his talent. In Another Country is a mildly amusing and diverting comedy – but perhaps I should still see some of his earlier films. Something tells me if he garnered all that praise, they had to be much better than this film.