If you’ve seen MiniMiniMovie’s article about 3 FREE* Hong Sang-soo films or if you’re aware of this year’s London Korean Film Festival  line-up, OR you’ve witnessed this film already, you will know about the film MMM is about to review… So, let’s get into that little, yet slightly long review and ‘dissection’ of “The Woman Who Man” (도망친 여자).
The film opens on chickens.
That line alone could be a one-line cryptic critique, or even a disgruntled or humorous review. However, it is not, but you could say it hints at topics discussed later on – either in the form of chats about those chickens, dead animals [i.e. meat] or other alive ones [i.e. cats].
There is also, accompanying that opener and first shot, one of Hong’s inimitable zoom shots [The word “Zoom” being rather ironic perhaps, especially as it’s taken on a new meaning in these COVID – and the recent LKFF ‘at home’ – online times].
We then meet [not MEAT – but read on] or are shown one of our main characters and that is Young-soon (played by Seo Young-hwa). Well, Young-soon is at least part ‘main’ for about a third of the film, because, this film is almost one of 3 parts.
Soon though, a very well-known actress is on the scene and starring as the character Gam-hee, and that is Kim Min-hee (a regular of recent Hong Sang-soo films and perhaps her most famous, non-Hong film being “The Handmaiden”) and soon after that, is a long conversation outside, but even longer ones inside…
Would we expect anything less or different from Hong Sang-soo?
And whilst on the subject of Hong’s filming style, we also soon see the ‘trademark’ alcohol. However, perhaps not as trademark as other times. No, not his real trademarked tipple of soju… but makgeolli… and later on, wine!
Gam-hee and Young-soon get comfortable and talk. After all, they’ve not seen one another for quite a while. There is talk about life, work and relationships.
And maybe most importantly or prominently (at least it becomes more prominent as we follow Gam-hee through the next 2 thirds of the film) she gives a line about her husband and that she NEVER has spent a day without him, and only now is her first day or time apart. As the film moves on she talks the same line/s about her husband.
Young-soon thinks differently on the subject of being around somebody. Her opposing thoughts about living with someone are that she’d find it unbearable to not have time to herself or indeed to simply spend every day with her partner.
This reviewer did wonder though whether this was all a ‘front’ / facade by Gam-hee but yours truly won’t tell you if it is or not, or even whether that is revealed – but the reason for this writer’s thinking was the title “The Woman Who Ran”. Does this give the whole story, or outcome or even a twist later on away? Is the “Woman” even her? I won’t divulge further.
It’s worth pointing out though that MMM has heard from one or two other critics or Korean film fans, questioning whether the film’s title is really a good one, in relation to what happens or the story itself.
Gam-hee and Young-soon are seen to have taken their sofa conversation to a table. They are soon eating. Meat. Or at least Gam-hee is. There is also another character, Young-jin (played by Lee Eun-mi) who shares the house with Young-soon, it would seem and who is seen at the barbecue thingy, doing all the hard work.
This third character in the scene, Young-jin should be noted due to the scene which follows, and that it relates to animals – cats. It should also be noted though regarding Gam-hee/’Min-hee’s love of meat.. Reasons for which I’ll explain later*
On to the meat of the story, or of this review OR of the first third of this film – it’s worth noting too that MMM won’t ‘dissect’ the whole movie, because, as some may know already we’re generally a Spoiler-free platform/site!
Anyhooooo, it’s actually meat eating and ethics, you could say which was one of the factors for going ahead with this review for yours truly.
Sooo… The discussion at this table goes on and covered in it is Gam-hee’s love of meat – whereas Young-soon makes it clear that she doesn’t eat meat [whether this includes fish, I don’t know – this is Korea… I’ll elaborate in a bit**], even if her [presumed] housemate Young-jin, who is loving the grilling of meat does. Indeed, Young-soon and Young-jin seem to be somewhat opposites who share a place.
Gam-hee announces that she ‘wants’ to go vegetarian. She states that she sees cows and does sympathise – well, “ise, ize or EYES” – and it’s said that cows have beautiful EYES. Yes, both Gam-hee and Young-soon love the beautiful eyes of a cow and they’re more beautiful than those on a human, I believe its stated. We get the feeling, from this conversation that Gam-hee doesn’t really want to give up meat… Or at least MMM got this feeling.
Before this writer gets onto the scene with cats, we have more conversation when the 3 of them are sat down. It’s talk of more meat, or rather LIVE chickens… well, talk of those chickens we saw at the beginning of the film. They talk of how it’s not nice that a Rooster pecks hens.
It could be said or clear that Hong is talking/commentating about life’s ‘pecking order’ in this picture, but whether he gets this fully, or ethically correct could depend on the cat scene… so let’s analyse that a little.
We are outside Young-soon’s front door and a male neighbour calls, played by Shin Seok-ho.
It’s Young-jin who answers the door. Apparently, the man’s wife is scared of cats… and these strays which are beside the front door shouldn’t be fed. He says they’re “robber cats”. This man exclaims or explains, but Young-jin states that the cats need to eat and so they are feeding them. The male character says that people come first and that we shouldn’t encourage cats to come in. This convo goes around in circles for a while and the conversation does include Young-jin stating “but you’ve never seen them steal anything, have you?” and referring to the cats, of course.
Young-jin also says or admits that people are important but at no point does she [perhaps because she’s Korean or simply like most of the human race, a meat-eater] say that animals are AS important… At least not in so many words (and I’m simply going by the subtitles – more on that later***). This reviewer thought though, that perhaps Young-jin is trying to show that they are equally important.
Maybe she can’t SAY they are equally important! After all, why would she be both eating meat and breeding (I assume) those chickens?! Director Hong doesn’t quite show his stance on this and nor his characters’ but he doesn’t need to. Still, it’s my observation or observations that Earth’s ‘pecking order’, in my eyes is only semi-covered here!
There are lines like “but they’re not people” and “to us cats are like children” “neighbours are important – just as its important for cats to eat” but not ‘cats are human’s equals’.
Anyway, that’s enough of MMM’s feline feelings and vegetarian veering venting!
Therefore… from cats, and probably stray ones, there is also talk of a stray girl (see what @MiniMiniMovies did there?;) and that she ran off somewhere. Is this female who is spoken of the girl from the title? Who knows! And even if MMM did know, this writer’s lips would be sealed.
Next up or thereabouts, we see Gam-hee going to her next visiteeee – a woman again and old friend again. This acquaintance is Su-young (actress Song Seon-mi) who, of course she has also not seen for ages – well, how could Gam-hee do that if her husband is with her every day so far of her married life?!
Conversation ensues and indeed repeats on certain aspects. We also find out that too much coffee makes Gam-hee tired. Did Hong Sang-soo simply throw in that anomaly when his creative writing juices were in full flow, or perhaps simply hadn’t had enough caffeine to come up with an alternative life information or piece of character info? Either way, at least it is a line we haven’t already heard from Gam-hee.
Su-young explains how she got a massive discount on where she lives, and there is chit-chat about art, artists and/or the performing arts – it seems Su-young is the artistic one out of these two, or at least has some connection with the performing arts. She produces dance performances. In fact, Su-young states that the landlord gave her such a big rental discount because he likes to rent to artists.
And talking of art – well, they do and I am! – there is mention of how the mountain through Su-young’s window seemed like an old painting when she first visited the building or apartment.
Amongst other things talked about between Gam-hee and Su-young, subjects such as life in general, work and relationships are covered… and MEN. One memorable line or two from Su-young is “…but there are so few decent guys. And Koreans.. my god”. I could share my thoughts on this but I won’t, not right now anyway.
Gam-hee is also asked by Su-young whether she loves her husband. I’ll let you see the film to know what reply she gives.
There is also a man who appears briefly in these scenes with Su-young, and in fact when you get to the third and final act & third friend of Gam-hee’s there is another man moment. More on that last segment of the film shortly.
The film’s scenes are slow yet with dialogue which naturally fills the moments, even if it may feel like a scene is ‘dragging’. If it does feel that way to anyone who witnesses it, at least you’ll feel like it’s a longer film than its actual runtime of a little over 1 hour and 15 minutes.
However the movie feels, we are next taken to the 3rd of Gam-hee’s female pals. It’s this final segment of the film which, rather than spoil and describe in detail Mr MiniMiniMovie will simply pick out items of interest, not dissimilar to elsewhere and previously in this article.
So, Gam-hee meets the last female friend on a virtual list we imagine she carries and that one is Woo-jin.
Woo-jin is played by Kim Sae-byuk, someone who we’ve not only witnessed in quite a few films recently but also have an article or two on this very site, and not least an interview with her from when she visited London as part of a previous year’s London Korean Film Festival.
We’d even go as far as to say that we see a different or new side to Kim Sae-byuk’s acting skills, talent or indeed style.
Now, when Gam-hee meets Woo-jin they do the usual catch-up by friends who’ve not seen one another in a while, and this includes Gam-hee mentioning how skinny Woo-jin is. Funnily enough though, from the start of this film I thought how Gam-hee (well, Min-hee KIM / Kim Min-hee) and thin SHE looks, albeit wearing a tighter top than Kim Sae-byuk’s character Woo-jin.
The audience may wonder whether or even know the answer, but did something happen between Woo-jin and Gam-hee in the distant past? A shared man/’ex’? One may indeed wonder from a conversation which takes place.
One thing is for sure, this writer has been to the venue where Gam-hee and Woo-jin are! Yes, the place where Woo-jin works is where I have visited on the most recent of all my Korea trips. In the film though, Gam-hee has gone to this venue to see a film, and of course ultimately have a catch-up with friend, Woo-jin. However, I went there – to EMU/emu Artspace in Seoul – for a couple of hours of music, including friend and the always brilliant Gonne Choi (or Gonne Choi – Instagram). The music happens in the Panta Garage part of the venue. I was both surprised and delighted to see this place feature in Hong’s film.
All Instagram links to “emu Cinema” / “emu Art Space”:
We even see Gam-hee sitting through a film, in the cinema element of this venue. We also spy a certain man; translator; film critic; actor***.
Following the film, our two female stars converse over fruit, or at least one of them partakes in parting fruit [fruit-slicing], which is a much healthier choice than the copious amounts of meat alluded to, and in part shown at the start of this film.
Again, regarding EMU, even when we’re introduced to a man known as Seong-gu (played by Kwon Hae-hyo – another semi-regular actor of Hong Sang-soo’s movies) this reviewer seemed to recognise the outside area in which he is standing, perhaps waiting for his wife, Woo-jin to finish work, or simply to have a cigarette, wait and/or meet either Woo-jin or even Gam-hee. Keeping it as spoiler-free as one can, I’ll elaborate on this in a couple of paragraph’s time.
For now, let’s backtrack to Gam-hee and her habit of repeat herself – not necessarily to the same female friend but certainly throughout the film. Sure, she mentions how her husband and her not ever opening a day apart and/or the fact that he believes couples should stick together like glue, or similar allusions, but another thing which comes up is concerning Woo-jin’s husband Seong-gu. You see, it’s stated that he’s been seen on TV by characters in this film, but he only seems insincere and not as intelligent as he wants to, and not least BECAUSE he often REPEATS his spouted words, or words of so-called wisdom perhaps. Is this irony, especially when you consider Gam-hee’s verbal repetition? MMM thinks so, and maybe so does Hong Sang-soo.
Back though to the potentially juicy subject of Seong-gu waiting and smoking outside. We witness Gam-hee come outside to meet him and in their somewhat uncomfortable exchange she casually or ‘intentionally hurtfully’ tells him what she thinks of his repeating, spouting chatter whenever on TV. I saw this as a mini-revenge or simply a form of putting him in his place.
Whether Gam-hee and Seong-gu have any history or indeed whether they have any bad blood between them, we are soon near the very end of the film. In fact, you could say that it ends as a film within a film… within a venue.
We are perhaps left to think about a lot. Could it be her past or indeed her present and the man she’s married to? After all, does Gam-hee really love her husband – it’s asked of her in this film – or is she simply content, or falsely content?
Yes, is it really love? This question alone is something Mr MMM thought could relate to Kim Min-hee’s offscreen fling, romance or encounter with director Hong Sang-soo… Something which I cover a little in another review, that of the film “LUCKY CHAN-SIL” – such a film which also contains maybe ironies; parallels; history.
Seeing as I’m on the subject of possible or potential parallels, both films end in a cinema auditorium and/or finish on the screen of a film (within the film).
Overall, the story was quite good considering the relatively simple structure, although as with some other Hong Sang-soo films it may appeal to only a certain audience.
That said, being a filmmaker myself, it’s not necessarily who the film appeals to but whether it works and can be enjoyed by ‘some’. Art before mainstream, you could say.
With a few last words though, I will say that although I’m often in two minds as to whether I like Hong’s films, the style is unique and should be admired.
Besides, quite a few of his films are female heavy [not heavy females… quite the opposite!] and therefore feature women actors/characters, and in certain films I’m making or indeed have made (http://www.vimeo.com/channels/jasonverney) women are the most prominent if not the only gender in them. We may have other things in common too!
Speaking of things in common, in certain segments of “The Woman Who Ran” we see the use of, or talk of screens:
- A cinema screen
- TV – at least talk of male character, Seong-gu being on TV screens
- An intercom and its screen
- CCTV screens
It’s the latter one I’m interested in, and not only because the current film project [@Reparation_film]I’m producing features CCTV screens, but also…
It reminds me of one of the Bong Joon-ho short films which featured in the “BONG JOON-HO SHORTS” strand of the recent LKFF.
Finally, it’s worth recognising the nice music used in this film, which also went very well with the transitions between the movie’s 3 main sections and at the very end.
As well as “The Woman Who Ran” being shown as part of this year’s London Korean Film Festival it was scheduled to screen at a couple of Curzon Cinemas & is now available to stream via Curzon Home Cinema and from 20th December it will be available on the brilliant MUBI.com site (see MMM’s article too to find out which other Hong Sang-soo films are now available on Mubi) and courtesy of CMC Pictures.
*I know that Kim Min-hee is known not only for her acting skills but for her looks, face and more. However, I couldn’t detract from how skinny she seems in this film – I did wonder if it’s the industry, media or pressure. That said, MMM liaised with his friend after viewing the film and he thought she looked/looks fine! I’m not going to guess or suggest what he may have meant though. However, all these thoughts do come from the pen / keyboard of a skinny man, but I really must re-iterate how Min-hee seems to have a lack of ‘meat’ on her bones! [Animal eating pun intended, to go with what is written earlier in the review]. Yes, Min-hee carries the film but does she carry weight? Well, definitely enough visual a delight and gusto enough to sell the film, or appeal to many, I’m sure. After all, it’s her acting that counts.
**This is just from friends I know, research I’ve undertaken in the last decade and certain experience, but it’s perhaps also a widely known fact that some Koreans don’t always distinguish between what is meat, or even mammal and as such even when someone may state that they are a “Vegetarian” it’s sometimes believed that fish is still OK for a vegetarian to eat. Another example may be that a “Vegan” is a person who eats only fish, not that such things need to be labelled (such as “Pescatarian”) but these variables can cause confusion. To add salt to the fleshy or fishy wound, there is the fact that Kimchi contains an element of fish oil, and some vegetarians may still eat that. MMM will add a disclaimer here and say that Korea is not alone in such confusion.
***The man in question is Darcy Paquet, the very man responsible for subtitling the Oscar-winning “Parasite” by Bong Joon-ho and undertaking many other Korean film translations over the years. Yep, we see Darcy being yet another character in a Korean movie and sitting there reclining in the cinema, and ironically in a scene that features zero subtitles! Another thing to mention about Darcy Paquet is that it was he who created the first ever English language website for reviews of solely Korean film way back in 1999, and that website is https://www.koreanfilm.org – and last but not least, Darcy Paquet is the author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves, and the artistic director of the Wildflower Film Awards Korea.