Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: THE RUNNING ACTRESS Dashes to Victory

By Pierce Conran

Ever since picking up a Best New Actor Prize from the Venice International Film Festival for Oasis in 2002, Moon So-ri has been known as one of the top performers in the Korean film industry. Now, after impressing viewers and critics alike over the years, in a range of indie and commercial fare, Moon proves herself to be equally adept behind the camera, following the release of her charming, hilarious and at times poignant feature debut The Running Actress.

A three-part work, The Running Actress brings together the three short films Moon has made to date, each of which feature her playing herself. The Actress, screened at the Busan International Film Festival in 2014, features Moon going on a hike with some friends. Before long, the conversation turns to her stalling film career, as the aging actress is no longer being offered the same meaty roles. The Running Actress, screened at the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2015, sees Moon endure a series of chores and family tribulations over the course of a busy day. In The Best Director, once again screened at Busan in 2015, Moon attends the wake of a director, whose only film she starred in early in her career.

No matter how closely related their pieces are, omnibuses always run the risk of feeling disconnected but The Running Actress breaks that streak with a collection of stories which naturally feel like the beginning, middle and end of a story. Part one sets up Moon's style as a character and as a filmmaker as she establishes a careful blend of observational humor and personal anxieties. The middle section explores Moon's daily life to a deeper degree and introduces the various members of her family (including a cameo from her real-life husband, Save the Green Planet director Jang Joon-hwan), picking up on various stands hinted at in the first portion. The final part, exploring death and regret, with a hint of the absurd, is a fitting closing point to the narrative.

The low-budget yet handsome aesthetic of the film occasionally calls to mind the work of Hong Sangsoo (whom Moon has collaborated with many times), notably during a pair of lengthy drinking scenes which steadily grow more explosive. However, Moon adds her own signature early on, as each short features several the motif of Moon sitting in the back of her chauffeured car, throwing tantrums that can only be heard by her long-suffering manager.

Where Moon is more adventurous is with her camera, which finds ways to highlight Moon's emotional turmoil within the frame, such as when she escapes from her car and embodies the running (and screaming) actress of part two. Yet Moon's most obvious talent, both as a writer and as a filmmaker, is her knack for situational humor and coming timing. Through carefully threaded layers of social propriety and internal anxiety, Moon finds uproarious ways to cut through the hypocrisy of the film industry, not to mention Korean society at large, while in the process never letting herself off the hook.

The Running Actress, which bears the Korean title 'An Actress, Still Today', demonstrates how difficult it is for an actress (not to mention one approaching middle age), even one with the extraordinary talent and fame of Moon, to remain relevant. Given her convincing display here, both in front of and bending the came, one hopes that Moon could sidestep the patriarchal and conservative powers that be and write herself back into the game with a bigger follow-up.

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