Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: YOURSELF AND YOURS Finds Hong Sang-soo in Wry and Perplexing Mood

By Pierce Conran

Celebrated indie auteur Hong Sang-soo returns to Toronto with his 18th film Yourself and Yours. Once again featuring artists boozing their way through a series of eateries as they lament over their personal woes, his latest work echoes the themes he's repeated throughout his career. Yet there's a darker than usual tone and less humanity on display here in a duplicitous narrative that appears to deliberately toy with its audience.

Yet to significantly deviate from his thematic and production style, Hong Sang-soo reached something of a peak last year with Right Now, Wrong Then. Considered one of his best films, though fans typically harbor vastly different favorites, the film afforded the cineaste his biggest bounty of awards yet, not to mention his biggest commercial hit in almost a decade.

After casting Kim Min-hee and Jung Jae-young to great effect there, Hong once again chooses two leads he's never worked with before in Yourself and Yours. Kim Joo-hyuk plays Young-soo, an artist who gets into a fight with his girlfriend Min-jung, played by Lee Yoo-young, when he learns that she's been spotted drinking with another man. He later seeks out Min-jung to make up with her, while she, or someone who looks like her, drinks with various men in small bars in Central Seoul.

Hong has played with perception in the past, most famously in Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors and Right Now, Wrong Then, in which the same narrative stretch is repeated with subtle differences. Nothing is explicitly repeated in Yourself and Yours, but the depiction of the female lead (or leads) presents a number of confounding deja vus and opens the door to a number of questions. Yet various visual clues hint that both women are indeed the same person. If true, this would make her, depending on one's point of view, one of Hong's most complex or negative characters.

His work is littered with flawed characters that are difficult to sympathize with, namely philandering male scholars and filmmakers, but Min-jung's behavior may prove more frustrating than enigmatic for most. Lee Yoo-young, whose prior roles have been more focused on disrobing than performing (The Fatal Encounter), brings her very best to the part. Min-jung may be impossible to pin down but she remains a realistic and oddly familiar creation throughout. Kim Joo-hyuk, known for romantic and dramatic parts for the past 15 years, impresses in his first ever indie role. Kim Eui-song, Yu Jun-sang and Kwon Hae-hyo, all Hong veterans, are excellent in supporting roles.

As ever, fans of Hong will find plenty to like in Yourself and Yours, namely its wry humor, but for the uninitiated, it proves to be one of the hardest entry points into the prolific filmmaker's work.


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