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From The Woman Who Ran (2020), dir. Hong Sang-soo (image courtesy Cinema Guild)

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Hong Sang-soo’s The Woman Who Ran is relatable for anyone in their 30s; there’s wine, hardly any major drama, and lots of discussion around apartments and cats. In three vignettes, Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) visits old friends. They indulge in small talk, have something to drink, and enjoy simple quotidian pleasures. By now, the prolific South Korean director has mastered elliptical narratives, finding different ways to make use of repetition in each film. With each segment, take note of how Gam-hee’s telling of her supposedly idyllic marriage is recited almost verbatim. As if going through a script, she explains how her husband has wanted them to always be together over the last five years — she says that he says, “People in love should always stick to each other.” Gam-hee seems pensive, even elusive, which casts a darker shade on her ponderings about love and happiness. 

Here Hong gives particular attention to closed spaces where women converse, while men are left at the door (often literally), their presence reduced to disturbances. Here, the usual type of Hong protagonist — an erudite middle-aged man who is either a writer or a director — is relegated to a brief and minor appearance. All his other familiar tropes are in place, especially convivial scenes oozing with intimacy. There’s also the invocation of the cinema as a safe harbor, a place to reconnect with oneself. After unexpectedly bumping into someone from her past, Gam-hee retreats to the comfort of a theater. At this moment, with such spaces tentatively reopening after a long lockdown, that’s an especially poignant experience for real-life audiences.

The Woman Who Ran is now playing in select theaters.

Ren Scateni

Ren Scateni is a writer, curator, and programmer. They mostly write about the cinema of Japan and other East Asian countries for various publications, including MUBI Notebook, Art Review, and Sight & Sound.

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