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The Woman Who Ran review - toxic male alert | reviews, news & interviews

The Woman Who Ran review - toxic male alert

The Woman Who Ran review - toxic male alert

Hong Sang-soo's wry minimalist comedy eavesdrops on women discussing men

Table talk: Kim Min-hee and Song Seon-mi in 'The Woman Who Ran'

The dramatic developments in The Woman Who Ran, the 24th film written and directed by Hong Sang-soo since 1996, are mild to say the least.

The worst that befalls the protagonist, a romantically puzzled thirtysomething Seoul florist called Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee, Hong’s partner and muse), is a brief awkward meeting with a blasé older ex-lover, Mr. Jung. That the unease it elicits in her dogs the end of the movie shows how deftly Hong’s cinema ratchets up and sustains emotional states with minimal visual expressiveness or shifting of tone.

The film consists of three short sections in which Gam-hee converses with a different fellow middle- or lower-middle-class woman, each of whom has a disconcerting story to tell about a relationship with a man. Taking advantage of her husband’s rare absence on a business trip, she visits separately her old friends Young-soon (Seo Young-hwa) and Su-young (Song seon-mi); in the third part, she chances on a former acquaintance, Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk), who apologises to Gam-hee without great conviction, for having run off with Mr. Jung years before. 

The placid, kindly Young-soon is divorced and has moved to the outskirts of the city. The only one of these female characters who isn't bored, Young-soon tends her garden under the lee of a mountain. She has seemingly given up on men to live with a boyish woman roommate who cooks for them. The roommate's barbecuing of meat satisfies their guest Gam-hee's admitted craving for it, a Pinteresque touch that iterates how the unfussy metteur-en-scène Hong thinks more like a dramatist than a filmmaker. During Gam-hee’s visit, a new neighbour calls on Young-soon to demand she stop feeding the local cats since his wife is scared of them. Young-soon, supported by her roommate, reasonably refuses to comply with his wish. The first of the three toxic males Gam-hee meets on her holiday from her hubby, he issues a threat as he leaves. One hungry cat shows up to demonstrate dignity to him. (Pictured below: Kim Min-hee and Seo Young-hwa.) 

As Gam-hee talks across a table with each of the women, she tells them consecutively that she has been happily married for five years, but her mechanical repetition of her words suggests she is trying to convince herself. She can’t give a straight answer to the question “Do you love your husband?” when Su-Young asks her; it’s also strongly implied he’s abnormally possessive (Young-soon, for her part, couldn’t stand seeing her husband every day). 

When Gam-hee visits Su-young – a stylish, jaded pilates-instructor – she learns from her that she’s been drinking at a local bar. The first time she was there, she met a married (albeit separated) man she likes and who lives in her building. On another occasion, she met a poet she drunkenly went to bed with once. He has taken to stalking her and she to humiliating him for his need. Gam-hee watches Su-young sneering at him – toxic male number two – on her intercom video. If The Woman Who Ran is the most vaguely feminist of Hong’s recent films, it doesn’t sanctify women as spiteful as Su-young or as ruthless as Woo-jin.

The latter has become the proprietor of a small independent cinema where Gam-hee goes to a screening, hoping – consciously or not –she'll encounter Mr. Jung, now Woo-jin’s husband and a successful author. First, though, she runs into Woo-jin, who invites her to her back-office and complains at length about Mr. Jung’s having sold out as a pontificating, insincere TV pundit – in short, a bore.

Gam-hee echoes her sentiments when she chances on Mr. Jung having a smoke before he gives a talk to his fans in the cinema basement. Gam-hee may not have resolved her feelings about him, but she gets a glimpse of how worse things could have been for her had she ended up with him. Mr. Jung is played by the roué-ish Kwon Hae-hyo, who excelled as the adulterous intellectual writer and publisher opposite Kim (as the innocent new assistant he frames) in Hong’s splendidly boozy farce The Day After (2017). (Pictured below: Kim Min-hee and Kim Sae-byuk.)

The Woman Who Ran is perceptive about the gulf between men and women in contemporary Korea, though it’s universally applicable. Specifically, it’s a take-down of rampant male egotism viewed from the perspective of a woman tardily beginning to understand herself and the psychological complexities of her sex. 

In the first scene, Young-soon encourages a jittery young woman to do her best in the job interview to which she’s heading. It transpires she’s the daughter of another neighbour – a man identified with his rooster, which brutally pecks the neck feathers from the hens he mounts. When Gam-lee learns from Young-soon that the girl’s mother has fled her husband – and later sees the drunken girl collapsing into Su-Young’s arms on a CCTV screen – it’s hinted the mother is “the woman who ran”. If so, she could be laying a template for Gam-hee, who if she hasn’t split from her husband already – for all her blithe comments about their marriage – surely will.  

It's a take-down of rampant male egotism from the perspective of a woman beginning to understand herself


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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