Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (On the Beach at Night Alone)
South Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo may have made his most honest and introspective film yet. Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (On the Beach at Night Alone) made its world premiere at the 67th International Berlin Film Festival (a contender for the Golden Bear). Kim Minhee flawlessly portrays Younghee, an actress dealing with the separation from her much older married lover, a director. In part one, she hides out in Hamburg, Germany, wondering whether her love will join her. Part two, which comprises two-thirds of the action, takes place (an undisclosed amount of time later) in the peaceful Korean coastal city of Gangneung. Love, the loss of love and what that means, is on Younghee’s mind as she wanders through parks and beaches on two different continents.
Hong is on top form, presenting his unobtrusive long takes, zooming in and out, gentle panning and simple yet expressive dialogue. One might be surprised to know that he writes the script the morning of each shoot, giving the actors limited time with their lines. The conversations that Younghee and Jeeyoung (Seo Younghwa) share in Germany are natural and affecting, revealing Younghee’s desire to live sincerely, and the viewer is drawn into Younghee’s foreigner experience.
One can sense that Hong writes with such reflection and heartfelt honesty, considering what works well for each actor in each situation. Most of the heavy, intense conversations occur at the drinking table, while Younghee and her friends heavily consume makgeolli (rice liquor) and soju, all too common a scene in the director’s films (and in Korean society for that matter). Her casual drunken rants allow the protagonist to be frank about her disdain for men and love. At one point, Younghee tells her friends that she worries about becoming “…a strange, man-obsessed woman, like a monster”, when she meets a new man.
The bleak and dark mood is offset by some gentle moments: Younghee beautifully sings about her love, an unexpected kiss and when she delicately smells a flower. The transition leading up to the latter scene is lovely, a shot of Myungsoo’s (Jung Jaeyoung) hands sorting beans cuts to a close-up of Younghee’s hands, gently caressing a white cabbage flower. Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major swells as the camera slightly zooms out. This eloquent music lingers throughout the film and highlights Younghee’s solitude.
Although the structure of On the Beach at Night Alone is not as playful as Right Now, Wrong Then, it still manages to have some absurdist situations, mostly in the form of a faceless man who carries Younghee off – the same man who later appears voraciously washing the window on her balcony. The cinematography by Kim Hyungkoo and longtime collaborator Park Hongyeol adds to the naturalistic aesthetic.
Kim Minhee’s gloomy and bitter portrayal of the devastating effects of heartbreak and heartache is one that will stay with viewers; hers is a sincere, extraordinary performance that is subtle yet intense. Her presence alone is reason enough to watch this fine work of art.
Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (On the Beach at Night Alone) does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (On the Beach at Night Alone) here: