On The Beach at Night Alone (2017) — Hong Sang-soo

What would it be like to have a camera following you up close and personal after a bad breakup?

iThe actress Kim Min-hee who was awarded the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Festival.

Hong Sang-soo’s films are like real life itself, the fundamental cinema goal. Not only because they are everywhere, since the director is one of the most productive filmmakers in the world. But because his stories are told with no special effects or no grand bombastic event, just a camera following people around.

In the case of ‘On The Beach at Night Alone’ (‘Bamui Haebyeoneseo Honja’/ ‘밤의 해변에서 혼자’), it introduces the character of Young-hee (Kim Min-hee), a famous Korean actress who goes to Germany to get over a scandalous affair with a married director. She seems to have loved him deeply, though we get the impression he doesn’t feel the same, prioritizing his own marriage over a scandal. Because of that, the first part depicts a melancholic heartbroken woman trying to find comfort by visiting an old friend in a foreign country, though being followed by the ghost of her ex-lover. In the second part, on the other hand, Young-hee starts putting herself together by resuming her acting career and hanging out with new and old friends to who she shouts everything she always held back. By the end of the movie, she wakes up at the beach alone after a night of heavy soju drinking and somehow we feel her relief as she looks around not trying too hard to understand where she is. It contrasts with the beginning, in which Young-hee exhales concern and restlessness. Maybe she finally got rid of the ghost of her affair. Still, throughout the entire narrative, she seems to feel this utter loneliness, which is felt by the spectator as Kim Min-hee pulls out one of her best performances, if not the best so far.

Hong Sang-soo must be a good director of actors, since his films depend so much on the acting getting the right feeling through. His works are like open journals into the life of the main character: intimate and subjective, though I’m not sure if subject to the camera’s judgement or the character’s. White light contrasts with the sobriety of people’s clothes and their attitudes, which are very relatable. The characters don’t overreact or take overdramatic turns, like we don’t normally do — most of the time — , unless soju, a Korean alcoholic distilled, if involved. Scenes of soju and eating are a specialty of the director and this movie doesn’t seem to disappoint. In other words, Hong Sang-soo’s ‘On The Beach at Night Alone’ is one more of his very personal; very real; very relatable tales of black and white amidst a sea of gray and soju.

This is a film recommended to fans of Ozu and those interested in this Korean filmmaker who goes in an opposite, more compassionate and ordinary, direction compared to that of Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook.