List (Hong Sangsoo, 2011)
With a few days to spare after wrapping the production of In Another Country, Hong Sangsoo and some of his crew and actors hung around and made this short film, which he’d agreed to do as part of the funding for the feature. Being Hong Sangsoo, of course he begins this short with exactly the same scene as In Another Country, wherein a young woman and her mother discuss their reasons for hiding out in a remote hotel in the wake of some family scandal. They’re annoyed, but determined to make the best of it. In the next shot, the young woman (Jung Yoomi, star of Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi) is sitting at a table writing in a notebook, we hear what she’s writing in voiceover. In In Another Country, she decides to write a screenplay about a woman she met at a film festival (to be played by Isabelle Huppert and rumored to have been inspired by Claire Denis). The rest of the film is made up of three stories about this character, which we understand to be different versions of the young woman’s script (and being a Hong film, of course the writer mixes them up, so that the three realities bleed together incongruously).
But in List, rather than write a screenplay, the young woman, Mihye, sets out an itinerary for what she wants to do that day. The twelve items on her list range from the mundane (see if there are tours through the mud flats, have lunch at a famous restaurant) to the whimsical (find someone to play badminton with, think of Prince Charming and have sweet dreams). As she sets out to accomplish everything on her list, she and her mother meet a famous director on the beach (Yu Junsang, the lifeguard from In Another Country) who proceeds to spend the rest of the day with them, having become instantly smitten with Mihye.
This director figure is an idealized version of the directors who prowl about almost all of Hong’s movies: he’s much more successful (his last film was seen by ten million people), he’s divorced (rather than a serial cheater), and he seems to genuinely just be a nice person. He and Mihye and her mother accomplish every item on the list, spending a perfect day and night on the beach, together. And then, Mihye wakes up: the day we’ve just seen was her dream, having fallen asleep after writing the initial list. The dream device looks ahead to Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, the feature Hong would make immediately after this one, with its reality continually being reset by its sleepy heroine. But it’s also of a piece with the other Hong/Jung movies: Oki’s Movie, where Oki creates a film about her complicated relationship with two men in an ultimately futile attempt to learn something about them; Our Sunhi, where Sunhi is sought after by three men, when all she really wants to do is move to America and make movies; and In Another Country, where she projects her complicated feelings about love onto another character inspired by another filmmaker. I like to think of Our Sunhi and In Another Country as the kind of movies Oki would have made, along with Lost in the Mountains, the short film that is to Oki’s Movie what List is to In Another Country. In List, the Jung/Oki figure dreams herself a perfect day, and the act of writing it down brings it to life, both in her mind and on our screen. The subtitle of the first section of Oki’s Movie is “A Day for Incantation” explicitly connecting filmmaking with magic, for Oki (who may have shot this section) and for Hong (who definitely did).
In the end, after Mihye wakes up, her mother joins her and checks out the list, reminding us of its contents as we realize that the preceding dream/film has fulfilled all of Mihye’s wishes. Initially her mother finds it too ambitious, but Mihye carefully points out the subtle wording of her desires (she doesn’t need to actually tour the mud flats, just see if they have them; she doesn’t need to meet Prince Charming, just think about him). Then the two set off to accomplish the list, to turn dreams into reality. But if they succeed, it’ll be off-screen. It’s a much brighter ending than Our Sunhi gives the Jung character, where, unable to deal with the competing claims of the (largely terrible) men who love her, she just erases herself out of the picture, leaving them alone in a vast fortress. In every film she ends up alone, making movies, and probably happy.