See enough films by any director and you’ll start to think you’ve got a grip on the whole thing. See everything they’ve directed — “everything,” here, constitutes 17 features and three shorts that are in excess of half an hour — and expected pleasures are chief among the reasons for continuing the journey. Yourself and Yours is enjoyable the way every other Hong Sang-soo film is enjoyable: funny, relatable and emotionally honest, structurally innovative, and composed with a patient eye that favors the peaks and valleys of conversation over standard get-to-the-point construction. Here, though, he wields a sharper blade: in its defiance of internal logic, character motivation, or even a conventional understanding, the film’s narrative (about doubles or twins or doppelgängers or all or none) brings contemplation of romantic relationships’ hardest edges — those gaps between men and women that no one’s quite figured out, perhaps because they’re entirely irreparable — to a point more digestible than the standard dramatic formats of shouting, crying, confrontation, etc. Largely because it’s funny. Hong’s continued fixation on idiocy will never not hit this writer’s funny bone, and cultural barriers mean nothing; it’s among the few universal languages.
Yourself and Yours‘ initial scenarios double as character set-up and training for how the film may be watched, and while those learned in Hong’s cinema won’t find themselves especially shaken by what’s here — extended two-shots of dialogue are to the South Korean what an extended take is to, say, Alfonso Cuarón — it’s a bit dense, information-wise. First, Young-soo (Kim Joo-hyuk) discusses relationship problems with his girlfriend, Min-jung in an exchange that quickly turns comic — in this movie’s first contradiction, one that’s funny in a way not entirely believable in its frankness, yet all the more honest for that reason. And then a man confronts a woman (Lee Yoo-young) at a café, claiming to know her as Young-soo’s girlfriend, Min-jung — this exchange troubled for the fact that she claims a different identity than that which the man is hoisting upon her. This leads, in the next sequence, to a fight between Young-soo and Min-Jung — but, despite being played by the same actress in both instances, she claims not to have been present during the conversation. Was it her twin? A double? Or was this extremely naturalistic encounter a fantasy? Before long, many men encounter a woman who, despite being played by Lee in every instance, looks and sounds precisely like one they know.
Yourself and Yours is a movie of many mysteries, perhaps the greatest of which is how briskly a plethora of conversations about identity and history breeze by. Comparisons to Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy are most apt when the movie begins asking larger questions — not because they are posed, but because they, here as in there, are ultimately secondary to the pleasures of talking to another person.
Not that Hong is so keen on indulging pleasure for very long. Under these is a film about male arrogance and myopia, and a rather mean one, too, for how little sympathy is extended towards its men, no matter what has or hasn’t been established about them thus far. Does Min-jung have a drinking problem? We’d never know when Young-soo’s strategy is to berate her (the words “fucking bitch” had a way of silencing laughter in my screening awfully fast), just as the fallout makes clear that something else probably should have been done. More than grieve, he fantasizes about her in daydreams — sequences that only announce themselves as such once there’s been a repeat of Hong’s transitional trick (a zoom-pan that can alter one’s perspective and sense of space without calling attention to itself) — that, like just about any daydream ever, leave the dreamer alone and with nothing gained.
Arrogance and myopia manifest themselves in ways more comic, yet nevertheless uncomfortable for the depth of their adherence to real-life behavior. This is often a result of of Lee’s performance. I’d say it must be among the greatest Hong’s ever received from an actress, though “received” doesn’t feel quite right; it’s more an act of co-authorship, an immense trust between artists not to trip the other’s high-wire act. An entire viewing of Yourself and Yours could, perhaps should, be dedicated to Lee’s eyes, which never give away who she’s really playing yet remain a point of fixture due to the hope that some flash of truth might emanate from them and bring the entire enterprise crumbling down.
It’s Lee who binds together Yourself and Yours’ many parts, in turn making this film among the tightest in Hong’s repertoire. If he hasn’t quite made a huge leap in some time, his continued ability to find something new in narrative structure will always amaze — gradually rather than immediately, as only careful practitioners can.
Yourself and Yours screened at the New York Film Festival.