The soju keeps on flowing — and so does the talk — in “Like You Know It All,” another playful exercise in liquor-lubricated truthtelling from Hong Sang-soo, and arguably his most broadly amusing work yet. After his overextended Parisian detour last year with “Night and Day,” the South Korean auteur is back on familiar geographical and comedic terrain with this two-part tale of a film director drawn into various awkward social and romantic configurations. Pic reps a tart treat for Hong’s fans at festivals and in limited arthouse runs but is unlikely to score him a wider following.
As might be surmised from its impudent jab of a title, “Like You Know It All” neither achieves nor aims for the melancholy perfection of Hong’s exquisite “Woman on the Beach” (2006); structurally, it feels like that film’s slightly inebriated cousin — looser, less elegant, possessed of a more overtly farcical sensibility. But like “Beach,” it shows the writer-helmer’s ongoing interest in making movies about artists, his eagerness to strip away their delusions and pretensions by subjecting them to rigorous comic scrutiny, primarily through their alternately flirtatious and tetchy exchanges with the opposite sex.
Korean male directors and the women they attempt to seduce have become Hong’s targets of choice, adding a dimension of self-critique that has rarely been as consistently funny as it is here. The director in this case is Ku (Kim Tae-woo), a filmmaker of some repute but little commercial success, who arrives in the South Korean town of Jecheon during the summer to serve on the jury of the local film festival.
Hong is a well-traveled veteran of the fest circuit and he has a lot of fun at its expense here, eliciting easy laughs with shots of Ku snoring through screenings. But the effect is less to mock the festival scene than to expose Ku as a craven hypocrite, prone to flattering others excessively and making promises he has little intention of keeping.
The usual Hongian hijinks ensue as Ku hangs out with his colleagues; naturally, there will be enough booze, scorn and unplanned emotional disclosures to go around the table. The film’s first half culminates in Ku’s reunion with an old friend, who invites him back to his house to dine with him and his young wife. What transpires next remains entirely offscreen; suffice it to say that the night ends badly and the morning after is even worse.
The second half picks up 12 days later, as Ku heads to Jeju Island to speak to a film class, to yet more humiliating effect. After another round of drinks and philosophical bull sessions, Ku runs into an even older friend, a painter, with a beautiful wife many years his junior, Gosun (Ko Hyun-jung).
Rather than forming a single, integrated narrative, the film’s two halves function as panels in a diptych, with countless points of narrative and thematic connection. In both instances, Ku receives a handwritten letter and initiates an exchange with a married woman that yields disastrous consequences. It’s unclear how a movie with so many strategic symmetries doesn’t wind up feeling pat and over-diagrammed, but in terms of both dialogue and pacing, there’s a wonderful messiness to the film’s leisurely, unpredictable rhythms.
Playing a woman with a hard-earned awareness of what she wants from a relationship, Ko is well matched with Kim. Latter essays one of Hong’s less toxic male specimens but manages to be frequently exasperating nonetheless (though his pensive voiceover balances the equation a bit). Both actors also appeared in “Woman on the Beach,” and their very different dynamic here raises the mind-tickling suggestion, for Hong acolytes, that the two films constitute a larger diptych themselves.
Visuals are of the helmer’s usual unadorned style, mostly medium shots situated to include two or three actors in the frame, abetted by occasional pans and zooms. Jeong Yong-jin’s score indulges from time to time in mildly Philip Glass-like repetitions.