Self-reflexive helmer Hong Sang-soo’s increasing experimentation with multi-strand narratives reaches a negligible apogee with “Oki’s Movie.” Composed of four short films revolving around three characters who may be the same people throughout or variations of themselves, the pic revisits the director’s booze-soaked world of film insiders, examining a love triangle from various p.o.v.’s without making any of them especially interesting. One can only admire Hong’s ability to find his own milieu endlessly fascinating, but apart from an ever-dwindling fest fan base, and despite a significantly shorter running time than recent works, few will share this view.
The first short, “A Day for Incantation,” sees filmmaker Jingu (Lee Sun-kyun) scolded by his wife for drinking and smoking; discussing the death of cinema with film professor Song (Moon Sung-keun); and being humiliated at a Q&A by an ex-flame’s best friend. Latter is the one genuine laugh-out-loud moment in a film that rarely manages to be either affectingly melancholic or wryly amusing.
Jingu is again the focus of “King of Kisses,” here as a film student pining for the largely uninterested Oki (Jung Yumi) who may or may not be seeing prof Song. Chapter three, “After the Snowstorm,” is narrated by Song, a disillusioned filmmaker tired of teaching indifferent students. Only Oki and Jingu turn up for class following a blizzard, so the three engage in sophomoric discussions on the meaning of life.
The final segment gives the pic its name: “Oki’s Movie” is told from the female p.o.v. (unusual for Hong), and structured like a student film in which Oki literally parallels her simultaneous love affairs with student Jingu and professor Song. This and chapter one are the strongest of the four, though they all suffer from a slightness that rarely grabs hold of anyone’s imagination apart from Hong’s. Instead, there’s the usual disillusionment with life and the film world, compounded by unattainable or unfulfilling relationships and thwarted ambition. All worthy topics, but only the last chapter, which might work better as a stand-alone short, offers the sense of a complex person struggling to understand what she wants from love and life.
What should have been an intriguing structure, like a musical variation allowing for thought-provoking speculation on character continuity and the unpredictability of fate, simply feels limp. Perfs are solid, but with such uncharismatic male roles, there’s not much the thesps can do. Sound design is as basic as the stripped-down lensing, which Hong makes even more inelegant with his customary zooms. Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1” punctuates each section’s credits, an oddly rich choice considering the pic’s far more chamber-oriented sensibility.