Director: Hong Sangsoo
Writer: Hong Sangsoo
Stars: Kim Minhee, Seo Younghwa, Song Seonmi, Kim Saebyuk, Lee Eunmi, Kwon Haehyo, Shin Seokho, Ha Seongguk
Synopsis: While her husband is on a business trip, Gamhee meets three of her friends. She visits the first two at their homes, and she runs into the third by chance at a movie theater. While they have a friendly conversation, as always, several currents flow independently above and below the surface of the sea.
There is something thoroughly enjoyable about the women-led film The Woman Who Ran. It may be its peaceful interactions between all the women in the movie – regardless of the context of their encounters. Or the evident disregard that the director/writer/editor/composer of the movie, Hong Sangsoo, has for the few men that appear on screen – who always appear with their backs to the camera. Or even the fact that the film is one of those where “nothing really happens”, but the smoothness in its content and its serenity provide a simple narrative one can easily relate to. These characteristics make The Woman Who Ran a distinguished entry in the selection of this year’s NYFF.
The secret weapon of the story is that it lingers in your mind once the credits stop rolling. The mere tranquility of the scenes and the tenderness of the women prove an ideal antidote to the craziness of these days. The movie follows Gamhee (director’s muse Kim Minhee) as she visits a couple of girlfriends for casual dinners, taking advantage of her free weekend while her husband is away on a business trip.
Soon it is evident that Hong Sangsoo is interested in portraying the normal state – a constant feature in his filmography – of the women’s existence through invigorating conversations, personal confessions, and overdue apologies. Everyone is comfortable with one another, just enjoying the company and exchanging ideas, and even when the situations become difficult, there is a palpable tenderness and maturity in the dialogues.
These gatherings take place in apartments, hallways, coffee shops, and movie theatres, showing the ordinary and calm state of the city of Seoul. Gamhee’s first visit is Youngsoon (Seo Younghwa) a recent divorcée that is adjusting to her new liberty and who shares an apartment with Youngji (Lee Eunmi).
The conversation between these friends soon diverts to recurring topics in the movie: the peculiarities of marriage and the toxicity of men. For example, Gamhee repeatedly explains that this is the first time she and her husband are apart after five years of marriage. Gamhee tells this piece of trivia to everyone she meets – who have incredulous reactions – working as the main piece of evidence in the theory that no matter the company, conversations tend to become repetitive and circular.
In addition, a little story narrated by Youngji sets the gender perspective: she tells them about a rooster that keeps biting the chickens’ necks only to show off and prove his strength. This results in the chickens having no fur in the back of their necks. Whether through this story or the few times they appear in the film, men are the source of discomfort and confrontation, although they are always deliciously dismissed by the women in the story.
Garmhee later visits Suyoung (Song Seonmi), a free-spirited woman who is focused on saving money, teaching Pilates, and exploring her new neighborhood. Her modern view on life and her keenness to explore an artistic way of life brings a completely different style and conversation from the one we witnessed before.
Lastly, Garmhee has a surprise encounter with an old acquaintance that wronged her in the past. Through this unexpected interaction – maybe the most interesting of them all – we get to learn more about our protagonist through past heartbreak and present contentedness. Woojin (Kim Saebyuk) is the most tragic character of them, having to deal with an obnoxious and self-centered husband that she now sees as shallow and off-putting. Precisely this chance meeting is the one that works as the perfect moment of catharsis for Garmhee, proving that losing may be the best victory when assessed from a distance.
The Woman Who Ran is a pleasurable glimpse into the life of a normal woman in Korea. Hong Sangsoo provides a sensible story about women where peace and equilibrium are the rules, but that is constantly interrupted by the appearance of unwanted men. The movie is simple and nondramatic, but this does not mean that the story is not complex or surrounded by tough issues. It is just that in this world of women, everything is treated with care and sensibility.