A romantic and philosophical muddle.
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Woman Is the Future of Man is doomed to infuriate, and its scrutiny of disconnected beings, filmed in long, hold-your-breath takes, might feel like old hat to anyone reared on Antonioni, yet Hong has a grace and stealth of his own, and his scenes tend to tilt in directions that few of us would dare to predict.
Taken as a film about muddling along, "Woman" never bores the viewer with indecisive filmmaking. Basically, it's an elegant jeu, played and constructed with an almost Gallic lightness heightened by Jeong Yong-jin's bursts of music, all bouncy piano and pizzicato.
Mr. Hong is not yet the equal of Mr. Antonioni, but it has become increasingly difficult to see intellectually stimulating, aesthetically bold films like this in American theaters.
We're accustomed to an omniscient understanding of what movie characters, particularly in dramas about love and loss, are thinking, but Hong distributes information with a saline drip. Often, of course, his two lonely fools don't quite know what they're thinking, either--Woman can sometimes come off like an introverted "Carnal Knowledge" with two Jack Nicholsons.
Behind the dry humor is a sense of hollowness in the two men who obliviously fall back into old patterns of reckless, loveless sex without missing a beat.
The danger in Hong's procedure is obvious. Dramatists learned long ago that it is risky to include a static character because he may so easily bore the audience.
Viewers not accustomed to Hong's style of leisurely paced filmmaking - long, static takes with lots of talking - might be tempted to leave early. If they stick around, however, they might find themselves becoming fans of the cerebral South Korean auteur.