Hong Sang-soo Notarized: Yourself and Yours

English Title: Yourself and Yours
Korean Title: 당신자신과 당신의 것/Dangsinjasingwa dangsinui geot
Premiere Date: September 12, 2016
U.S. Release Year: 2020
Festival: Toronto, San Sebastian (Best Director)
Film Number: 18
First Viewing Number: 7
First Viewing Date: May 24, 2017
Viewing Number: 4
Ranking (at beginning of run): 1
Ranking (at end of run):
Film Number (including shorts): 21
First Viewing Number (including shorts): 7
Ranking (at beginning of run, including shorts): 1
Ranking (at end of run, including shorts):

Running Time: 86 minutes (19th longest)
Color/Black & White: Color
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Shooting Format: HD Video
Structure: Linear, possibly four unequal unmarked parts
Recurring Actors: Yoo Joon-sang (eighth appearance), Kim Eui-sung (sixth appearance), Kwon Hae-hyo (second appearance), Baek Hyeon-jin (second appearance), Lee Yoo-young (first appearance), Gong Min-jeong (first appearance)
Season: Summer
Weather: Sunny, rainy
Alcohol: Makgeolli, Max beer
Non-Alcoholic Drinks: Iced coffee, water
Food: Watermelon, pollock, noodle soup, spaghetti, salad, chips, squid
Drinking Scenes: 5
Creative People: Painter, film director, writer
Academia: N/A
Vacation: N/A
Dream Sequences: 2
Film Screening: N/A
Films Within Films: N/A
Q&A: N/A
Naps: 1
Family: Son-mother
Vehicle Scenes: N/A
Crying Scenes: 1
Number of Shots: 43
Number of Zooms: 17 out, 15 in
Music Style: Upbeat strings and tambourine, upbeat piano and horn and drum
Title Background: Gray paper/Black background with white text for closing credits
Voiceover: 1 (text message only)

Yourself and Yours has been my favorite Hong ever since I first saw it. I actually thought it was my fourth Hong, the one I saw after the first time where I understood what he was going for, Right Now, Wrong Then, but it was actually my seventh; by that SIFF screening I already loved and appreciated his work. But something about it, perhaps it being my first Hong in a theater, and perhaps aided by the guy a few seats over from me rocking back and forth in his chair at how annoyed he was at not understanding what was going on, totally transformed my perception of Hong. Sure, there’s an implicit urge to defend and champion the underappreciated works, even for a perennially underappreciated director like Hong — though I always cherish how it’s the other shared Hong in the top 3 of the Seattle Screen Scene trio of Sean, Evan, and I. I’ve always thought of the film as the forgotten one as the Kim Min-hee train began rolling, premiering randomly at TIFF and not getting distributed until Cinema Guild released it in 2020. But every time I watch it, I feel like my understanding changes and my total adoration deepens further. If this is my north star for Hong, the film that will always act as the representative of everything I love about him, it only shines the brighter with my fundamentally refreshed perspective on him, while still retaining the wondrous, inexplicably heart-melting core that it’s always had for me.

This is definitely one of the Hongs that I’ve discussed most with friends, so I’m not beginning with anything new by stating outright that this is Hong’s comedy-of-remarriage, or I guess comedy-of-recoupling to put it more accurately. The difference between the only other Hong that centers around a couple (if just structurally) that reforms at the end, The Power of Kangwon Province, isn’t just the difference between early Hong and middle Hong, but also the difference between someone who sees relationships as doomed and someone who sees relationships as full of boundless possibilities.

What makes Yourself and Yours so bewildering, even for those who love Hong, is that it’s maybe the only film of his that has an identifiable narrative gambit that isn’t inherent in the structure. While the film uses three cuts-to-black that don’t specifically signal a change in part, something that I don’t think he’s done anywhere else — one could speculate as to whether Min-jeong shifts identity during these junctures, though I don’t think so — there’s no other apparent structure that guides the film, though there are certain jumps that radically upset the viewer’s sense of the world of the film as surely as Min-jeong’s personas.

Speaking of which, I’ve come to feel on this watch that Yourself and Yours, even among people who adore it, is perhaps too much talked about in terms of wondering whether Min-jeong is telling the truth, whether she’s making it all up, and especially the confident assertion that she has a twin. As she says, in response to Sang-won’s feelings of anxiety, mystery, and fun, “knowing things is not as important as you think. Don’t you think?” a slyly paradoxical pair of sentences that nevertheless gets to the heart of this film and Hong’s work at large.

Indeed, the precise nature of each of her deceptions — which reminded me much more of a Rivettian heroine this time, toying with men through performance — actually shifts between parts. Min-jeong actually first appears on screen independently of Yeong-soo — they only share seven shots in the whole film, and two of them are part of a dream sequence — and, after first denying Jae-yong’s certainty that he’s seen her before, claims that she’s Min-jeong’s twin, an event which, contrary to my memory, happens before the couple’s separation, i.e. the separation is not directly responsible for this bit of persona swapping. Later, Min-jeong doesn’t offer any kind of claim of being a twin to Sang-won or to Yeong-soo when he finally catches up with her. While it’s fun to think that Min-jeong does actually have a twin who got in a fight at the Goldstar bar and may or may not substitute in during some of the scenes — I’ve thought that many times, and anything is possible in the world of Hong — I’ve now come around to another point of view, which only deepens the film for me.

But before getting to that, in the manner of Yourself and Yours which manages to fill a whole multiverse of loose ends, there’s so much that goes on around this relationship. Initially foregrounded is Yeong-soo’s ailing mother who refuses to eat; Yeong-soo, provided he kept his plans, goes to see her in the day-long gap when he also sustained his left foot injury. The initial discussion between him and Joong-haeng is fittingly downbeat and serious, only happening to veer into the rumor about Min-jeong which directly stems from Yeong-soo’s interest in marrying her. Later, Joong-haeng suggests that Yeong-soo is in a slightly crazy mood because of his mother, though it’s left purposely unclear whether she’s died, worsened, or merely in the state of refusal that she’s currently in, a structuring absence among so many.

Largely because of Evan’s formulation, which I generally agree with, I’ve seen Yourself and Yours as, by virtue of existing in the gaps between Hong’s first film with Kim and the rest of his ongoing collaboration, being in some ways haunted by her presence, where the absence of a centering character like her allows for more exploration and opportunities; I even wrote a Two Cents capsule for Reverse Shot about it. I still agree with that to some degree, though as I talked about yesterday I think there’s a lot more exploration in Right Now, Wrong Then than I gave it credit for.

One presence that Yourself and Yours definitively and retroactively feels haunted by, though, is Kim Joo-hyuk, who with Lee Yoo-young conceivably turn in the two greatest Hong performances ever, and certainly the best by non-regulars (Lee’s only appeared in one other to date). There’s an especially tragic reason for that: after the two of them started dating a few months after the film premiered, Kim died in a car accident a year later. His presence, which now to me feels like a significantly more self-aware and empathetically pitiable Lee Sun-kyun character, has always stuck with me, a more purposefully depressive take on the Hongian man. Some of this, of course, stems from his foot injury and the slow walking on crutches he has to do, which this time reminded me of nothing less than Chen Shiang-chyi in Goodbye, Dragon Inn. But his entire manner and loneliness are already moving even before this tragic occurrence; it’s like watching Leslie Cheung for me now, an inherent sadness that even extends to his funniest moments.

Make no mistake, Yourself and Yours is among the funniest Hongs to me, but it’s also one of the saddest, both going to extremes and then coming back to an equilibrium of unbelievably heightened emotion. The bedroom argument is among the rawest scenes Hong’s ever done, in large part because of its pacing, a continual shared inability to trust, though this time I found myself understanding Min-jeong much more than I had before. At least initially, Lee’s performance is fairly reminiscent of Jung Yu-mi’s characters, who Sean once cited as essentially acting as a female version of the Hongian man — with her unique twists of course; it’s also worth bringing up that the other time someone tried to get their partner to moderate their drinking was Jin-gu and his wife in Oki’s Movie, the gender is flipped here — but in this instance, unlike basically any other Hong to date, a greater sense of a relationship’s history bears down upon the argument, a series of recriminations and accusations that, at this juncture, can’t be resolved. That this is the first view of a couple, of an awful argument that, ultimately, boils down to lack of trust and the inability of Yeong-soo to decide whether to believe his friends or Min-jeong, simmers underneath everything to follow; the zoom-in as Yeong-soo collapses on his face is maybe Hong’s most singularly stunning.

I appreciated more this time how Kim Eui-sung as Joong-haeng seems to be playing a far kinder but more morose version of the friend he played in Hill of Freedom; he exists at the periphery of many scenes, cautiously going along with Yeong-soo on his visits and in general almost acting as the Hongian man version of a counselor, a veteran giving the new star advice on how to proceed; in that sense the view of love that he tries to impart to Yeong-soo while they’re drinking together comes from the perspective of the Hongian man who thinks everything in life is necessary, while Yeong-soo espouses a more whole-hearted, almost innocent or chivalrous view of a love that overshadows all. The first visit to Min-jeong’s house, with the nearly subliminal dream that takes place in one shot and the extended wondering about the running meter, is as funny and mundane as the next shot, of Min-jeong perhaps coming out to see who was there, perhaps just an imagination of her on Yeong-soo’s part, is spectral.

I forgot that there are actually two visits to the dress shop where Min-jeong works, though I’ve never forgotten that Hong holds on the shot as the worker there takes off the mannequin’s arms and then the dress, leaving it a bare torso; I’ve always thought of it in some way as related to the Venus de Milo, though I suppose Winged Victory of Samothrace is an equally likely possibility. After Yeong-soo walks away from the store, there’s an ambiguous shot of Min-jeong eating an Italian meal; of course it’s intended partly to underscore her subsequent claim to Sang-won that she hasn’t eaten, but it also acts as an odd potential reverse shot, Min-jeong potentially seeing Yeong-soo and deciding not to let him know she’s close. There’s also a totally random zoomed-in, out-of-focus shot of a pigeon right before Min-jeong tells Jae-young that she’s not interested in him anymore; there haven’t been many definitive breakups in Hong, and it’s incredibly funny that Kwon is on the receiving end.

In general, Kwon Hae-hyo, after already turning in a terrific performance in In Another Country, makes his decisive move into Hong’s company with ease; the first shot of him alone, unfolding his ridiculous bike and riding away, along with the zoom-in on him as he spots Min-jeong, is hilarious; his hair also seems to have rapidly grayed in just four years which makes his interactions with everyone else much funnier. It’s also very well worth noting that in both first meetings over iced coffee, Min-jeong appears to be reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which may have even inspired/caused her persona changes.

After Right Now, Wrong Then, which foregrounds the outsider status of its two leads, Yourself and Yours goes a great ways in establishing a stable, preexisting community with frequent interactions that probably only exists in his film school films, though artistry is subordinated here to relationships. Baek Hyeon-jin, the music producer from the end of The Day He Arrives, reappears here as the bartender, and his random gossip with other regulars about Min-jeong and his seeming willingness to play devil’s advocate is just delightful; I really love how separate the bar and the table feel in terms of space, as if the regulars are looking through a telescope at first Jae-young and then Sang-won, the two outsiders. Especially in his “section” of the film, Jae-young almost feels like our avatar in the film, someone tossed into the web of relationships and who can’t make heads or tails of it.

Something I noticed this time around is that, aside from Joong-haeng, Yeong-soo seems to be almost exclusively surrounded by strong, even tough women. There’s the woman who works at the dress shop, but there’s also the first two times he’s at the pollock restaurant. Young-soo’s friend’s quote “drink up, you pathetic men” is probably among the most deservedly beloved Hong lines — and a callback to Hahaha — and her casual dismissal of the differences between men and women, so central to Hong’s films before, is if not a sea change then an introduction of another perspective, which in some ways becomes crucial to the coda of the film. But there’s also the woman with the eye patch, who helps transpose Min-jeong’s narrative onto Yeong-soo’s current state by making him also wonder if he’s seen her before, with another mention of Hongik University to boot; it’s also brought up that Yeong-soo was once a womanizer himself, though it seems like he’s changed. Her left eye injury is of course implicitly connected with his left leg injury, and this time her inviting him to drink with her friends reminded me of when Seong-jun accepted in The Day He Arrives, which was also a makgeolli scene. He stays this time however, an acceptance of loneliness that extends to his vain attempt to text Min-jeong (which I had forgotten was in brief voiceover).

But what truly triggers the breakdown of categories of children and wolves, Min-jeong or her twin, even between man and woman (and what constitutes a “truly impressive man”), comes from the most unexpected and delightful of sources, Jae-young and Sang-won discovering each other. It’s always been one of the funniest Hong scenes to me, doubly so because they’re two of Hong’s great regulars (though Kwon predictably is actually older than Yoo), and the way they slowly realize each other’s identities after nearly coming to blows and engaging in basically a pissing contest is so amazing, as is the brief cut back after the couple leaves to them giddily reminiscing about their school days and the apparent drinking that middle school students got up to; it’s a type of friendship and male bonding that Hong usually doesn’t portray in such an unadulterated form.

What I really keyed in on this time, though, was Min-jeong’s extremely emotional reaction, along with her almost seeming to recognize Joong-haeng as she goes into the restroom. This time, I felt as if the collision and quick resolution of the two men she’s spent time with in the past few days was a shock to her system, a realization of the possibilities of rapprochement that she had been denying for the past week or so, causing her to temporarily drop her persona and lose the too-emotional insecurity that she had been embodying on with Sang-won, not to mention the confidence with Jae-young; all of this is sustained so brazenly and uncannily throughout the film that it’s truly astonishing to see it crumble virtually in the background.

Each of the last three scenes, on this watch, feels among the greatest film scenes I’ve ever seen, especially in both Hong’s writing and Kim and Lee’s acting. They all strike such a tentative, intimate balance, constantly shifting in terms of who has the initiative and in how much each is willing to give to the other person. What’s so striking is that Yeong-soo calls her Min-jeong far less than I remembered; his willingness to simply ask who she is, rather than the repeated insistence that the two men had before, ties so deeply into the nature of relationships, into how, as he said before, he tried to fully understand her; before, he fell into the trap of the Hongian man, using all these descriptions that might as well come from Our Sunhi to capture someone who, in her shifting personas, can’t be pinned down. This time, he only slips up a few times in even trying to assign her a name, which she never gives. It reminded me this time of the last part of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy; where it differs is in the total uncertainty of it, the way Min-jeong seems to resume being herself, asking what happened between them, and then rejecting it again, an interplay and a cautious negotiation that boils down to one thing: without Min-jeong or whoever looks like her, Yeong-soo has lost his direction. Just as he is curious in her, she is curious in him, a two-way street that extends to his plea to be able to try to hear everything about it even though she thinks he can’t bear it. Min-jeong’s assertion that she hasn’t done anything wrong could apply to so many things: to the Goldstar bar, to her running around with the two men, or even another universe of personal failings; “that’s how I’ve always lived.” This is all rectified by that most Hongian of requests: to get a drink, though unlike Min-jeong’s immortal quote they don’t drink to get drunk.

Instead, they end up in bed together, with their places in the bed swapped this time. There’s almost a fluidity of genders here and throughout, or at least gender roles: Min-jeong is the first to compliment Yeong-soo’s appearance, saying he’s cute; he says earlier that he had cried at the pollack restaurant before unprompted. The entire scene almost plays like a recitation of wedding vows; even though they had mutually agreed not to make promises, everything here is in some ways an affirmation: for him to believe in her — Yeong-soo finally makes the choice for his love rather than his friends which he couldn’t make before, to put his trust in real love instead of words and formalities — for her to maybe love him if what he says comes true, for him to never hurt her. What’s so key here is the tentativeness that signals a new beginning; even here they seem to slip and out of “character,” sometimes saying it’s the first time and sometimes implying a past history, though they end up both agreeing that no matter what, it feels like the first time. There’s also the strange ringing that Min-jeong hears briefly, which I swear gets very subtly overlaid on the soundtrack after she says it’s gone, as if she passed it on to Yeong-soo briefly, or even the viewer.

Then there’s the final shot, heralded by a rare but perfectly imperfect dissolve on the candle to indicate the passage of time. First, Yeong-soo wakes up alone; he had had two waking dreams before, one a beautiful reconciliation with the actual Min-jeong, and all signs, including dreams from Hongian men and women alike, point to this being another one, and it’s almost as if he recognizes that history himself in his slumped posture. Then Min-jeong comes in with a container of watermelon, which they agree is better than melons, which are sweeter, because these are more refreshing; they promise to eat it together often; Hong holds on this shot for seemingly a longer period of time, with little snatches of dialogue still under the music, before going to credits.

Each of these scenes feels like such a blessing to me, less a means of repudiating his past works than building on them and providing a better tomorrow. It’s so fitting to me that the truest romance in his films is rebuilt by one of his most inscrutable and outlandish conceits, where something so jarring is needed to reset their shared view of what a relationship means to them. Yeong-soo and Min-jeong talking so intimately, with so much joy and interest in each other’s eyes, is maybe the most gracious and loving image that Hong has ever conveyed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s