In the four years since Yourself And Yours premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, Korean director Hong Sang-soo has made six additional features, all but the most recent of which have already been released in the U.S. What was the holdup on this one? In a sense, it can be considered reversion to the mean, as Hong used to secure American distribution for only about half of his prolific output. (As a matter of fact, another of his earlier films, 2014’s Hill Of Freedom, will finally escape the shelf next week.) Still, it’s a bit odd that Yourself And Yours in particular took so long to find a home here, since it’s constructed around what for most other filmmakers would constitute a high-concept premise—indeed, in Hitchcock’s hands, the same basic idea became Vertigo, now critics’ consensus choice for the greatest movie ever made. Hong’s typically low-key, idiosyncratic take seems unlikely to land on the next Sight And Sound list, trafficking in frustration more than mystery. But longtime fans of the filmmaker may enjoy the change of pace.
Said change includes the absence of Kim Min-hee, who’s appeared prominently in every film that Hong’s made since (and with whom he had a highly publicized affair). Instead, Lee Yoo-young plays the key female role here, though it’s difficult to know what name should be assigned to her character. At one point, she’s definitely a young, reportedly hard-drinking woman named Min-jung, whose boyfriend, Young-soo (the late Kim Joo-hyuk), has insisted that she restrict herself to no more than five drinks per day. (In Hong’s world, that’s serious restraint.) When middle-aged Jae-young (Hong regular Kwon Hae-hyo) encounters someone who looks exactly like her in a bar, however, and greets her as Min-jung, she initially says she has no idea what he’s talking about, then eventually claims to be Min-jung’s previously unknown identical twin. This same woman—or is it?—subsequently tells every man who professes to recognize her, including Young-soo, that she’s not the woman he thinks she is. Rather than attempt to remold her into their preferred image, however, à la Vertigo’s Scottie, these guys—even her boyfriend—ultimately choose to accept her as an entirely different person. (Though Jae-young understandably loses his cool when the “new” woman dumps him and then, when he happens upon her in their usual bar, claims never to have seen him before again.)
Viewers who cherish ambiguity will have no trouble finding plenty of it here, as Hong never explicitly tips his hand regarding this woman’s disputed identity. Still, the bit about the alleged identical twin—which plays like a hastily improvised new tack when Jae-young refuses to let the matter drop; she’s never so much as mentioned again—strongly suggests that Yourself And Yours is the story of someone who’s tired of being judged on the basis of her past behavior and simply decides to stop being that person. Hong doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with this idea, alas, other than repeat the cycle of bewilderment and acceptance with several different men. The premise has plenty of comedic potential, yet this is one of his least funny films; strangely, it also involves fewer alcohol-fueled outbursts than usual, even though Min-jung’s drinking problem, and Young-soo’s concern about her rumored propensity for getting shit-faced and flirting with other guys, serves as the dramatic catalyst. The film works best as a tale of romantic re-invention, in which a relationship that’s gone sour gets jump-started via starting over from scratch. But not only is there already a much better version of that story (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), there’s already a much better Korean version of that story as well (Kim Ki-duk’s Time). Though this is the only one that explicitly argues against any limit whatsoever on soju consumption. That’s very Hong.
Available in virtual theaters June 5.