Yet another slight bunch of vignettes taking place in and around a coffee shop in Seoul, Grass is ever prolific Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo’s latest film to be released in the U.S.
It sketches out in four different ‘conversations.’ Clocking in at a brisk 66 minutes, the film sees the director’s ever-present muse, Kim Minhee, passively observing then participating in those conversations. Being in five of the last six Hong films, one can assume that Kim’s contribution to his artistry is only growing.
Here, she is still a beguiling beauty, but shows that she can be merciless and downright nasty when she wants to be, even without the help of a usual, heavy consumption of soju. Grass is not groundbreaking or anything, but it’s perhaps more cynical and darker than his other films. Still, Hong’s human comedy continues with slight variations each time with delicious results.
There is much discussion about death: the first conversation she eavesdrops on is from a young couple. Their chat starts harmlessly, then descends into emotional outbursts, the girl accusing the boy of their friend’s death. Then there is an old stage actor, whose attempted suicide over a woman left him jobless and homeless. But his pupil can’t bring herself to invite him to stay with her family. Areum makes assumptions and judges these people harshly in her thoughts.
Areum outright says that she is not a writer. She just writes for herself. He insists that they collaborate. And in order to do that, he needs to move in with her and spend 10 days observing her. Saved by her younger brother’s arrival, she excuses herself out of the conversation. On the street, she tells her brother with the tone of disgust how the actor came on to her.Grass at Berlinale.
He tries different things here and there; notably in Grass, there is an extended over the shoulder shot where we don’t see a man’s face, then the camera pans to see his shadow on the wall gesticulating as the conversation heats up. The usual chicken scratch titles are gone and replaced by what looks like xeroxed title cards. Yet these (no) stylings don’t add up to much, nor does dissonant classical music, that blares all over the dialog, which only serves more as an absurd comedic effect.
Review originally published, in slightly different form, during the New York Film Festival in September 2018. The film will open in select theaters in the U.S. on Friday, April 19, 2019, via Cinema Guild.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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