This is a description of the films of Hong Sang-soo, summarized by Phillip Lopate in the New York Review of Books, Dec. 7 2017: “The men tend to be loners, doggy-lustful yet timid seducers, alternating between commitment-aversion and needy clinging. Often they are film directors teaching in the academy and hitting on attractive female students. The women, ambitious to become actresses or filmmakers themselves, are typically looking for a mentor, a letter of recommendation, or a way to gain entry into the industry. So the power games begin.” Later in the essay, Lopate writes: “Hong has been called ‘The Korean Woody Allen’, as much to associate him with a more familiar brand–comedies about rationalizing males who receive a comeuppance–as for any real resemblance.”
I have not seen the films of Hong Sang-soo. I cannot compare my impression of his plots to Lopate’s. I’m struck by the fact that Lopate does not comment on this set of preoccupations in the work of this male artist at this time, socially and historically. I’m struck by the affectionate term “doggy-lustful.” What is that? A man who, given that he would typically find himself in the category of a loser, touches Lopate’s heart for still wanting to score with younger, beautiful females? I’m struck by the word “ambitious” to describe the younger females who want a place in the world and a way to be artists and have few options but to get with male losers who have power. Get with them and pretend interest in them beyond their capacity to help the women. I’m struck by the phrase, “So the power games begin.” What is the power the females have in this constellation? The ability to say yes or no? Yes can lead to professional advancement. No leads nowhere. I’m struck by Lopate’s summary of Woody Allen’s films as comedies where males receive comeuppance. When does this happen? It does not happen. Even if an Allen male hero doesn’t get the girl, his feelings and soulfulness are always the focus. Allen’s films are not investigations of male self-centeredness, they are expressions of it. They have also not been funny or sensitive to contemporary cultural shifts in decades. I don’t know what I would make of Sang-soo’s work. I might have a very different understanding from Lopate’s of the film director’s value as an artist and as a commentator on contemporary sexual mores. I am highlighting the kind of discourse this writing represents, where a male critic who is a mirror of the values and sensibilities of the male artist under discussion, sees nothing odd or jarring about the topics, sees only his reflection mirrored everywhere he looks, in the metal toaster, in the bathroom mirror, in the eyes of his fellow traveler.