Woman is the Future of Man (Hong, 2004)

A great title, but one which is unequivocally and purposefully lost on Hong’s male characters, illuminating the director’s interest with contradictions in romance and emotion. But what, if anything, does Woman is the Future of Man have to say about these ideas concerning lost love, guilt, and in-action? I’m still not sure. Hong’s trio of lost souls are a young filmmaker returning from America named Hyeon-gon, an Art professor named Mun-ho and their mutual muse Seon-hwa, a lovely but under-appreciated bar hostess who seems intermittently lost in the background, suffocating under the childish nature of her male cohorts. Hong uses flashbacks to show how both men become involved with Seon-hwa, and why these initial moments of resonance have filtered down to the present day reunion. The various men of Woman is the Future of Man consistently lack understanding or appreciation for the opposite sex, causing hidden guilt and trauma’s Hong only glimpses at through drunken interludes filled with panic and fear. Nostalgia becomes the driving force for Hong’s characters, both men looming after those special moments shared with Seon-hwa and never quite realizing how she might have felt during them in the first place. This might be the greatest indicator of the sadness Hong achieves with this film, a gradual understanding of heartache and loss the characters themselves never realize exists. Hong has a reverence for stasis, at least a visual one, which nicely mimics his character’s perpetual emotional rut. However, do these characters really transcend the genre traits (jealous boyfriend, cheating girlfriend, unseen wife, reclaiming the past) Hong seems to be depending on for effect? Do they achieve relevance throughout since his minimalist style and meandering story give the viewer little guidance in accepting these male characters as anything but whiney babies? Hong seems to be a filmmaker who doesn’t care, which makes Woman is the Future of Man an oddity for art house cinema and ultimately a frustrating film in general. Hong’s quirky score is the final straw in dealing with these contradictions of form and function. In the final shot, Mun-ho stands aimlessly in the snow after a brief sexual experience with a student, waiting for a taxi cab to take him home, a Wes Anderson like score clogging the air. It’s as if the situation has washed over Mun-ho again, as with every man in this film, and we are left with characters unchanged, and sadly not affected enough by the proceedings.

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