The Movie Waffler New Release Review [MUBI] - THE WOMAN WHO RAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [MUBI] - THE WOMAN WHO RAN

The Woman Who Ran review
A woman leaves her husband's side for the first time in five years to visit old friends.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Hong Sang-soo

Starring: Kim Min-hee, Seo Young-hwa, Song Seon-mi, Kim Sae-byuk, Lee Eun-mi, Kwon Hae-hyo

The Woman Who Ran poster

I've long believed that the true mark of an actor's talent lies in how convincingly they portray the everyday task of eating. How many times have you seen a pampered movie star eat a cheeseburger in a way that betrays their uber healthy lifestyle, approaching the consumption of this fast food staple as if they had landed on Earth from another planet and were only just getting around to sampling our cuisine? James Garner was the ultimate screen eater. Just watch how as TV detective Jim Rockford, he wolfs down tacos as though craft services were on strike. There are scenes in his oeuvre where you can feel that he's concentrating more on his food than on his dialogue, more interested in licking hot sauce off his fingertips than in listening to whomever he's sharing the scene with. It's glorious.

In her latest collaboration with her offscreen partner and onscreen writer/director Hong Sang-soo, the ethereal actress Kim Min-hee does some fabulous eating, gorging on meat, taking the time to apply it between slices of lettuce to form some sort of weight conscious kebab; crunching into immaculately peeled apple slices; eating a chocolate sweet in tiny bites to make the small confection last as long as possible; using a fork to scrape the last bit of sauce from a bowl. As the film's protagonist, Gam-hee, she eats like a fugitive who believes every meal might be her last.

The Woman Who Ran review

And perhaps Gam-hee is a fugitive of sorts. Married for five years, she's only now gotten around to spending time away from her husband, taking advantage of his business trip to visit old friends and acquaintances, whose delight at seeing her once again varies.

Her first port of call is to Young-soon (Seo Young-hwa), who lives with a younger room-mate that we quickly assume to be her lesbian lover. Then she's off to artist Su-young (Song Seon-mi), who boasts of making huge sums of money but doesn't seem very happy for all her wealth. Finally Gam-hee drops into an arthouse cinema run by Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk), who it's implied once stole an old lover from her grasp.

The Woman Who Ran review

As is the custom with Sang-soo's work, The Woman Who Ran consists of a series of lengthy and seemingly innocuous conversations that can seem exasperating if you don't have the patience to hear him out. In her meetings with these women, Gam-hee gives little away about her life, giving stock answers to queries regarding her happiness and the state of her marriage. While the other women express jealousy at her seemingly contented life, Gam-hee appears equally envious of their freedom. In her encounter with Young-soon she seems to take inspiration when Young-soon refuses to give into a male neighbour's demands that she stop feeding the area's stray cats. Later she watches on CCTV as Su-young similarly asserts herself with a young poet who insists on trying to make something more of a one night stand.

Taking strength from these examples, Gam-hee stands up to Jung (Kwon Hae-hyo), her one-time lover, now a successful novelist and public speaker. Echoing the complaints of his own wife, Woo-jin, Gam-hee tells him he's a fraud who talks nonsense on TV but no longer has anything of value to say. Gam-hee seems to connect with Woo-jin's inability to stand up to her blowhard hubby, but is she substituting taking a stand for Woo-jin for facing off with her own husband, who comes across as a domineering plonker from the small nuggets we're fed?

The Woman Who Ran review

If The Woman Who Ran were made by certain other Korean filmmakers, we might begin to expect a twist where it's revealed that Gam-hee has murdered her husband, but Sang-soo isn't one for such obvious drama. Perhaps Gam-hee really is happy in her marriage and is simply taking this trip to fill a gap until the man she loves returns. Nah, I don't think so. Gam-hee is clearly a woman who is revelling in no longer being stifled and smothered, whether by love or something more proprietary. You can see it in how she eats, in the cheeky glint in her eyes when she sneaks a forbidden bite of bread during an arthouse screening. This is a woman who is enjoying breaking the rules in a movie by a filmmaker who similarly has never cared much about conventions.

As we've come to expect from Sang-soo, The Woman Who Ran is a film where very little happens during its running time, but its characters seem to continue existing beyond the closing credits. We suspect the real drama for Gam-hee will begin when she returns home, but Sang-soo will leave that for more unadventurous filmmakers to explore.

The Woman Who Ran is on MUBI UK from December 20th.

2020 movie reviews