The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE | The Movie Waffler


A once popular Korean actress returns home to discuss a part with a director and break some news to her sister.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Hong Sang-soo

Starring: Lee Hye-young, Jo Yoon-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo

In Front of Your Face poster

Films tend to favour adapting novels rather than short stories, which has always seemed strange given the limited time you have to tell a story within a movie's running time. Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo writes his own movies, but they often feel like adaptations of short stories. A Sang-soo film will usually play out within a brief time frame and will be composed of less than a handful of scenes. His latest, In Front of Your Face, continues this template, and with its bittersweet ending it might be mistaken for an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story.

In Front of Your Face review

In what might be considered method casting, Sang-soo casts Lee Hye-young, an actress who was one of Korea's biggest stars in the 1980s, as Sang ok, a former movie star who moved to the US, presumably to make it in Hollywood, but ended up broke and working in a liquor store. Like the protagonist of Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World, Sang has returned home to break some major news to her sister Jeong (Jo Yoon-hee), but can't quite find the right moment.

The movie plays out roughly across two lengthy scenes with a brief intermission in which Sang visits her childhood home, now a café. Before then we watch as she spends the morning with Jeong, who is rather cold in her reaction to the details of how her once famous sister has spent the last few years. When the pair go the café run by Jeong, Sang spills some drink on her blouse but insists she doesn't need to change, despite having a meeting with a filmmaker who is interested in reviving her career schedule for the afternoon. Jeong is baffled by her sister's indifference, but the audience begins to surmise that something major must have happened to Sang to make her view life in this way.

In Front of Your Face review

The second half of the film concerns Sang's meeting with the filmmaker in question, Jae won (Sang-soo regular Kwon Hae-hyo). Jae won has acquired the keys to a pub for a private meeting/drinking session, and outlines his vision for how he intends to spark a comeback for Sang, regaling the actress with tales of how he fell in love with her screen persona. Sang bluntly asks the director if he wishes to sleep with her, and he answers with a very honest affirmation. The reason for Sang's bluntness is then revealed as she makes a revelation to Jae won.

What makes Sang-soo one of the finest writers of human speech in modern cinema is how he understands that conversations aren't always dialogues. We're all guilty at times of simply waiting for someone to stop talking so we can get our own point across, rather than actually listening to what the other party is saying. Sang-soo's films are filled with moments in which his characters try to make a point to someone who is too concerned with their response to really process what's being said. The second half of In Front of Your Face doubles down on this idea. [Spoiler alert] Sang's revelation is that she only has months to live, and in the classic fashion of the narcissistic artist, Jae won's reaction isn't to offer sympathy or aid but to begin to figure out how to work around this "problem." On the spot and fuelled by alcohol, he comes up with the idea of beginning to shoot the movie the following day, but Sang has been around the block enough times to know this probably isn't going to pan out.

In Front of Your Face review

Sang-soo is one of a very small group of filmmakers who can make a conversation cinematic. In the lengthy conversations found in his films it's often what's left unsaid that matters rather than what the characters feel comfortable discussing. Sang and Jeong's interaction is a classic example of this. Sang has something very important to say but doesn't know how to say it to someone it will likely upset. With Jae won however, she is at ease and breaks the somber news with a girlish laugh. Jae won doesn't mean anything to her and she knows the movie isn't going to get made, so why beat around the bush? Sang-soo closes his film with his heroine laughing to herself. Her ill health has made her realise that sometimes you just have to laugh. As Kris Kristofferson sang, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, and Sang has finally found true freedom.

In Front of Your Face
 is on MUBI UK now.

2022 movie reviews