The man bumps into the woman by chance on the street. Two years before, they met and fell in love, but she was already dating his friend, and so they agreed to go their separate ways. Now, they pick up where they left off: Much talk is exchanged; copious amounts of soju are consumed; and awkward, uncooperative bodies come together for something less than connubial bliss. Then, one day, he suggests that they take their own lives, and she says, “Sure, why not?” So begins Korean director Hong Sang Soo’s Tale of Cinema (2005), though save for a few insignificant details, I might just as well be talking about any of Hong’s six delicately comic, painfully intimate dramas about the ecstasy and agony — almost always in that order — of male-female relationships. And yet, in Tale of Cinema that’s only the half of it, for midway through, the film takes an abrupt and unexpected turn into a sly, quizzical commentary on Hong’s own oeuvre, the power of movies, and the dramas we make of our everyday lives. A longtime critical favorite who has presented four of his films in the Official Selection at Cannes, Hong remains a largely unknown commodity in America, partly because none of his films have received commercial distribution and partly because he is as antithetical to the Zeitgeist of “extreme” Asian genre filmmaking as Eric Rohmer is to Rob Zombie. But this is shaping up as one of the most distinctive bodies of work in contemporary movies: Tale of Cinema is some kind of masterpiece. (UCLA Film and Television Archive; Fri., Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m. www.cinema.ucla.edu)
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