In Front of Your Face – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director – Sang-soo Hong
Writer – Sang-soo Hong(screenwriter)
Stars – Yunhee Cho, Lee Hye-yeong, Hae-hyo Kwon
Part of the London Korean Film Festival
Screened on Sat 13 Nov, 6:00pm – Picturehouse Central
Showing as part of the rich and varied London Korean Film Festival, this is certainly minimal filmmaking and a far cry from the pyrotechnics of a superhero mainstream. With what might seem a slight narrative and understated acting, we follow the subject over the course of twenty-four hours, or thereabouts. Such slightness however proves deceptive and we are instead dealing with matters of great depth, all handled in a limited number of shots with just three key actors.
Sangok, the subject, has returned home to her native South Korea from a long period of absence in the USA. Formerly a successful actress, we see that she is now preoccupied and that she has a lot on her mind, using mindfulness exercises to achieve calm and focus. She comes to terms with a lot in her life in the course of a single day, the journey we follow. In common with the pale palette and subject matter of an artist like Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), little gestures count for a lot here – a raincoat has meaning, the drinks on the table have meaning. The occasional flashes of colour including a nightshirt jumps out at us. And needless to say every utterance, glance and gesture are similarly layered.
Sangok is clearly coming to terms with her past, although we may never learn what that past was. At times, in this soulful film, I could hear in my head the wistful lyrics of The Old House, that once popular and poignant ‘hit’ sung from the late 1930s – made popular by Count John McCormack (1884-1945). Not exactly a big hit in Korea, I imagine, but nonetheless its lines: ‘Sadly I wander through scenes of my childhood… Why stand I here like a ghost and a shadow? ‘Tis time I was movin’ ‘tis time I moved on….’ could in its way form a soundtrack to the slowly unfolding tale. A vain attempt to rekindle her film career affords us a mealtime meeting with an admiring director that blurs the personal and professional. Her infectious laugh cuts through the tension. At one point Sangok embraces a six-year-old girl warmly, a child now living in her childhood home. It is as if she speaks for all of us as she embraces an innocent version of her childhood self, now knowing the challenges and deceptions that lie in store.