There is not a single close-up I can remember in all of “Woman on the Beach,” and that tells you something about the attitude of director Hong Sang-soo. The point of view is detached and strictly observant.
Hong, who first came to prominence with “The Day the Pig Fell into the Well,” refuses to hype his own story lines, so everything — even flirtation or a screaming fit — rolls out in the same measured way. Among other things, this means we watch as the characters squirm in and out of their lies.
The story is arranged in two parts that connect together. A self-centered filmmaker named Kim (Kim Seung-woo) goes to the beach, out of season, to write his new script. He takes along an assistant, and the assistant brings a girlfriend, Moon-sook (Ko Hyung-joung).
In an unmistakable act of mutual seduction, Kim and Moon-sook manage to get a romance kindled under the nose of the assistant. But this is only the beginning of the man-woman complications.
After his two companions leave the beach, Kim finds another woman (Song Sun-mi), who somewhat resembles Moon-sook. He “interviews” her, under the pretext of needing information for his script.
Even though it turns out she is not much like Moon-sook, the stage is set for another seduction — and for the spectacle of Kim trying to skirt around the truth when it comes to explaining certain awkward situations.
Hong Sang-soo has a special talent for capturing the nuances of dishonesty. He doesn’t let anybody off the hook.
He also gets the ambience of a beach-side town in the off-season, which is so depopulated it seems as though our handful of main characters are the only people on the planet. The air of missed chances and melancholy is palpable.
Even while liking the movie, you might at times wonder why things progress so slowly (“Woman on the Beach” goes just over two hours on a slim premise). But if you’re in the mood for a quiet winter day at the beach, this film summons up the right atmosphere.