Yet another Korean film and yet another piece of cinema I find myself enamored with. While The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, manifests itself somewhat differently from many Korean films I have viewed, as well as those mentioned on the blog here, not because it is non-linear or multi-narrative, but because it is a work solely concerned within the tragic monotony of a few middle-class individuals in modern Seoul. In that aspect, it is similar to other films I have seen in its fear and frustrations resulting from improper dealings with modernity, however, the better portion of this film just depicts a group of people failing on a large scale. This is a poetic, highly sexual and incredibly watchable film, yet it is also a tragic film in which characters possess very few redemptive skills, lack the will to advance beyond their insufferable existence and constantly cross behind each other back to engage in devious monetary mismanagements and a seemingly unending set of infidelities. All that being said, director Hong Sang-soo in his debut manages to offer something so inherently realized and necessary that I am not surprised by its great success at the festival circuit and its constant mention in the various books on Korean cinema that I read. I am a bit bothered though by its lack of familiarity on a larger cinema scale, not only on the stage of world cinema, but within Korean cinematic history as well. Sure it is not Oldboy, or a classic Korean melodrama, but it is an opulently cinematic film that masks itself within the veneer of a gross and reprehensible set of characters, managing to create something that borders perfectly between disturbingly sparse and melodramatically grandiose. The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, is a work that should stand as a lesson in how to produce an independent work that is always and at once well-acted, forward thinking and earnestly reflective of its previous influences. While not one of the best made films by a long shot, perhaps a sounder made film does not exist.
The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, is a set of heavily interconnected stories about a group of individuals who exist within deceitful lives, in terms of monetary engagements, job related tasks and most importantly sexual exploits. Arguably the largest factor within this film centers around characters going behind one another to engage in sexual acts, whether it be a writer who is having an affair with his wife, by having sex with a woman who is having an affair with her husband. However, if this were all he was doing it would be one thing, the man also borrows money from one female only to turn around and give it to the person with whom he is having an affair. Another segment of the narrative focuses on the cuckolded husband as he makes a trip to Seoul for business, only to turn around and sleep with a prostitute, something that leads to him getting an unspecified venereal disease, which in turn leads his wife to realize that he too has cheated, even though she is guilty of similar actions on a far more frequent basis. We are even provided a glimpse into the writers other lover, who is head over heels about him, going so far as to buy him presents and swoon over him, yet when she comes to his apartment and finds him with another woman she becomes upset, leading him to chastise her and kick her around in the street. Eventually, by some means of absurdism the group comes together at what is assumed to be a wake or funeral, the levels of infidelity become clear yet little confrontation occurs. It is only in the end that the husband reasserts his masculinity upon his wife, but as the narrative suggests she has yet another relationship on the back burner. Also some people are killed at some point, but that is almost a trope within Korean cinema at this point.
I cannot begin to expand on the possibilities for interpretation within this film, one could always touch upon the fears of modernity within contemporary Korea, a theme that I have mentioned frequently on this blog, but these are obvious critiques something not worth reiterating at this time. I could even talk about the gender components in this film, because at times they are glaringly problematic, while in other moments they are quite revolutionary, however, I have an academic paper I am currently working on which will afford me that opportunity. Instead, I am going to glean something from an article on the film that I have yet to read that discusses temporality and repetition in the work. This seems to be a rather keen focus for this, film considering that it is essentially the same group of people, committing the same acts in somewhat similar spaces. In fact, the only separating factor appears to be time a very temporal thing, but one that serves to solely sever a direct tie between each act. Psychologically speaking this is what allows the characters to commit awful acts, ranging from money laundering to murder, a disconnect not by spacial awareness, but one of time, which I know makes little to no sense, but something about detaching oneself from a moment as it relates to spacial recognition is far more difficult than detaching oneself from a differing time period. An obvious example is how we often overlook previous acts of genocide, because if we were not there we would not have committed them, this film suggests the opposite of that notion to varying degrees. An individuals acts are contingent to a moment in time, we could all commit the crimes if they time, not the space allowed for its occurrence. I know I have not hashed this theory out very well, but it is something I want to look into more and perhaps reflect on better in a later review.
Key Scene: The means by which sexual acts abruptly intercept scenes is so jarring and appropriate that it might be one of my favorite uses of intercourse in a film to date.
This is yet another film suffering from region blocks, once again, making Youtube your best viewing source.