When it comes to the living spaces in which he situates his characters, the South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo is the anti-Nancy Meyers. In her romantic comedies, Meyers places her people in settings so impeccably spacious and kitted out that she’s sometimes said to serve up “real estate porn.” Hong’s more melancholy-infused explorations of love trouble unfold in unrelentingly plain environments. The boudoir here has no four-poster bed or even a headboard, just a single mattress on a box spring with an unstable pile of books nearby. At least the place is clean.
A Hong apartment almost invariably belongs to a guy whose romantic woes are of his own contriving, or fumbling. In the droll, enigmatic “Yourself and Yours” that guy is Young-soo (Kim Ju-hyuk), who lets the gossip of a “caring” friend go to his head. Told that his girlfriend, Min-jung (Lee Yoo-young), was seen drinking to excess and getting into a fight at a bar, he calls her on it, and in the ensuing argument she walks out on him.
Drinking is a big deal in Hong’s films. Characters do a lot of it, and self-consciously. This movie alone expends several minutes on characters expounding on how much is enough, how much is too much, whether imbibing is going to be done on this occasion or that. Min-jung, romping one afternoon with a filmmaker who’s just getting to know her, shrugs, “Don’t we drink to get drunk?”
The story spends much of its time following Young-soo in his abjection, which is well deserved — the female friend in Young-soo’s circle speaks a universal truth about Hong’s males, and perhaps the gender in general, when she pronounces “You men are really pathetic.” The more intriguing story line involves the female protagonist, or perhaps protagonists. Early in the movie, before even cutting off Young-soo, Lee’s character is sitting in a coffee shop. An older man is startled to see her, and approaches her, calling her Min-jung. She’s not Min-jung, she insists; she’s never heard of such a person.
A few minutes later she relents, and says, yes, she knows Min-jung — she’s her twin sister! The man is placated, but he’ll be agitated further when he happens upon her entertaining the aforementioned filmmaker.
The mystery is part of the movie’s fun, and because this is a Hong film, there’s no assurance it will be explained. Hong’s earlier films were realistic, minimalist comedic looks at romantic yearning and misery (almost always exacerbated by alcohol). In this phase of his career, he’s infusing his stories with magic realism elements either overtly (as in his 2018 movie “Claire’s Camera,” which he made after this picture, and which rests on a temporal conundrum that’s practically Borgesian) or implicitly, as in this film.
Hong’s formal confidence yields a movie that’s very simply constructed and utterly engrossing. There are a lot of scenes done in a single shot, usually static, but when there’s a zoom (his preferred camera flourish) it’s unfussy and direct. He puts you in tune with the world of his sad-sack characters immediately, and their rhythm becomes the rhythm of the story. By the end of the movie, we may suspect that one character has found an entirely novel and effective way of resetting a romantic relationship. Or that something weirder and creepier is going on. The pleasure is in not quite knowing.
Yourself and Yours
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Watch on virtual cinemas.