[DVD REVIEWS]Like the weather, memories can change

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[DVD REVIEWS]Like the weather, memories can change

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000)

Directed by Hong Sang-su. Starring Lee Eun-ju, Jung Bo-seok and Moon Sung-keun

There has been a trend in Korea's art house cinema to depict "real life," which all too frequently means "real boring." "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors," however, is the real deal - a sophisticated and mature film about the messy edges of life.

Someone once said, "Of all liars, the most convincing is memory." This black and white film explores the gaps between what we think happens in our lives and what really happens (or at least what other people think happens). The film is, on the surface, the simple story of two men vying for the affections of the 24-year-old Yang Soo-jung (Lee Eun-ju). Soo-jung works for one of her suitors, the 37-year-old filmmaker Kwon Young-soo (Moon Sung-keun). Jae-hoon (Jung Bo-seok), the other bachelor, is 35 years old and wealthy (and, Young-soo hopes, an investor in his latest film).

Where the movie gets interesting, however, is in its structure. The story is told twice, first from Jae-hoon's perspective and then from Soo-jung's. The shifts in perspective are both intriguing and telling. At times, they remember the dialogue identically, but other times there are differences. In one memory a fork is dropped, in the other a spoon. Different beverages are drunk.

But there are also many significant differences. Jae-hoon's section is titled "Perhaps Accident." His relationship with Soo-jung begins when he bumps into her at Gyeongbok Palace in downtown Seoul. Soo-jung's section is titled "Perhaps Intention," and it seems that she deliberately orchestrated the meeting at the palace with Jae-hoon.

In Jae-hoon's world, he is mostly charming, if at times oblivious, Young-soo is an oafish drunk, but loyal, and Soo-jung is a difficult but innocent girl. In Soo-jung's story, however, we quickly learn that her life is much more wretched and troubled than Jae-hoon imagines. To her, Jae-hoon is more noticeably wealthy, and Young-soo is friendlier and more alive. The odd English title derives from a painting by Marcel Duchamp called "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even." The Korean title of the movie is much simpler: "Oh! Soo-jung." This is something of a pun: "Sujeong" usually means "crystal" when it is a girl's name, but it also can mean "fertilization."

The distributor Spectrum has put out a solid DVD. The English subtitles are clear, with very few grammar glitches. The DVD purports to be region 3 (Korea) only, but works fine on my region 1 player (Darcy Paquet's excellent Korean film Web site, www.koreanfilm.org, says the film is all-regions).

But there are a few drawbacks. The special features on this DVD do not have subtitles, and there is no information available about the director. But for such a fine film, these are minor complaints.

Hong Sang-soo has become one of Korea's leading directors. His other films - "The Power of Gangwon Province" and "The Day a Pig Fell in the Well" - are both fine, but on "Virgin Stripped Bare," Hong has surpassed himself.

by Mark Russell

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