On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)

On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)

A sometimes gentle, sometimes bracing meta confrontation of the real-life drama swirling behind the film

7.8

Movie

South Korea
Korean
Drama
2017
HONG SANG-SOO
Ahn Jae-hong, Gong Min-jeung, Han Ja-i
101 min

TLDR

An appropriate title — she does indeed appear on a beach at night alone — but not more appropriate than the number of gushing compliments Kim Min-hee receives in this film.

What it's about

An actress goes on an introspective journey following a scandalous affair with a married director.

The take

There’s an intriguing meta appeal to this drama, the plot of which is a thinly veiled reference to the scandal that erupted around South Korean director Hong Sang-soo and star Kim Min-hee’s extramarital affair. Here, Kim plays an actress who flees to Germany amidst a media storm swirling around a similar relationship and then returns home to skirt prying questions from friends and — maybe — confront her now-distant lover.

But beyond its references to salacious real life, On the Beach at Night Alone is also a fascinating conversational movie, one that explores with gentleness all the messy feelings that Kim is having in her physical and professional exile (offers of acting roles having dried up because of the scandal). That tone isn’t permanent, though, because the film reaches a violently emotional crescendo with two extremely raw and strange outbursts at dinner parties — a strangeness echoed by the lightning bolts of surreality that break up what is otherwise a naturalistic film (and filmography, for Hong). This might make an unconventional entry point if you’ve never seen a Hong film before (he’s averaged two films a year since 2017, so there are plenty of other options), but it’s an illuminating introduction for newcomers all the same, and a fascinating evolution for confirmed fans.

What stands out

Kim’s performance. There’s obvious bravery in taking on a role that so boldly confronts real-life experiences like this, but she gives a performance that would strike you even if the film was an entirely invented drama. Her talents are most glaring in those two aforementioned extraordinary releases of emotion, but she’s just as magnetic when working in the gentler register of the rest of the movie. No wonder the Berlin Film Festival awarded her the Silver Bear for Best Actress for her performance here.

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