Hit the Night (2017) – June 29, 2018
Hit the Night is an ultra-low budget comedy about a director who has an idea for a movie she wants to make. As research, she interviews a slightly older man about love, sex, and relationships (not necessarily in that order). Slowly it is revealed that she actually has a crush on the man, and the interview is her excuse to get closer to him. The first hour of the film consists of their conversation, spread over two locations, the nature of which would be familiar to any fan of Hong Sang-soo (drinks, snacks, awkwardness). But rather than mere imitation, director and star Jeong Ga-young seems to be reimagining Hong for a new generation, one less hung-up on traditional ideas of gender roles, while still suffering the anxieties of romance and loneliness. In fact, more than the obvious touchstone Hong, the film reminded me most of Wong Kai-wai’s Happy Together, though in visual style Jeong couldn’t be more opposite Wong and Christopher Doyle’s maximalism. The push-pull nature of the two leads’ ultimately doomed relationship, and the film’s strange turn in its final third, where a second man is introduced, along with a coda seemingly inspired by Days of Being Wild, show that Jeong has something far more interesting in mind than merely updating her prestigious countryman.
Heart (2020) — June 12, 2020
Jeong Ga-young's quest to define the post-Hongian meta-fictional Korean romantic comedy continues, this time directly confronting the entire idea of autobiographical cinema. And I do mean directly: a character asks her (playing a film director making a movie about the relationship trouble that comprises the first two-thirds of the film, in which Jeong also starred) why she wants to make a movie about her life, what does she hope to accomplish, and if she's worried that she'll become addicted to this kind of confessional filmmaking.
He cuts to the heart of personal filmmaking, of which Hong's On the Beach at Night Alone is maybe the best but certainly not the only, recent example. I can think of a few possible answers, some more convincing than others, but Jeong doesn't provide any. She just goes ahead with her plans to make the film anyway. "Being a director is great," she says, "you get to hassle actors and drink."
Nothing Serious (2021) – July 14, 2022
Jeong Ga-young has spent the past several years carving out a space for herself on the fringes of the international festival circuit with films like The Bitch on the Beach, Hit the Night, and Heart. With these meta-cinematic romantic comedies, often starring herself as a hard-drinking, straight-talking filmmaker with a complex love life, Jeong has done as much as anyone to define a new kind of post-Hong romantic cinema. But now, with Nothing Serious, she’s taken on a co-writer (Wang Hye-ji) and moved decidedly into the mainstream for a bright, colorful, resolutely conventional, and utterly entertaining romantic comedy.
Jeon Jong-seo, who memorably made her debut a few years ago in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, plays a 29 year old woman who loves drinking and sex and is distressed by the fact that her ex-boyfriend (they split up 3 years ago but have been still regularly hooking up ever since) is getting married. On a whim she tries out a dating app, where she is matched with Son Seok-koo, a writer who has just been assigned his magazine’s sex column, to his never-ending embarrassment. He too is getting over a break-up, and the couple bond over shared love of drinking soju and asking weird questions. He writes about their relationship in his column (keeping everyone’s anonymity) and it becomes a smash hit. But when she finds out about the columns, she ditches him. Will they find love in the end?
Of course they will. Because this is structured as exactly the movie you think it’s going to be. The only nod to Jeong’s indie roots is the dialogue’s explicit and frequent sexual references and profanity, giving the film something of the subversive charm of Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People or Bachelorette, or Pang Ho-cheung’s Love in a Puff and its sequels, similarly conventional films that breathed new life into old story structures with a linguistic frankness denied to filmmakers of earlier generations. As the Hollywood romantic comedy has spent the last decade and a half all but completely mired in the amiably structureless cul-de-sac of ad libbed Apatovianism (what would we have to show for ourselves without Nancy Myers?), Jeong’s turn to professionalism doesn’t rankle as much as it might have in more interesting times. Nothing Serious lacks the streak of deep-seated loathing (directed both inward and outward) or the riffs on life in front of and behind the camera, of her grittier early films, but it does, like the recent films of Ohku Akiko, capture something of the loneliness of being a single person in an increasingly interconnected and yet unavoidably artificial world. She’s simply too smart a filmmaker to make anything less than interesting, and thanks to a bigger budget and charming stars (Jeon is if possible even more electric than she was in Burning), Jeong has given us one of the most purely delightful pop movies in recent memory.