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The Turning Gate (Sang-soo Hong) 2002


    Though it takes a while for its real emotional heft to be made apparent, Sang-soo Hong’s South Korean drama The Turning Gate eventually grows into an insightful and astutely realized examination of the ways that we accumulate the emotional baggage that we carry as we move through our romantic entanglements. As the movie opens, Kyung-soo, a fitfully employed actor, receives a call from an out of town old schoolmate who, in a drunken stupor, invites him to spend some time with him. With seemingly nothing better to do, Kyung-soo accepts this invitation, and upon meeting up with his old friend, the mood is tentative at best, though alcoholic and feminine distractions do a bit to close the rift that’s grown between the two. Soon however, those feminine distractions take over, and Kyung-soo finds himself devoting his attention to a young college freshman who begins to like him more than he likes her. The main irony in their relationship is that she was initially reluctant to get involved with him until he convinced her that he was interested in getting more than sex from her. Her naiveté is a detriment to her happiness, and without much apparent heartbreak, Kyung-soo heads off for home as scheduled after a few days, leaving her behind.


    Up until this point, The Turning Gate is a slightly quirky, sharply observed character study that examines many of the same psychological issues that stood at the center of Vertigo with none of the suspense elements that powered Hitchcock’s film. As Kyung-soo pursues a second serendipitous romance that immediately follows the first, he seems to be the more vigorous pursuer. After the second girl reveals a few startlingly coincidental details from her past, he begins to be drawn even closer to her, convinced that their coupling is resultant of some dictum of fate.  This new open-mindedness seems as informed by his earlier relationship as anything that the second girl says, however, and before long Kyung-soo is noticing coincidences and parallels between the two couplings that he almost definitely wouldn’t have noticed had he not been so smitten (though the question of which girl it is that he’s really smitten with is certainly a bone of contention). Because he’s so aware of his past misdeeds because of the way that they continue to influence his present, when he desperately confesses his love to the second woman, it’s as if he’s trying to make amends for every failed relationship that he’s had up until that point. The complexity of his character’s experience is cumulative, and develops only after we spend some time with him, and as a result The Turning Gate is a movie that begs for a second viewing, in which the viewer can reevaluate his early, seemingly unmotivated actions.


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Jeremy Heilman