Academic journal article Post Script

Drift and Duration in Hong Sang-Soo's the Day a Pig Fell into the Well

Academic journal article Post Script

Drift and Duration in Hong Sang-Soo's the Day a Pig Fell into the Well

Article excerpt

"You do nothing, fate simply tosses you from place to place--it's so strange."

--Madame Ranevskaya in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1904)

"We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell."

--Peter Marwood (Paul McGann) in Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, UK 1987)

Praised by many film critics as "the best debut feature ever made in Korea," Hong Sang-soo's 1996 breakthrough The Day a Pig Fell into the Well [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) has thus far received scant attention in the United States and Europe outside of film festivals and a few scholarly articles by American, British, and French academics (Stephens F4-5). Although appreciated by aficionados of Korean film as both a significant intervention in cinematic form and a trenchant critique of middle-class consumption patterns and gender relations, Hong's work continues to be regarded as a rarefied glimpse into a social milieu fraught with ennui, callousness, obsession, narcissism, and misogyny--thematic aspects of contemporary South Korean cultural productions that may indeed alienate mainstream audiences in the West. However, in departing from conventional narrative formulas and foregrounding drift as a universal component of modern existence, The Day a Pig Fell into the Well provides an experiential approximation of the "anarchic juxtapositions, random encounters, multiple sensations, and uncontrollable meanings" (Charney, 49) that many viewers throughout the world can recognize, if not exactly appreciate, as emblematic symptoms of a twenty-first century world ruled by social disorder, psychological trauma, and emotional detachment.

If indeed drift is--as film theorist Leo Charney maintains--"a specific way to grasp and re-present experience," then its manifestation in cinematic form demands a phenomenological engagement with both the materiality of the medium and the liminal spaces of subjectivity located in a specific and appropriately "mobile" case study. Using Charney's book, Empty Moments: Cinema, Modernity, and Drift, as a springboard for an analysis of the nature of the cinematic medium, this essay examines some of the :dialectical relationships at the heart of Hong Sang-soo's multi-story film. By ruminating on the tension between the momentary and the continuous, waiting and wandering, and stasis and mobility in The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, this study will lend ballast to Charney's belief that drift is not merely a "forward stream," but rather an "erratic vagrancy, a structured wandering" not unlike the embodied experience of watching a motion picture, which is itself durational yet "studded with instantaneous flashes of consciousness and perception" (11). The collapsible binaries built into this particular film, then, provide opportunities for addressing the durational properties, spectatorial appeals, and structural integrity of Hong's works in general, which collectively present a bleak yet realistic portrait of life in South Korea's modern urban centers. Seoul especially functions as a site of ephemeral connections, of social and psychological disintegration, a cinematic cityscape that--much like The Day a Pig Fell into the Well--can only be grasped in fragments, in a discontinuous and distracted fashion.

What makes Hong's first feature unique, yet similar to its 1998 follow-up The Power of Kangwon Province ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and especially applicable to a discussion of cinematic drift, is its episodic cross-stitching of four discrete yet connected stories, each one separated by interstitial blackouts and populated with characters who enter and exit the text in ways that replicate the Modernist predilection for flaneurial movement across metro-spatial borders. Such diegetic drift--accompanied by moments of "mundane metaphysics'--contributes to the extradiegetic frustrations audiences may experience when viewing this frequently disturbing film, which shifts from quotidian scenes in which seemingly nothing happens to shocking eruptions of violent or abrasive behavior. …

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