The score is 16 to 9. The frigid winter pilots attire and the monochrome condenses two sides to a story. Title card fades to a classical symphony — three people exit an art exhibit; the producer derides the stagnant linearity of art while the apprentice disagrees, goes on to praise the general idea in the static picture. A small Kyongbokgoong Palace stands before them; the apprentice dispenses an idea of visit but her intent is picayune to the wealth that tries to abuse or the ambition that tries to exploit. However, Hong plays on the measly variation betwixt chance and intent. Lovers walk into dark streets hoping to impress the destined other by ridicule, sweaters sheltering the bleak outskirts of desire in one and discomfort in the other; it does not work so a kiss lands, the polar excess spiraling the insincerity in time. Retake. Professionals talk in the editing room, two more scenes left at the terminal of a long morning. The director turns his eyes away from the screen, to his mentee with a primal gaze, secures the stipulation of time and takes his chance; a kiss lands, gentle and forgiving; the mistress reciprocates. Cut.
Hong visualizes the film’s title through several motifs of aesthetic and dialogue. He insists that we are more prone to incision of our memories than admittance of the unblemished. Our version will always have a manipulated corner so the story caters towards a warrant of self. The only device capable of an audit here is either broken, lost or out of service. One take exhibits the disparity between words and meaning through mistake and another, through approval. One shows the falling of a fork, another shows the descent of a spoon. A fork is after all a spoon with its parts molded, or is it? The most interesting part here is the only thing we as the viewers can do is to take a story, believe it and hide under doubt to avoid judgement.
However, I will concur that a span of two days is too soon a rewatch, as I distinctly recall almost every move of possession, every instance of projection; with which Hong’s male characters like to manipulate Soojung, and draw her to bed. A little resistance emanates, but as obligation converts to desire, she collapses into control. The cacophony echoes and I repeat through every chord.
It is a disappointment, almost, to see Hong’s extreme control over the screenplay slacken for a second pair of eyes. What could have been my most admired romance slows down; the label being transferred (at present) to Hong’s more accessible Turning Gate but even in its present state, Virgin is no less a piece of outstanding assembly. The secret is in the way the actors become characters and vice versa. The background is mostly silent but never inept. It says as much about the characters as it says about us as a whole. The pacing feels perfect but also tiring (as intended) and overwhelmingly ecstatic at times. The double-take display of Hong’s love for western cinema and music is not a new thing here as he has already infused great meaning to a poster (earlier) through mere camera handling.
Scene. The director whips toxic words at the camera operator over the phone, goes on to threaten his job if he does not make it tomorrow while also stating an audacious disapproval for the operator’s personal concerns. The operator rebukes, finds his way back to the room but the producer is at a loss of words, and fails to say anything. The operator throws a slap or two and reminds the producer that the seat is akin to him only because of his relation to the boss. Retake. The producer propels jarring words to the operator over the phone, goes on to put his job at danger if he does not make the deadline. The operator is outraged, finds his way to the room but the director shows regret, repents his actions and begs for forgiveness. The room stays silent. Cut. Black and white, snow and sweaters, loss and hope. Plot inversion is child’s play to Hong. The score is 16 to 10.