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.