For some inexplicable reason, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors never sits as well in my memory as I opine of it when watching the film. Perhaps because on initial viewing the Rashomon-like multiple perspective wore my tired brain down and I struggled to stay awake. However, I think that with each successive viewing, director Hong Sangsoo's third feature has the most depth that can be mined and so proves to be more interesting each time.
While the film is rather simple, originally set up as we watch one lover, the wealthy Jaehoon (Jung Bosuk) arrive at a hotel for an intimate rendezvous only to be seemingly stood up by the titular Soojung (Lee Eunjoo), a film writer, she then calls and offers some resistance to having sex before finally agreeing to meet him. And then we watch the events of their relationship, from their meeting to moment we meet them at the beginning of the film. And Virgin presents these events twice, once from each character's perspective, resulting in some differences in recalling the events, based on the perspective, as well as Soojung presenting facts that are previously untold during Jaehoon's perspective.
What this storytelling technique does is create a fission in how to interpret what we see and presents insight into each character by how they shape their memories. This creates very different interpersonal conflicts in the minds of both characters and even what they each choose to remember and recall presents differing values and ways of seeing each other. It also makes it a bit of a game trying to discern what the actual events that took place are, and yet, the way that the film is structured, perhaps that's not even what matters. When you combine that interesting intellectual dimension to the story of a relationship that begins and ends, complicated by Jaehoon and Soojung's mutual director friend, Youngsoo (Moon Sunggeun), and some of the factors arising from differing class statuses, Virgin becomes quite a layered multi-dimensional affair. On the other hand, the film could also feel a bit clinical in its smart character study due to Hong's detached observational style and strong sense of irony, which has greater resonance due to the multi-perspective storytelling.
With Virgin, Hong presents perhaps the first film in his oeuvre that really marks his overall thematic and stylistic approach, with a love triangle setup, filmmaking characters and comedy drawn from irony, especially of characters who convince themselves of their honesty via sincerity in order to relieve themselves of blame or guilt. But not until The Day He Arrives would Hong revisit the use of black and white as he uses in Virgin, which results in striking visuals and perhaps adding to the murkiness of the characters' memories by presenting the film only in shades of grey. As Hong has shown previously, he works well with his actors to bring life to his story, with Jung imparting a kind of oddness to Jaehoon's exterior pleasantness as well as Lee's placing Soojung in a default dour state and the other performers all seem to add something overall to the film. Finally, the music here is simple, a style that Hong will continue with for much of the rest of his filmography.
All that said, because of the numbers of layers presented by the story's bifurcation and because the movie essentially repeats itself, I think that Virgin is a hard sell to casual moviegoers and the films subtlety has a high potential for boredom for the impatient or unwilling to work at looking into the film's layers. Even so, those who already have an interest in Hong's film and well as more patient moviegoers as well as those who like mentally stimulating films will likely find Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors to be a film rich with rewards, with strong visual direction and performances as well as revealing in its effective use of multiple perspectives to make a statement of personal perception, character, values, communication, and memory, among other things. A fine film, even if not immediately as accessible as Hong's other films. 8/10.
- Additional Reviews: Koreanfilm.org