Even compared to the out-of-order letter pages of Hill of Freedom and the two-part narrative structure of Right Now, Wrong Then, the conceit at the heart of Hong Sang-soo’s latest droll romantic comedy of manners, Yourself and Yours, is a doozy: a woman who seemingly adopts different personas in front of different men, confusing everyone—including the audience—in the process. It’s a gimmick lifted out of the Luis Buñuel playbook, more or less: In his 1977 swan song That Obscure Object of Desire, Buñuel cast two different actresses in the same role, thus further emphasizing the main male character’s view of his love interest as fundamentally, frustratingly elusive. Hong may stick with only one actress possibly playing multiple roles, but the results are similarly playful, mysterious… and in some ways, revealing.
The confusion begins with some hearsay Youngsoo (Kim Ju-Hyuck) gets wind of about his girlfriend, Minjung (Lee You-young), having gone drinking without his knowledge and getting into a fight with another man—a rumor Minjung reacts to angrily when Youngsoo confronts her about it, but doesn’t definitively deny even as she demands some time apart from him. Just before this confrontation, however, we see the same woman tell a grey-haired stranger, Jaeyoung (Kwon Hae-hyo), that she’s not Minjung but a heretofore-unknown-to-him twin sister. But any hope that this potential bit of mistaken identity will clear up the rumor is dashed when she doesn’t even mention being a twin to another potential suitor, Sangwon (Yu Jun-sang), later on. And what of that one strange scene when a heartbroken Youngsoo tries to visit Minjung at her place, sees a woman that looks like her walking toward him and calling his name, but then simply turn his head back to the front door as if he hadn’t noticed her at all?
Don’t expect the central mystery of Yourself and Yours to be solved in any conventional way; after all, as Minjung herself—or maybe a version of her—says, “Knowing is not as important as we think.” But just as Hong used the contrasts between the two parts of Right Now, Wrong Then to possibly suggest one character’s troubled inner life, the gimmick at the heart of Yourself and Yours opens up a richly tantalizing character and thematic minefield. Perhaps (maybe-)Minjung’s complaints about how she doesn’t see any truly impressive men in the dating field indicates a motive for her game-playing, as does her characterization of most men as either “wolves” or “children.”
More germane to the film’s broader vision of romance is her admission that she doesn’t read people well, and that, after an initial well of raging passion on her part, she usually finds herself fleeing from potential suitors the minute she begins to notice flaws in them. In that way, Minjung is, in fact, a good match for Youngsoo, a former womanizer who finds himself becoming a lovesick puppy without Minjung around, and who, in his depression, gives voice to an idealistic vision of all-consuming romance that suggests a more benign version of the Albert Brooks character in Modern Romance. Though Hong elicits Youngsoo’s heartsick proclamations for comedy, to some extent he buys into the underlying romanticism. As ever, though, this South Korean auteur remains a realist about love. Amid the identity-shifting game-playing of Yourself and Yours, Hong’s view of relationships as founded on a necessary preservation of a certain degree of illusion comes through loud and clear.