By Angelo Muredda
The more Seoul changes, the more it stays the same in Kim Taeyang’s understated and striking debut Mimang, which tracks the shifting fortunes and life milestones of a young illustrator and a film lecturer over a series of walks and drives through the city. Bantering and flirting, they muse about romantic and familial entanglements, career goals, and local monuments as the telephoto lens watches them drift in and out of crosswalks and alleyways, circling back to the same places and stories and points of conversation over a shoot that spanned several years. The result is a resolutely minor but often pretty photographic record of a city that is as much in flux as it is static, even if the central human drama doesn’t quite live up to the urban architecture and the opportunities for people-watching.
Though billed in the program notes as a cousin to Richard Linklater’s Before series, revisiting characters across fixed points in their lives over the course of different chapters rather than different films, Mimang is a muted affair compared to its more loquacious American counterparts, even if it is no less crammed with ideas. Its fresh-faced but somewhat dour cast could use some of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s livewire energy from those films, their chemistry feeling compelled by the machinations of the script rather than organically blossoming onscreen. Forced as the structural conceit and early chapters can feel at times, Kim wrings real pathos out of the melancholy last act, which finds the pair and another friend reconnecting in old dives over tangerines and beer, each moment haunted with the foreknowledge that this is likely the last time they’ll cross paths. As fussy as his dialogue can be, there’s also an observational keenness and wry sensibility to Kim’s slowly roaming camera, which ever so gingerly eavesdrops on the casual conversations of the city as much as it follows its protagonists.