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I had begun to start thinking that either my friend and I haven’t picked films outside our comfort zone at the Toronto International Film Festival or that the fest just didn’t let in bad movies. Truthfully, after two straight years, and a day, we had never experienced a film that we just both could not stand … even the boring and mean Margot at the Wedding had redeeming qualities of technical skill. Well all hypotheses on why were thrown out the window after screening the Korean film Jal aljido mothamyeonseo [Like You Know It All]. It started off as being an innocuous story with a narrative that mirrored the exact venue we sat in. Koo Gyung-nam, played with a naïve innocence by Tae-woo Kim, is a critical darling as far as directors go and was invited to sit on the judging panel of a film festival. The actual filmmaker, Sang-soo Hong, could not make our screening, at a real festival, however, because of an engagement teaching at a college, something the moderator thought we might find funny. Why? Because after the fictional fest, Koo finds himself guest teaching at a friend’s college too. Oh the irony.

So it’s all kind of cute with praise being thrown around, actors saying how great directors are and vice versa. But then the cattiness behind the scenes begins when a rival filmmaker, and old acquaintance, arrives, stealing some of Koo’s thunder. What proceeds from there is an overlong look at the industry that may hit the mark better with people in it rather than out. After using rape as a joke (twice), recycling actual verbal exchanges to be used in the second half, and just having stereotypes run amok, I lost interest fast and found the only thing getting me through was the occasional glance at my watch. You actually have Koo getting out of a car at the festival and later getting out of a car at the college, both times with almost the exact lines to the drivers and people meeting him. I know that this was supposed to show the utter banality and lack of intrigue the life of a celebrity has, going to event after event and repeating oneself constantly, but instead of being good commentary it just came off as lazy.

I hate to rail on a film because I know how much effort must have gone in and how many people may be very proud of their work, but I can’t second-guess the fact that I had a horrible experience watching it. I just don’t want others to suffer the same fate. I’d like to give the actors credit, though, because, looking back, I no longer believe their performances were amateurish. Instead, I think they just all played it over-the-top; exaggerating on the “fake” personas industry people must cultivate and keep up. One’s façade is all they have in this world; first impressions are huge. Case in point, a young actress introduces herself to Koo at a post-film party, telling him how great an auteur he is. She is attending with her mother in tow, trying so hard to be noticed and get her big break. We soon find out that she is a porn actress, and after meeting that rival director—who tells her he’s seen all her work—she becomes shy and embarrassed saying he should please forget all of that. But the innocent act is just that, an act. The group of panel judges and that actress all go to the one’s hotel room for a nightcap, which turns into a drinking contest. And after the other girl gets sick and runs to the bathroom, the actress just puts her arms up in a little victory dance. Maybe Hollywood-types are that immature and vain.

The kicker though is what transpires from this party. It ends up the girl in the bathroom is left there alone with an older painter, a man who is a self-proclaimed crazy drunk that retired to bed early so as not to harm anyone. What happens? Supposedly she is taken advantage of and raped while the others all went their separate ways. Glossed over until later, the act is almost used for laughs and, if that’s not bad enough, the subject matter finds its way back in the script later, this time concerning a student in the class Koo speaks at. I guess sex and indiscretion are a dime a dozen in the film world, but to use it in this way was abhorrent. The description written in the TIFF catalog says how the film is “often naughty”—I’m sorry, naughty is a stolen kiss or drunken night of consensual sex, not a heinous crime. Maybe it’s a cultural thing?

It doesn’t end there, however, as more and more happens at every turn … twice. Koo meets an old friend at the festival and also an old mentor at the college town. These encounters start well enough, an entertaining evening is had, but in the cyclical way the film goes, both also end horribly. The first goes in a very strange direction, with an awkward explanation to what goes on after Koo and the friend’s girlfriend think he is dead and decide to comfort each other. The next morning seems as though it was all a dream, Koo and his friend say goodbye genially, but shortly after the friend comes back wanting to kill him—so maybe it all did happen. I guess they were too drunk to feel a pulse? As for the second friend, well, if Koo slept with the first’s girl, I guess he has to sleep with the second one too. This is seriously how obvious and wrong the plot progression is. Every character is lacking in redeeming qualities and you can only hope they all get punished somehow in the end. I did like one moment at the college, however. A girl comes to class late, after Koo has started his film, and begins to hit on him, saying she’s seen the film already and is a fan of his. Once they get in the class, though, she raises her hand and asks point blank, “Why do you make films like this? You know no one understands them.” His deer-in-headlights reaction is priceless, learning once more how two-faced everyone is, himself more than the rest.

Jal aljido mothamyeonseo [Like You Know It All] 2/10

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photography:
Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

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