In the first half, Ji-sook and her two friends take a vacation from their schoolwork and the bustle of Seoul in the Kangwon Province. The girls meander through the pleasant region, offer prayers at a nearby temple and meet a friendly police officer. The next day they head up through some beautiful mountain trails and in the evening they get drunk. Several weeks after the vacation, Ji-sook returns for a date with the police officer. In the evening she gets drunk. In the morning she leaves. On the outbound train, she cries.
The second half begins without any obvious transition and focuses on Sang-kwon, a married professor who has recently ended an affair with a student and is currently drifting on low ambitions. His friend invites him on a vacation to the Kangwon Province and they enjoy the mountain hikes and grand views. Along the way Sang-kwon pursues a cultured young woman, but backs off after finding out that she’s married. Before returning home he spends the night with a prostitute and visits the local temple. Several weeks later he runs into his mistress and tries to reignite the affair, but she can’t have sex due to a difficult abortion. The couple parts once again and Sang-kwon returns to his office to stare at his lonely goldfish. Roll credits.
Did I mention that Sang-kwon’s former mistress was Ji-sook? The film doesn’t state this until they meet again in the last ten minutes. So was Ji-sook pregnant with Sang-kwon’s child? No, it was the police officer’s, but Ji-sook never told him. That’s probably why she was crying as she left Kangwon, but we never find out for sure. The audience doesn’t even find out she’s pregnant until Sang-kwon does, also in the last ten minutes. Did I mention that Ji-sook and Sang-kwon were at Kangwon at the same time, but always just barely failed to encounter each other? Did I forget to bring up that the cultured woman Sang-kwon hit on was probably murdered off-screen?
The film shows its low budget in its unadorned realist approach and naturalistic characters and environments. Hong works hard to keep his imagery interesting by choosing meticulous frames (many with beautiful asymmetries or distant backgrounds more interesting than the “relevant” foregrounds) within which to watch the minimal action. The editing is leisurely, and there are rarely any two shots that are immediately consecutive in time. Generally there is anywhere between a couple of minutes to a couple of weeks that disappear, almost incidentally, between the cuts. The effect forces the audience to realize that no matter how intimate the glimpses into the lives of the characters, we can never really know what goes on inside and around them. The hints, however, wet the appetite.