by Jasmine Liu

Dir. Kim Taeyang, South Korea, no distributor

Mimang screened Sunday, March 17, at Museum of the Moving Image as part of First Look 2024.

A woman runs into a man she knows. She’s on her way to the Seoul Cinema, where she’s participating in a panel commemorating the centennial of the birth of Korean film; he’s lately taken up “urban sketching” and is en route to a meeting with his drawing teacher. He says that drawing has taught him a few things. You can’t erase your lines. You have to live with your mistakes. You have to finish what you start. And—what was the fourth thing? He can’t remember. “You haven’t changed a bit!” she teases. He’s still as forgetful as ever; everything repeats. “Around and around between noon and midnight,” she says, quoting something familiar, perhaps.

This is the first of several walk-and-talk sequences in Mimang, Kim Taeyang’s feature told in three chapters, each introduced with intertitles that gesture at an ambulatory wistfulness. Being lost is a condition of possibility, which the film’s characters practice half with intention and half by circumstance. The man and the woman who meet by chance are Mimang’s main characters, though there are others, all of whom are shown walking, with him or her, around the same few blocks. There’s his teacher, who is also his lover; there’s her colleague, possibly her lover. They ramble in an ordinary, daily way, trading in anecdotes, engaging in hypotheticals. Years later, our principal pair meets again—this time with a third person, now a taxi driver, to mourn the death of a friend from college they all knew. In the last section, loss inflects their indirection with poignancy, and we become freshly aware of the architecture that hems them in.

Initially, he is lost, getting off the subway at the wrong stop. Later, she is lost, unsure of how to get to the cinema—she is always lost, she confesses—and he assures her that one “learn[s] the way by getting lost.” Our unnamed pedestrians, wandering in the thicket of Seoul, see their city at street level. “It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness,” the French sociologist and priest Michel de Certeau wrote in The Practice of Everyday Life, and it is this restricted perspective, which functions both as social fact and something akin to spiritual faith, that informs the cosmology of Kim Taeyang’s debut.

Since they last met, important changes have taken place, and we find out about some of them. Her mother passed recently, an event which prompted her to get out of her relationship. He’s quit smoking (or, at least, says he has). These are people with opaquely entwined pasts. What of the future? When they go their own ways, it might occur to us how different their departure is from the frenzied, fumbled farewell at the end of Before Sunrise. No big goodbye, no plans to meet again. They treat their intimacy as another fact of life rather than as destiny. In their silences, there’s a resigned melancholy.

The film’s relationships feel hermetic, though we see something they can’t: how their conversations influence their conversations with others. There is much to admire in how plainly Taeyang explores this concept through exchanges about the statue of Admiral Yi, a neighborhood landmark. We learn at the beginning of the film that there’s been an outcry: the city is planning to remove the statue to widen the boulevard. As each of the three pedestrian pairs pass by it, they rehearse stories, repeating tidbits back to each other with small distortions of memory. The naval commander has a scabbard in his right hand because he’s left-handed, the film scholar recalls once being told by the artist-in-training. Hours later, he’s rattling off these same facts to his lover when she pipes in. Despite the statue, nobody actually knows if he was left-handed—isn’t this what he once told her? Later, the film scholar, tipsy after post-talk drinks, tells her colleague about Admiral Yi’s left-handedness. He corrects her, supplying the mislaid detail about how history never recorded his dominant hand. Everybody was forced to be right-handed in his day, so nobody knows what his true nature was; moreover, figures of his rank didn’t use their swords, which were purely ornamental; and the statue bears the face of its sculptor, not Admiral Yi. There are only passing shots of the statue itself. To the extent that history enters the film, it is more interested in the confused and idle gossip of walkers than the ideology of monument-makers, the chatty uncertainties of a history from below over the authority of history sanctioned by national presidents.

Rapid change of another sort is happening all around them. Mimang opens with scenes of large, scaffolded buildings undergoing construction. Looking for a subject to sketch, the two artists choose an unusual landscape to portray: a fenced-off site in the middle of a business district strewn with mounds of topsoil. It’s easy to get lost in this part of Seoul because the urban geography is transforming fast. There are designs on the city—some logic alien to the film operates in the background.

Resolutely at street level, we are barred access to the panoramic vantage point which belongs to planners and architects. This low-lying visual perspective rhymes with the limited impressions we get of our characters’ careers, romantic relationships, and histories with one another. They praise each other without knowing too many details about their accomplishments, and they speak in generalities about the people they are seeing and future plans. For the audience, the gaps are only wider. Returning to the city after a long day performing funerary rites, the film scholar, the artist, and the taxi driver agree to visit an old haunt—it might be a decade before they’re together again. The artist picks up the guitar and sings a song, their deceased friend’s old favorite. Before long, she is interrupted by a call, and has to leave and take care of her partner’s young son. Both her partner and his son are anonymous to us, encountered only in the shadows of her phone calls.

Such crucial parts of their lives remain outside the camera’s purview—spouses, responsibilities, forward movement, growth—solidities and structures constructive and destructive, resembling the modern buildings rising in the background. Mimang fixes itself to the horizontal axes of their interweaving existences, where the progressive narrative of their lives is frozen and recedes into the background, following its characters as they meander in the interstices of blueprints and maps that fail to register their footpaths.