It would be difficult for anyone watching Kim Tae Yang’s debut feature film Mimang to not think about Celine Song’s Past Lives (2023). The two films are made by first-time Korean filmmakers and share similar premises of people who once knew each other in their youth and meet again after many years. But that’s where the similarities end. Instead, I found that Mimang shared more touchpoints with another debut film by yet another Korean filmmaker: Columbus (2017) by Kogonada. Both films share a keen sense of space and architecture and deftly explore their connections to history, memories and our relationship with the places and cities we inhabit.


The title “Mimang” can take on many meanings, as signposted through the three different chapters, and these meanings are useful in informing viewers the ideas in the film: 1) wandering, being unable to make sense from ignorance, 2) being unable to forget what one wants to forget, and 3) searching far and wide. Immediately after watching Mimang, I found myself researching the places the characters visited, hungry to learn more about these areas. A telephoto lens is used for the majority of the film, keeping us at a distance from the characters, but emphasising the environments they are in. The world-building of Seoul therefore feels natural and immersive. Euljiro 3-ga, the area featured in Part One of the film, is known as “handyman’s paradise” due to the number of hardware stores in that area. This was part of the government’s efforts to rebuild after the Korean war, where much of Seoul had been destroyed. Starting the film here, amidst the industrial nature of handyman shops feels appropriate as the events in the film play out.

In Part One, two former college friends, “She” (Lee Myungha) and “Him” (Ha Seongguk) run into each other and briefly catch up. We find out she has a career in film curation, and while he is also a cinephile, he has switched paths to study drawing in hopes that it will eventually lead to an urban sketching career. He has a good idea of the streets, while she alludes to how the constantly changing landscape and redevelopment of the city just keeps confusing her. They talk about the statue of Admiral Yi in the vicinity that is due for demolition, and this discussion comes up throughout the entire film, with the statue still there. The city keeps changing, yet it doesn’t. These characters have lives that keep changing, yet they are fundamentally still the same people they once knew… except that they aren’t. There is a palpable tension between the characters, hinting at their shared history, but just as quickly as they catch up, so too does that moment end without any fanfare as they return back into their lives. He returns to his partner (Jung Suji), while she continues on with her original plans for the day. We are denied any knowledge and therefore pathos from these characters and their relationship. This is something that could perplex viewers familiar with The Before trilogy and similar films and are hoping for something akin to it. Or perhaps, it is more to do with our own desire, our own projections for these encounters depicted in fiction to mean something instead of acknowledging mundanity that is more reflective of our reality. The real conflict of Mimang is not about the possibility of unfulfilled relationships, but between the characters and time. While most ‘walk-and-talk’ films explore the will-they-won’t-they romantic tension and possibilities between two people, Mimang is more interested in what has already been lost. It is more intellectually honest for it, but also more uncomfortably melancholic as we witness how these encounters between acquaintances are often nothing short of fleeting.


Part Two illustrates this idea of loss as inextricably linked through time the best. Mimang, the word, can also be translated to ‘widow’. She is hosting a screening of Mimang, also known as The Widow, a 1955 film that holds the distinction to be the first ever Korean feature directed by a woman, Park Nam-Ok. We learn that the final reel for the film went missing, and the sound is also missing from the second last film. She is asked by an audience member about the ending. She demurs a straightforward reply, saying, “I think it may be more interesting for the audience to imagine their own ending.” Ironically, her answer touches on the beauty of possibility but once again, the narrative denies the audience of any pathos. We learn that the cinema the screening is held at will be closing after a historic legacy. Just like the legacy of Park Nam-Ok’s film, even the place that is screening this forgotten film will also be doomed to be lost to time. Because the film plays with our shorthand knowledge of these walk-and-talk films, we think she will run into Him from Part One again. Instead, after the screening She runs into a member of the organising team (Park Bong Jun) as she is making her way back home. He expresses his interest in her, but she finds all sorts of reasons to turn him down. This starts off innocuously, only to become outright rejection as the man does not get the hint. There are many ways to read this exchange: it could be a commentary on dating culture or about men. But in relation to the film’s themes, She is deliberately cutting off any possibility of further communication and connection with this man. She is denying and subverting what this entire genre of films has fed to us, and it is perhaps a true reflection of our individualistic, information laden, productivity-driven culture of today.

This idea that sometimes old friends are just old friends, only to remain in the past is perhaps most heartbreakingly depicted in Part Three. She and Him meet again a few years after Part One at a mutual friend’s funeral. They make promises to meet each other more often, but the exchange, “now it takes someone to die or get married // we’re too young to meet at funerals” is a reminder that these encounters between old friends are less about what could be, and more about what no longer is. In the race against time, they don’t even realise that these relationships have long faded away. Part Three is also where the film breaks with its stylistic choice of telephoto lens and filming on the streets of Seoul. Where that distance between us and the characters puts us at a distance and allows us to see the characters objectively, the third act sees the camera in the confines of a car and then a cramped bar, placing us in such startling proximity with the characters that becomes jarring. This is a possibly polarising choice, but after so much distance from the characters in the first two acts, the dissonance that this directorial choice creates is welcome to reinforce the film’s ideas of how little we truly know about each other despite all the time we’ve had.


“This is a film about communication that disappears. We have better and better tools and less and less communication with each other. We only exchange information,” Krystof Kieślowski once said. He was referring to his film Three Colours: Red (1994), but it could very much be a description for Mimang’s central ideas. These people once knew everything about each other, but now have whole lives outside this one chance encounter. These chance encounters are not going to change their lives. Each of these characters are just paddling upstream against the inescapable passage of time, with histories and relationships diluted or eroded through this constant race against it. Mimang’s refusal of any emotional resolution or central narrative will be divisive and more likely leave most viewers cold, especially those who want the familiarity of a narrative like Past Lives. But if you accept the purpose of vignettes in storytelling and reject the easy comfort of nostalgia, you may find Mimang to be refreshingly authentic with its own brand of emotional honesty.