THE ROAD TO THE RACETRACK (1991)
The nauseating repetitiveness of a toxic relationship, an extramarital affair descends into derogation and blackmail
When the ranks of Korean cinema baddies are assembled it is unlikely that The Road to the Racetrack’s R (Moon Sung-Geun) will feature.
After all, he is only a spiteful lover in a dying relationship. However, he resembles so much more. The arrogant academic who believes himself better than anyone else, specifically female peers. He is the form of controlling, venomous misogynist that has sullied so many relationships.
Beyond the film’s black bars, he is algorithmic of society, in this case Korean society, and the type of male that darkens the doors of many women.
After several years of study in France, R returns home and sees his family, including his children, who have no memory of him, with his son commenting that the academic simply “looks dull”.
His interactions with his estranged wife amount to nothing more than him demanding a divorce, even as the children try to sleep between them.
R is more interested in resuming his affair from France with J (Kang Soo-Yeon), a student who has also returned to Korea. The romantic spark of French amour has eroded in familiar surroundings. He accuses her of being a different woman, the blame being laid on her proving a familiar pattern.
Rather than rekindling, J more often leaves R at various hotels around Seoul, a place that R similarity insists is harsh and has changed beyond recognition. J’s head has been turned elsewhere and she implores R to go back to his wife and children.
Such relationships get locked in a certain circle of repetitive interactions. Here, we see R and J hock horns at various cafes and restaurants. Engaging in the type of conversations you would usually want to exit after mere seconds.
Running well over two hours, instead we find ourselves stuck in this relationship and R’s side-worry over his wife and children. How we would love to leave and the angst we feel grows as R becomes even more abhorrent.
For J – who is beautiful, intelligent and engaging – you feel like shouting at the screen for her to run for the hills, no matter what spiteful blackmail plan R has to keep her in check. Being locked in such relationships can happen to people of all guises.
Jang Sun-woo is a filmmaker that relishes challenging audiences in such ways. Six years later he would create Bad Movie, another lengthy feature, this time looking at the anger and depravity of Seoul’s youth. It takes a confident filmmaker to decide to make films with the express aim of upsetting the audience, but Jang has the ability to make this work.
Comparison have been made to the work of Hong Sang-soo. This seems to be true in the dialogue-heavy nature of The Road to the Racetrack, but Jang takes us in far more exigent directions.
Be lured in by the gentle openings of this film, but be prepared for its festering and expanding toxic nature, anchored by the increasingly vicious R.