Kim Jong-Kwan keeps things simple and succinct in his delightful drama The Table.
There’s a strange irony that comes with the manufactured comfort of a coffee shop. It’s the same kind you see when you stay at a hotel: that sense that you’re the only one here, no one has been here before and this chair was specifically curated for you. It’s easy to ignore the obvious signs, fall into the security that soft piano music and cushioned seats provide and forget you’re usually within earshot of the person right next to you.
The small window-facing titular table of this movie emits the same feeling, as well, and this is where we find ourselves, watching the personal lives of eight people, over four stories that happen over a single day. In the first one, two high school exes meet up, one of them (Jung Yu-Mi) now a famous film star. They discuss life, as well as her fame, but soon becomes apparent that the guy (Jung Joon-Won), who likes to tell people in his office they used to date, has ulterior reasons for inviting her.
The second story centres around two people who had a one night stand some time back. Since then, the guy (Jeon Sung-Woo) left to travel for a few months leaving the girl (Jung Eun-Chae) confused about the state of their relationship. Afterwards, the movie shifts to two women sharing a coffee. The younger one (Han Ye-Ri) is looking for a Fake Mother (Kim Hye-Ok) to attend her wedding, and finally the fourth story involves a woman (Lim Soo-Jung) meeting up with her ex-boyfriend (Yeon Woo-Jin), and proposes, before she marries later that year, that they have an affair.
That’s kind of it. Director Kim Jong-Kwan is primarily known for his short films, having done them for over a decade, and here he hones his craft even more, refining the stories enough that they can all be put side by side without it jarring the way a lot of similar omnibus movies do. This is largely thanks to the visual language he uses, and keep consistent (while remaining fresh enough to not bore the audience) throughout the movie. Small elements such as the café owner and the small white flower help tie the whole thing into a single cohesive narrative.
The actors all have a tonne of charisma, which is definitely a huge help in selling this movie. When there’s so little else happening, the way the cast deliver their lines and react to what is being said is key. Without that, the movie runs the risk of becoming slow, boring and entirely too uninteresting. Tjhankfully, it never goes down that dark path, instead giving us four conversations that somehow never feel forced, or like they’re trying to cram a tonne of exposition down our throats.
The writing is sharp like that, letting us in to these characters’ lives slowly, revealing their histories and their relationships to one another naturally. The third story – with the fake mother – was the one that took me the longest to comprehend because the idea of hiring family for your wedding in the UK is bonkers, which led me to initially believe the older woman was her real mother, but perhaps suffering from dementia.
The Table won’t be to everyone’s tastes; not a lot happens, which definitely works in the film’s favour, but I can definitely see this not appealing to a mass audience. It is a calm, peaceful movie that never strives for forced drama or edgy storytelling. It’s stylish in a way that doesn’t make you roll your eyes and at only seventy minutes, does not overstay its welcome. It keeps its stories short and sweet, filled with interesting – if a little bit heightened – characters, and I’m certainly glad I watched it.
Verdict: Filled with little character moments and quirks, The Table is a simple but touching glimpse into the lives of others
Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Fake mothers: This is still bizarre to me
Lessons: I now know how they say “yes” in India
Finished drinks: Like one? Maybe?
The Table (2016)
Also known as: 더 테이블
Director: Kim Jong-kwan
Writer: Kim Jong-kwan
Jung Yu-mi – Yu-jin
Han Ye-ri – Eun-hee
Jung Eun-chae – Kyung-jin
Im Soo-jung – Hye-gyeong
Kim Hye-ok – Sook-hee
Yeon Woo-jin – Woon-cheol
Jung Jun-won – Chang-seok
Jeon Sung-woo – Min-ho