Hong Sang Soo (#110 of 22)

Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

Comments Comments (...)

Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

Berlinale

Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

A melancholy air blows through every haunted frame of Hong Sang-soo's On the Beach at Night Alone, and it's a feeling wholly appropriate to evoking the headspace of its main character, Young-hee (Kim Min-hee). A former actress currently taking a professional break after an affair with a married filmmaker ended badly, Young-hee is seen in the film's first part wandering around Hamburg with an older friend, Jee-young (Seo Young-hwa), talking about their romantic desires and regrets with remarkable frankness. And the second part sees Young-hee meeting with various friends back in her home city of Gangneung, in a series of scenes which reveal the character's volatile mix of burning resentment and brutal self-awareness.

Busan International Film Festival 2015 Leopard Do Not Bite, Underground Fragrance, Look Love, & More

Comments Comments (...)

Busan International Film Festival 2015: Leopard Do Not Bite, Underground Fragrance, Look Love, & More

Asian Cinema Fund

Busan International Film Festival 2015: Leopard Do Not Bite, Underground Fragrance, Look Love, & More

This year, the Busan International Film Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary, drawing the largest attendance in its history despite massive budget overhauls. For a festival with a Korean identity, it was somewhat striking that the opening and closing films, Zubaan and Mountain Cry, came from India and China, respectively. Regardless, hoards of Korean cinephiles camped out in box-office lines that started at sunset, so as to get a chance to patronize a lineup that included new works from Jia Zhang-ke, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Claude Lelouch, Marco Bellocchio, Radu Jude, among others.

As much as the concurrent Asian Film Market (October 3—6) and the infamous late-night soju drinking parties added to its cultural and economic prestige, this is still a festival for audiences and cinephiles alike. From October 1 to 10, the atmosphere in Busan was imbued with the sublime energy of youthful ambition, which was evident if one took the moment to talk to any of the volunteers, many of whom dream of becoming filmmakers. The impressive array of 302 films from across the Asian continent, stretching from Iran to the Philippines and back, succeeded in creating what director Lee Yong-kwan called “the window to the world for Asian films.”

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe, & Hill of Freedom

Comments Comments (...)

Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe, & Hill of Freedom
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe, & Hill of Freedom

Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss collaborate on yet another fine quasi-thriller with Phoenix, about a concentration camp survivor, Nelly (Hoss), who undergoes facial reconstruction surgery for a wound and emerges unrecognized by Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), the husband who gave her up to the Gestapo. Well, not entirely unrecognized: He thinks she looks just enough like his presumably dead wife that she could pose as Nelly in order to receive her hefty inheritance. The performative scenes that result from Johnny's coaching elicit yet another spellbinding performance from Hoss, who always makes Nelly look as if she wants desperately for Johnny to see that it's her while also dreading what will happen if he figures the truth out. Further, the film uses this setup to make a keen, occasionally funny comment on the male gaze, as Johnny knows every small detail of his wife's body and movements, yet cannot put together the whole image of Nelly now that it no longer exactly matches up to his idealized memories.

Film Comment Selects 2014: Intruders Review

Comments Comments (...)

Film Comment Selects 2014: <em>Intruders</em> Review
Film Comment Selects 2014: <em>Intruders</em> Review

Following a disaffected writer seeking solace in some snowy South Korean mountains, Noh Young-seok's Intruders starts off in the familiar realm of the Hong Sang-soo comedy, with an anxious hero bedeviled by social awkwardness and the perils of soju consumption. Yet it's not long before things take a markedly morbid turn, the first of several switchbacks in this limber horror comedy, which grows increasingly intense without sacrificing the deadpan tone or its protagonist's increasingly huffy exhaustion. Using personal differences, economic rifts, and familiar city-versus-country conflicts to lay the groundwork for a complex murder mystery, Intruders remains a consistently entertaining and surprising sophomore effort.

The film opens on lone traveler, Sang Jin (Jun Suk-ho), who's trekking up to a friend's bed and breakfast—closed for the winter—to finish up a writing project. Any expectations of peace and quiet are shattered, however, once his bus ride puts him in the orbit of the bedraggled, menacingly friendly Hak Soo (Oh Tae-kyung), fresh out of prison and desperate for conversation. Jin extricates himself, but after a pair of weirdo hunters turns his peaceful isolation into something more unsettling, he allows a band of unruly young skiers to rent out the other cabins. All this seems intended to disrupt our devoted author's creative process, but it soon becomes apparent that there are much worse things in store.

Film Comment Selects 2014: Our Sunhi Review

Comments Comments (...)

Film Comment Selects 2014: <em>Our Sunhi</em> Review
Film Comment Selects 2014: <em>Our Sunhi</em> Review

Professional uncertainty sparks the lithe narrative of Hong Sang-soo's latest wry relationship comedy, Our Sunhi. The film's eponymous filmmaker (Jeong Yu-mi) is considering going abroad to the States for further schooling, but quietly fears the routine of education and its comforts. Returning to her alma matter, she seeks a glowing recommendation from her former professor, Choi (Kim Su-ro), and Hong, in a familiar narrative tactic, throws all manner of romantic entanglement into Sunhi's two-day visit. A past of repressed feelings and bad trysts is summoned, but the conversations between Sunhi and her men seem to pivot more on questions of a sustainable career in filmmaking.

Themselves often filmmakers and film scholars, Hong's men have a tendency to envision women as controllable characters in their own narrative, as symbols of hope and inspiration, which the director often cannily upends. Hong has always been in danger of simplifying his female characters in similar ways, defining their world with less insight and nuance than his men, but Jeong's performance radiates with a steeled logic even as her character seems vulnerable in her own ambitions. (Or is it a need to put off an attempt at an artistic career by opting to extend an intellectual pursuit?) Choi's recommendation letter goes from a warm but wobbly endorsement to a full-throated praise of prodigious talent after they spend a drunken night of romantic confessions and making out.

Viennale 2013 Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Gold, Demolition, Three Landscapes, & Our Sunhi

Comments Comments (...)

Viennale 2013: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Gold, Demolition, Three Landscapes, & Our Sunhi
Viennale 2013: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Gold, Demolition, Three Landscapes, & Our Sunhi

Though “Safety Last!” was the name given by the Viennale this year to a special program compiling 12 Will Ferrell sketches from Saturday Night Live, it could have also titled an unofficial subsection of films during this year's festival. We're now past the midway point of the 51st Viennale, and I've already seen a number of features and documentaries in which people endure—or see themselves perilously close to enduring—profound hazards to their bodies.

Two such films premiered (and invited unlikely comparisons) at the Berlinale earlier this year: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, by Quebecois writer-director Denis Côté, and Gold, a Canada-set western by German filmmaker Thomas Arslan. Both works contain a scene involving the lethal jaws of a bear trap. In Vic + Flo, the snap brings the film's tonal peculiarity and suggestive menace to a logical endpoint, whereas in Gold it sends one of its more intriguing characters to an early death.

The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: Alps, The Day He Arrives, The Sheik and I, Twixt, & More

Comments Comments (...)

The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: <em>Alps</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Sheik and I</em>, <em>Twixt</em>, & More
The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: <em>Alps</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Sheik and I</em>, <em>Twixt</em>, & More

Rounding out its 55th year, the generally celebratory San Francisco International Film Festival seemed to open on a melancholy note, with the deaths of two illustrious film-culture stalwarts still fresh in the memories of local cinephiles: Graham Leggat, who had since 2005 been the San Francisco Film Society's executive director, succumbed to cancer last year; and Bingham Ray, a veteran force in the indie circuit who'd agreed to take over the position, passed away in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Just as Nietzsche envisioned art as “the redeeming, healing enchantress” that could confront despair, it was up to cinema then to alleviate the event's potentially mournful mood. Indeed, the titles chosen to pay tribute to the two men—Benoit Jacquot's unusual Versailles-set drama Farewell, My Queen, which opened the festival in dedication to Leggat, and Carol Reed's sardonic 1949 masterpiece The Third Man, reportedly Ray's all-time favorite film—served as reminders not only of SFIFF's characteristically eclectic selection, but also of its dedication to acknowledging the medium's past while steadfastly gazing ahead for discoveries.

AFI Fest 2011: The Day He Arrives, The Silver Cliff, & Oslo, August 31st

Comments Comments (...)

AFI Fest 2011: <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Silver Cliff</em>, & <em>Oslo, August 31st</em>
AFI Fest 2011: <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Silver Cliff</em>, & <em>Oslo, August 31st</em>

One city, one day. That Aristotelian unity is an alluring structure for a film. Following a character's journey through a city over the course of a day is a plot progression that's popular and visible enough to mark the boundaries of a kind of subgenre defined by films like Cléo from 5 to 7 and Before Sunrise. There are built-in narrative advantages and expectations to the form, and here are three case studies from this year's AFI Fest that elucidate them.

For one, the form reflects the routine progression of our lives and thus maintains a strong narrative cohesion even in the absence of driving action. If nothing is solved and no loose ends are tied (which in one day tends to be the case unless that one day involves international terrorists of some kind), it feels right to end the story because the day is up. Hong Sang-soo plays with that routine progression in The Day He Arrives, in which a film director, Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang), arrives in Seoul to visit a old friend and goes through some of the motions that are common when revisiting a city: running into familiar faces on the street, meeting people in restaurants, drinking a lot, breaking down in tears in front of his ex-girlfriend—you know, the usual.