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Hong Sang Soo (#110 of 24)

Jerusalem Film Festival 2017 Siege, Redoubtable, The Beguiled, On the Beach at Night Alone, & More

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Jerusalem Film Festival 2017: Siege, Redoubtable, The Beguiled, On the Beach at Night Alone, & More

Jerusalem Film Festival

Jerusalem Film Festival 2017: Siege, Redoubtable, The Beguiled, On the Beach at Night Alone, & More

Jerusalem is a city of beige and tan, a vast barren sprawl that is, despite the brutal heat and muted colors, quite beautiful. Its odd mix of orthodoxy and modernity pair like sand and cement to create something singular and undeterrable. There’s a kind of delirious, heat stroke-induced grandeur to its aesthetic uniformity, the caramel-colored homes enclosing you and the occasional swaths of trees providing much sought-after shelter from the sun, the tan and green recalling the colors of Israeli military uniforms. All of the buildings are finished with Jerusalem Stone (which is mostly made up of limestone) to marry the new to the old, to transcend date and age. A parched and pale sky settles over sun-baked façades stacked upon sandy expanses. Feet wrapped in leather sandals slap against the sidewalk and air conditioners spittle from above. “Drink water,” everyone advises. At its apogee, the sun abuses unrepentantly, with cruel omnipotence, yet people persist and keep going where they’re going, water bottles in hand. They are stubborn.

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After and Claire’s Camera

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Cannes Film Review: The Day After and Claire’s Camera

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: The Day After and Claire’s Camera

In 2015, while working on Right Now, Wrong Then, Hong Sang-soo began an affair with his lead actress, Kim Min-hee. The news came out later, at one of the film’s press conferences. Eventually, Hong filed for divorce from his wife of 30 years—and in the time since, he and Kim have chosen to openly explore the nature of their ongoing relationship through his films. First came 2016’s On the Beach Alone at Night, and now the Cannes competition entry The Day After and festival special screening Claire’s Camera.

Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.