One of the luminary figures of contemporary South Korean cinema, Hong Sangsoo (b. 1960) has flourished working within a mode of low budget independent art cinema ideally suited for the playfully modernist comedies of clumsy love and bad manners that have become his lasting signature. Impressively prolific, in 2011-12 Hong directed two richly complementary major works almost back to back, The Day He Arrives and In Another Country. Artfully structured tales of chance encounters and errant love, both use musical patterns of repetition and difference to give multiple and at times contradictory meanings to the awkward coincidence that is an engine of the low-key comedy shared by the two films. At the same time these films also offer subtle meditations on the cinema as an art of conjuring those eccentric, unpolished narratives deeply rooted in the imagination of both the audience and the stumbling filmmaker characters at the heart of each film.
Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Yu Junsang, Kim Sangjoong,
South Korea 2012, 35mm, color, 79 min. Korean with English subtitles
A melancholy filmmaker returns to the city to reunite with friends and a past only partially revealed in Hong's simultaneously wistful and witty double portrait of a frustrated artist and the charming Old World tangle of taverns and back alleys that makes up Seoul's Buchon Village neighborhood (a focus made clear by the film's Korean language title, "In Buchon Village"). Hong's use of crisp black and white beautifully captures both winter's fleeting light and the shadow of regret that accompanies even the film's happiest moments. A rumination on friendship and middle-age, The Day He Arrives follows a richly meandering course, unfolding a series of days and nights that become increasingly interchangeable, confused in the mind of both the hungover filmmaker-hero and the audience who thus come to inhabit the film's rich space-time of nostalgia, deja vu and reverie. Print courtesy Cinema Guild
Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Isabelle Huppert, Yu Junsang,
South Korea 2011, 35mm, color, 89 min. Korean and English with English subtitles
Hong's fascination with the awkward performative dimensions of romance and the social contract in general finds its richest expression to date in this tour-de-force star vehicle for Isabelle Huppert. In three distinct roles, beginning first as a French filmmaker openly modeled on Claire Denis, Huppert subtly transforms herself across a trio of stories invented by a young aspiring filmmaker furiously writing as a distraction from an unnamed family trauma. Huppert's richly comic yet poignant encounters with strangers and lovers reveals Hong's narrative sophistication to lie beyond In Another Country’s film-within-a-film structure and instead within the careful intertwining of the three stories through a series of echoes that reveal the film's larger themes of loneliness, womanly charm and self-absorbed machismo. Print courtesy Kino Lorber.