Over the course of two decades, South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has created one of the most rigorous and refined, subtle and sublime, oeuvres of world cinema history.
From his debut feature The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996) to his most recent, Right Now, Wrong Then (2015), Hong has spun literate, witty, and narratively playful tales that are often deliriously drunk on both soju (the ubiquitous Korean rice-based liquor) and cinema itself. In Hong's films, romantic complications, rueful regret, mortifyingly awkward, boorish, and impulsive behavior (mostly on the part of men), lots of idle time, and recurring patterns of words and action make up the rich fabric of his inimitable cinematic art.
Because of the admittedly - and superficially - similar nature of many of Hong's characters and basic situations, usually involving film directors, film students, professors and critics, and other academics and artists of similar milieus, some folks will tell you that Hong just keeps making the same movie over and over again. But that's just crazy talk; don't believe them.
A closer look at Hong's films reveal much more than there may appear to be on the surface. In much the same way that a scientist's microscope reveals teeming molecualr worlds below what seems to be a placid surface to the naked eye, Hong's close examinations of filmic narrative and the vibrant human comedy played out by his assortment of characters uncover infinite possibilities for meaning and beauty. This is what makes Hong's works so endlessly fascinating, and what makes them so richly rewarding for those willing to look deeper along with him.
"Tales of Cinema: The Films of Hong Sang-soo," screening at the Museum of the Moving Image from starting today, June 3, and through June 19, is a long overdue complete retrospective, programmed mostly chronologically, allowing viewers to fully experience the development of Hong's art and craft, and how ever more refined, and often self-reflexive, his filmmaking process has become over the years. This retrospective consists of 16 features, not including his 17th and latest feature Right Now, Wrong Then, which will be released in the US on June 24.
For many viewers, these films will be rarities, as many of Hong's features have never received a US release, and many of these will be presented in 35mm prints imported from South Korea. Immersing oneself in Hong's unique cinematic universe will be an experience not soon forgotten, and one that will be long treasured.
Full details of the retrospective are below. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the Museum of the Moving Image's website.
Museum of the Moving Image is pleased to present a long overdue complete New York retrospective of Hong Sang-soo, one of contemporary cinema’s most distinctive filmmakers with an oeuvre characterized by an unending fascination with the complexity of romantic longing, a playful subversion of narrative structure, and a layered approach to emotional revelation. The series, Tales of Cinema: The Films of Hong Sang-soo, runs June 3 through 19, 2016, and will include all of Hong’s films, sixteen features and two short works, dating from 1996 through 2014, many of which only screened in the United States at film festivals. The retrospective coincides with the theatrical release of Hong’s latest film, Right Now, Wrong Then, which opens on June 24, from Grasshopper Films.
The films of Hong Sang-soo are at once deceptively simple and dense with subtle shades of meaning. Hong is often compared to legendary French filmmakers Éric Rohmer—for his extended dialogue scenes and his acute moral vision—and Alain Resnais—for his abiding fascination with the function (or malfunction) of memory and the structure of storytelling. Hong’s affinity for the French also appears in his films: Night and Day (2008) follows a Korean man in self-imposed exile in Paris, while In Another Country (2012) stars Isabelle Huppert, encountering cultural misunderstandings, often hilarious, as she wanders a Korean seaside town. Yet Hong’s films are firmly grounded in the social and sexual politics, and drinking rituals, of his native South Korea.
What Hong’s comedies of manners show, often through patterned, multi-part narratives, is that no two slices of life are ever cut exactly the same, and that an infinite variety is there to be dug out by anyone who looks at routine closely enough. Frequently dealing with rude, clumsy, wrong-footed, and inebriate folly, his films are, paradoxically, among the most delicate being made today.
Among the highlights of the retrospective are Hong’s earliest features The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (1996), The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), and The Virgin Stripped Bare of Her Bachelors (2000)—the last of which screened at the Cannes Film Festival and represented a leap ahead for his international reputation. His 2010 film, HaHaHa, a deceptively lightweight romantic comedy, won the top prize at Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Among more recent films, Our Sunhi (2013), Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013), and Hill of Freedom (2014), about a Japanese man (Ryu Kase) looking for an old crush in Korea (2014), were never released commercially in the United States. Many of the films will be presented in 35mm prints imported from the Korea. See below for a full schedule or visit movingimage.us/hongsangsoo.
SCHEDULE FOR ‘TALES OF CINEMA: THE FILMS OF HONG SANG-SOO,’
JUNE 3–19, 2016
All screenings take place at Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35 Avenue in Astoria, New York. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $12 adults ($9 seniors and students / $7 youth, ages 3–17) and free for Museum members at the Film Lover and Kids Premium levels and above. Advance tickets are available online at movingimage.us. Ticket purchase may be applied toward same-day admission to the Museum’s galleries.
All films directed by Hong Sang-soo.
Woman Is the Future of Man (Yeojaneun namjaui miraeda)
FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 7:00 P.M.
2004, 88 mins. 35mm. With Yu Ji-tae, Kim Tae-woo, Seong Hyeon-a. Two old friends, an unfaithfully married university art professor and a filmmaker recently returned from an unsuccessful stay in the States, both of whom once loved the same woman, decide to revisit together the scenes of their old romance, and to seek out the old flame with bumbling, mortifying results.
The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (Daijiga umule pajinnal)
SATURDAY, JUNE 4, 1:30 P.M.
1996, 115 mins. 35mm. With Bang Eun-hee, Cho Eun-sook, Park Jin-seong. A career-launching success on the international film circuit, Hong’s debut feature is comprised of intertwining stories of four young people looking for love in all the wrong places. A study of infidelity and unrequited love in the city, the film has a slowly unfurling narrative that rewards with power and emotional depth.
The Power of Kangwon Province (Kangwon-do ui him)
SATURDAY, JUNE 4, 4:00 P.M.
1998, 110 mins. 35mm. With Oh Yun-hong, Baek Jong-hak, Kim Yoosuk. Hong’s second film finds him already experimenting with the brokeback, symmetrical structure of later works. Jisook, recently free of a relationship with a married man, joins two girlfriends for a vacation in mountainous Kangwon, where unbeknownst to her, her ex-lover Sangwon is also headed for a holiday.
On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (Saenghwalui balgyeon)
SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 2:00 P.M.
2002, 115 mins. Digital projection. With Kim Sang-kyung, Chu Sang-mi, Ye Ji-won. After actor Gyung-Soo doesn’t get a desired part, he leaves bleak Seoul to visit a friend in the provinces, and winds up initiating two affairs, in a story that touches on Hong’s favorite themes of the deception of memory and the massive repercussions of the smallest decisions.
The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Oh! Soo-jung)
SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 4:30 P.M.
2000, 126 mins. 35mm. With Jeong Bo-soek, Lee Eun-ju, Mun Seong-keun. When filmmaker Young-soo introduces his wealthy gallery owner friend Jae-hoon to another friend, the female television writer Soo-jung, the table is set for one of the complicated triangular relationships that fascinate Hong, a preference which at times has garnered him comparisons to Éric Rohmer.
Tale of Cinema (Geuk jang jeon) and Lost in the Mountains (Cheopcheopsanjung)
SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 7:00 P.M.
2005, 89 mins. 35mm. With Kim Sang-kyung, Uhm Ji-won, Lee Ki-woo. Hong’s rug-pulling film begins with the story of forlorn college student Jeon and his ex-, Choi, then reframes this as the film-within-a-film of director Kim, using the apparatus of cinema to revisit and revise past disappointments. A crystallization of themes developed in Hong’s previous works and something of a thesis on his filmmaking practice. Preceded by Lost in the Mountains (Cheopcheopsanjung) (2009, 31 mins. Digital projection).
Woman on the Beach (Haebyeonui yeoin)
FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 7:00 P.M.
2006, 100 mins. 35mm. With Kim Seung-woo, Go Hyun-jung, Song Seon-mi. This gradually unfolding love triangle, with a film director as the main character, is both accessible and effortlessly complex. Critic Noel Murray called this tale of youthful longing and indiscretion a “witty explication of how we all get stymied by the impulses and options inherent in the simple act of living.”
Like You Know It All (Jal al-ji-do mot-ha-myeon-seo)
SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 1:00 P.M.
2009, 126 mins. 35mm. With Kim Tae-woon, Uhm Ji-won, Go Hyun-jung. With biting reflexivity, Like You Know It All centers on the insecurities and indiscretions of an acclaimed art house director through his interactions with friends, potential lovers, and successful ex-students. This critical favorite is a frank look at the often-pathetic truths of life as an artist.
The Day He Arrives (Book chon bang hyang) and List
SATURDAY JUNE 11, 3:30 P.M.
SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 4:00 P.M.
2011, 79 mins. 35mm. With Kim Sang-Jung, Yu Jun-Sang. Sungjoon, a director who no longer makes films, heads to Seoul to meet a friend. He runs into an actress he used to know, shares a drink with some film students, and against his judgment, heads to his ex-girlfriend’s house. The next day, or perhaps some other day, Sungjoon meets his friend. They go to a bar whose owner bears a striking resemblance to his ex. The next day goes very much like the first; the one after that, the same. Eventually, Sungjoon has no other choice than to face his “today.” Preceded by List (2011, 29 mins. Digital projection).
Night and Day (Bam gua nat)
SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 6:30 P.M.
2008, 144 mins. 35mm. With Sabine Crossen, Jérémie Elkhaïm, Gi Ju-bong, Kim Yeong-ho. For strange and seemingly dubious reasons, middle-aged painter Sung-nam flees South Korea and finds himself in a Parisian hostel. The resulting story unfolds as an episodic exploration of emotional and spiritual dislocation in unfamiliar places, and a humorous examination of the troubling timelessness of flight and return.
Oki’s Movie (Ok-hui-ui yeonghwa)
SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 7:00 P.M.
2010, 80 mins. 35mm. With Jeong Yu-mi, Lee Seon-gyun. The non-chronological four-episode structure of this bittersweet romance, set against the backdrop of a Korean university’s film department, lends a novelistic freshness to a simple story of courtship and indecision. Sparse, relaxed, and jarringly real, Oki’s Movie rejects easy classification. It is the work of a self-assured artist tuned in to the inner worlds of his characters in all their flawed humanity.
In Another Country (Da-reun na-ra-e-seo)
FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 7:00 P.M.
2012, 89 mins. DCP. With Isabelle Huppert, Kwon Hye Hyo, Jung Yu Mi. In Hong Sang-soo’s hilarious and intelligent film, he teams with French superstar Isabelle Huppert to create a formally inventive and witty three-part film, in which different but strikingly similar women—all named Anne, and all played by Huppert—meet and interact with the same group of people in a seaside Korean town, with each encounter producing a set of intriguing new outcomes and new possibilities.
SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 1:00 P.M.
2010, 115 mins. 35mm. With Kim Sang-kyung, Yoo Jun-sang. A filmmaker on the skids who plans to move to Canada meets a film critic friend. During a classic Hong Sang-soo drinking session, they share memories of recent trips they took to the same seaside town. This deceptively lightweight romantic comedy won the top prize at the Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
Our Sunhi (U ri Sunhi)
SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 2016, 3:30 P.M.
2013, 88 mins. DCP. With Jeong Yu-mi, Kim Sang-joong, Lee Sun-kyun, Jung Jae-young. Film school grad Sunhi returns to her school to collect a letter of recommendation from her old professor, but his brutally honest critique sends her into a tailspin. This melancholy comedy of male obliviousness won Hong the Best Director award at the 66th Locarno Film Festival.
2013, 90 mins. DCP. With Jung Eun-chae, Lee Sun-kyun, Jane Birkin. Always eager to try out new narrative games, here Hong uses the form of a diary in order to tell, over the course of three days, the story of Haewon, a young woman who goes into a deep depression when her mother leaves Seoul for Canada. As is so often the case in Hong’s films, personal rupture leads to reconnecting with an ex-, here Haewon’s former professor, with whom she bickers and travels to Namhan Fortress. We also have glimpses of Haewon’s dream life, which beguilingly intermingle with her troubled waking existence, with Jung compelling in both settings.
Hill of Freedom
SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 2016, 5:00 P.M.
2014, 66 mins. DCP. With Ryo Kase, Seo Young-hwa, Youn Yuh-jung, Moon Sori. Among Hong’s most elaborately constructed works, Hill of Freedom makes use of intertwining time frames to tell the story of Mori, a Japanese language teacher who has lost touch with a female acquaintance in Seoul, and looks to reconnect by bumming around a café that they used to frequent together.