Hong Sang-Soo & Korean Cinema
A few days back I traveled to Toronto to catch a double bill by Hong Sang-Soo, often called the leading auteur of present-day Korean cinema. He’s made six films since his debut a decade ago, and I saw his two most recent, Woman Is The Future Of Man (2004) and Tale Of Cinema (2005). Double bills, especially by the same filmmaker, are always fun to examine for their mirrorings and continuities and it was especially the case here. I started to enumerate the connections between the films, then ran across an article by Akira Mizuta Lippit in Film Quarterly which characterized Hong's films far better than I could ever hope to:
Each film returns to a set of familiar features: a young male protagonist, usually an intellectual or artist, once successful, now in steady decline; ambivalent friendships; unrequited affections that generate triangulated romances; infidelity; some type of journey, not far in distance but invested in symbolic value; chance encounters that turn out to be overdetermined, seemingly predetermined, and, from a realist narrative standpoint, implausible; a frustrated and frustrating inability among the characters to communicate directly, or rather to communicate successfully; which leads in turn to scenes of sustained drinking often followed by violent sexual intercourse.
The two movies I saw were both tantalizingly doubled. Stories were told twice; events were echoed; mistakes were repeated; a perpetual déjà vu was in effect. To kick this up a notch, Hong’s movies seem acutely aware of the duality of art and life: both films contained male characters who could be alter egos—or critiques—of the filmmaker/artist. Tale Of Cinema actually contained two such figures, one “in film” and the other “in reality”. The apparently casual geometries of his films seem in fact to be very carefully created, though with a light and unmelodramatic touch. These are deceptively simple movies, requiring—demanding—repeat viewings.
Which reminds me that my viewings of Korean cinema have been embarrassingly sparse. Not that there’s a reason for it. After all, I’ve read every word Filmbrain has ever written on his blog since he started it, and Korean film has recently gotten the kind of attention that Iran and Taiwan did in the eighties and nineties. In addition to Hong's, I’ve seen one film by Im Kwon-Taek (Chunhyang; liked it); two by Kim Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall… and 3-Iron; preferred the former—the latter was a bit too Tsai-like, but interesting); and nothing by Park Chan-Wook (I know, I know...).
So, this novice looks to you for recommendations of Korean movies. I'd appreciate any suggestions you may have.