Another really great Hong movie, this one with a different structural game than the others. Kwon (Seo Young-hwa of On the Beach at Night Alone) comes back to Seoul after vacation, picks up a batch of letters from Mori (Ryo Kase, crazed boyfriend in Like Someone In Love), and reads them out of order after they accidentally get dropped. Hong proceeds to play this guy’s story – arriving in Seoul to open his heart to Kwon then hanging around and losing hope and getting distracted when he finds her missing – in the same shuffled order she is reading the letters…

1. Mori hangs out with a girl from the Hill of Freedom Cafe, the same place where Kwon is now reading the letters

Mori is reading a book about time in every scene. Of course he meets a film producer… and of course he gets sad and drunk more than once

The guy in the bad shorts (think it’s Eui-sung Kim of Train to Busan) is Mori’s landlady’s nephew. He appears early on during the search for HoF Girl’s missing dog, then again at the guesthouse haranguing some poor girl.

Mori is sleeping with HoF Girl Youngsun (So-ri Moon of both The Housemaid and The Handmaiden, two titles I sometimes get confused).

Mori is leaving notes on the door of Kwon’s last known residence, returning to find the notes undisturbed. He gets awkward with the cafe girl and accidentally locks himself in her bathroom.

Present-tense, Kwon runs into Youngsun, exchanges pleasantries, then goes looking for Mori and finds him at the guesthouse. “The next day we left together for Japan. We had two children.”

Mori wakes up in the courtyard and it’s not Kwon but Youngsun – she got drunk and slept in his room while he stayed outside. She wakes up, leaves.

Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker:

The dialogue is predominantly in awkward English, because Japanese Mori is in South Korea to search for Kwon without a handle on the language. Lingua franca necessity supplements/supplants alcohol as the primary agent for awkward truth-telling … Obsessed with an idealized phantom, Mori records his days in letters that draw no conclusion or lessons from the random cycle of drunkenness and depressive oversleeping he’s mired in. He’s Hong’s least deluded male protagonist in some time: though he makes errors in judgment, he isn’t perpetually staggering around in an alcohol-fueled haze and seems abstractly aware of the ridiculousness of the situation he’s placed himself in by devoting two weeks to finding a woman who may not want to be tracked down.

This ol’ movie blog has experienced a Minor Setback in recent weeks… will be rushing through some current posts and changing some old ones. Sit tight, loyal (nonexistent?) readers.

“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

Brilliant visual display of espionage, duplicity, politics and memory (real and false), with at least five perfect performances, but the one who towers above them all is Angela Lansbury as a power-hungry politician’s-wife.

A group of Americans is captured with help from their traitor translator Henry Silva, then Laurence Harvey (Darling, Room at the Top) is brainwashed by the Enemy and sent back to the States, but his fellow soldier Frank Sinatra starts to remember their capture and realize something is amiss. Meanwhile Sinatra falls for Vivian Leigh, Harvey kills his girlfriend (Leslie Parrish of Li’l Abner), and Harvey is being controlled by his evil mother to put his weak-willed stepfather in power, but he turns on them at the last minute.

Sinatra and his girl:

Harvey and his mother:

A movie featuring a wannabe-president supported by a foreign power who puts ketchup on his steaks. I originally planned to double-feature this with A Face in the Crowd, but maybe The Dead Zone would be more appropriate. Frankenheimer made this the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz, a couple years before the similarly paranoid Seconds.

Cannes Month continues. Hong has two new films premiering at this year’s fest, and another one premiered just a few months ago in Berlin, so it’s catchup time… this is from way back in 2012, so, ten movies ago. In framing story, girl at a hotel, hiding out with her mom while her uncle is up to no good, kills time by writing a series of stories, similar scenarios which all play out in the same hotel with the same actors playing (usually) different characters. Well, each time there’s a French woman named Anne (Isabelle Huppert, same year she was in Amour and Lines of Wellington) and a lifeguard who also works part-time at the hotel (Joon-sang Yoo, lead of The Day He Arrives), but Anne has different identities each time, and the lifeguard doesn’t seem to remember her from previous visits.

1. Anne is a visiting film director and the lifeguard is stalkerish in this one. Won-ju (Yu-mi Jung, title star of both Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi) is pregnant and jealous of Anne, since her man Jongsoo (Hae-hyo Kwon of all the 2017 Hong movies) knows Anne from way back. Everyone wants Anne, and she is gracious about it, but really just wants to see the local lighthouse, have some grilled squid and be off.

2. Anne is “a rich housewife,” cheating on her Hong Kong husband with filmmaker Soo (Seong-kun Mun, the professor in Oki’s Movie). The lifeguard is somewhat helpful here, finding Anne’s phone – and she locates the lighthouse (and brays at some goats), but later she doesn’t – maybe a dream sequence or alternate version (it wouldn’t be the first), but anyway it’s quickly interrupted by…

3. Anne has been left by her husband (a different husband, since this is a different Anne), is vacationing with her friend Park (Yeo-jeong Yoon, maybe one of the girl’s friends in Right Now, Wrong Then) and they meet a film director (Jongsoo from #1). Everyone gets drunk on soju of course. The framing-story screenwriter is obsessed with visiting filmmaker characters drinking soju, as is Hong. Anyway, Anne wants to meet a local monk in order to find wisdom, but he talks her in circles, so she goes off and sleeps with the lifeguard, failing once more to find the lighthouse.

Peter Labuza on Letterboxd:

Certainly the MVP here is the lifeguard whose declarations (“I will protect you!!!”) and wonderfully dopey song are probably the closest to broad comedy I’ve seen from Hong so far. Huppert plays three different versions of a cipher (cold, needy, mourning) who all get men attracted to her no matter how she acts … Foreignness is certainly an interesting element; here Huppert’s various roles acting as the exotic figure as if a twist on the usual Western perspective of exotic women.

I wondered about the nursing home intro, but in the end felt it was the best framing device of an older woman recalling dead friends since Atonement. Bulk of the movie follows serious-minded, self-assured Marcus as he learns (and ultimately fails) to navigate a college full of distracting human elements – a patronizing dean, a sexy rich girl, noisy roommates and people who want atheist Marcus to define himself as Jewish (and at the same time want him to attend the school-mandated chapel services). After he’s caught buying his way out of church (he’s not wealthy, but felt that getting out of church was morally necessary), he’s expelled, sent to the Korean war, killed.

Marcus’s girl Olivia is Sarah Gadon, Gugu’s white sister-cousin in Belle, Pattinson’s wife in Cosmopolis, the sick celebrity in Antiviral – I should be able to recognize her by now. If I watch this again, need to pay more attention to her character, now that I know more about her emotional instability and tragic end. Marcus is Logan Lerman, who starred as loner high school freshman in Perks of Being a Wallflower, now a loner college freshman. He’s magnetic, and his clash with the equally serious and self-assured dean (Tracy Letts, writer of Bug, also in Homeland and Christine), mostly represented in one extra-long, tense meeting scene, was reason enough to keep watching, though I didn’t get much sense of narrative progression or the movie’s point until it all comes flooding in at the end.

M. D’Angelo:

A chilling illustration of nails that stick out being hammered down, lent additional blunt force by the strangeness of (fairly recent) history … Also rare and exciting to see intellectual ferocity onscreen, even if it’s the annoyingly self-righteous undergrad variety.

1. Right Then, Wrong Now

Film director Chun-soo (Jae-yeong Jeong of Our Sunhi) is in the suburbs for a screening and Q&A, meets the very cute Hee-jung (Min-hee Kim, the Lady in The Handmaiden) while killing time then follows her around, to her art studio, a sushi place, and a friend’s party, where he gets drunk and embarrassing. Next day, the Q&A goes badly and he heads home.

Right Then:

2. Right Now, Wrong Then

The same 24 hours but with variations. His narration has disappeared and scenes are shot from different angles. The director is less complimentary about her paintings, more amorous (and honest) at the sushi place, embarrassing in a whole different way at the party, and the Q&A goes well.

Right Now:

Besides these variations, the film itself is a variation on The Day He Arrives (male film director in another town for one night drinks too much soju with strangers). And there was snow, drunkenness and film directors giving bad Q&As in Oki’s Movie as well. Hong still likes shooting scenes in long takes, changing the framing with sudden zooms and occasional pans – simply filmed and staged, these are actor showcases and “what if” cosmic contemplations.

The Director with film student Bora:

M. D’Angelo:

Think of it as Mulholland Dr. in reverse: grim reality first, wish-fulfillment fantasy second. What makes it even richer is that it’s not entirely clear whose fantasy version of the encounter we’re seeing — his, it would seem for most of the second half, but the ending strongly suggests that it could be hers, which makes just as much sense in retrospect. Either way, or both ways, this ranks among Hong’s most purely entertaining films, with perhaps the best chemistry ever between his male and female leads (both of whom, Hong admitted in a recent interview, were extremely drunk during the twin bar scenes).

Hong in Cinema Scope:

Some elements can be well connected, and make the audience feel that they can explain the difference between the two in terms of morals and attitudes. But some elements are not meant to be like that, and the two worlds are meant to be quite independent … Once you find a clear meaning between them, then these worlds themselves disappear … So all the questions are kept alive if there’s an infinite possibility of worlds. It’s like a permanent reverberation.

Won the top prize at Locarno competing with the likes of Cosmos, Chevalier, Happy Hour and No Home Movie. In the party scene I spotted Ken Loach and Leos Carax film posters on the wall.

Couldn’t enjoy this as much as I should because I was in a weird state of mind, but it’s supremely entertaining, recalling Bound in its story of fortune-seeking men double-crossed by crafty female lovers.

The first half is told from the perspective of Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), a pickpocket working for handsome Jung-woo Ha (Ki-duk’s Time), who has his eyes on bigger marks, posing as a Count and getting Sookee hired as handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim of Right Now, Wrong Then). The plan is to convince the Lady to marry the Count, then commit her to an institution and share her wealth, but Sookee is double-crossed and committed instead. The second part follows the Lady, who lives with her book collector uncle (Jin-woong Jo, only 40 but given gray hair and mustache) at his increasingly sinister estate, revealing her own moments and motives, some of which I’ve now forgotten because it’s been a very long month, but it’s an audacious and elegant movie and when it comes out on video I’ll happily get lost in it again.

Well-presented to English speaking audiences with Japanese and Korean dialogue in different colored subtitles. This is the year of Hokusai – first the animated biopic, then his wave appearing in Kubo and his porno octopus in this movie. I double-featured this at the Alamo with a 35mm screening of Possession, which was completely incredible and now cemented as one of my favorite movies, and which also features a porno octopus.

Bloody mess (in both bad ways and good) of an occult horror movie. I missed Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser and The Yellow Sea – finally checking him out for SHOCKtober this year. Lead policeman Jong-Gu (Kwak Do-won) is round-faced and dim and quite bad at his job, like Song Kang-ho’s character in The Host crossing over into Memories of Murder. He investigates a local family murder which is eventually blamed on “some fucked-up mushrooms,” and it seems like his incompetence is gonna be played for laughs until another family is killed and then his own daughter Hyo-jin starts showing the signs of possession that the other murderers displayed.

Jong-gu and his partner torment a Japanese man who recently moved in (Jun Kunimura of Chaos, Audition and Kill Bill), illegally searching and destroying his property. When the Japanese man’s dog is killed and he’s chased almost to death through the woods I started to feel bad for him, but then again he’s got a photo wall of the recent killers and victims at home, and turns out to be an evil ghost. There’s a mysterious woman who may also be a ghost, a showy shaman (Hwang Jung-min of A Bittersweet Life), naked cannibals and blood-eyed zombies, and the police all seem outmatched. Oh, and someone gets struck by lightning. I’m not always sure which parts were plot twists, and which parts were just me not being able to follow where the horror is supposed to be coming from now.

D. Ehrlich:

Demented occult nonsense that gradually begins to feel less like a linear scary story than that it does a ritualistic invocation of the antichrist … The Wailing boasts all the tenets and tropes of a traditional horror movie, but it doesn’t bend them to the same, stifling ends that define Hollywood’s recent contributions to the genre . The film doesn’t use sound to telegraph its frights a mile away (there are no jump scares, here… well, maybe one), nor does it build its scenes around a single cheap thrill. On the contrary, this is horror filmmaking that’s designed to work on you like a virus, slowly incapacitating your defenses so it can build up and do some real damage.

A film director is in his hometown of Seoul for a night, fails to connect with a friend, hangs out with some students and gets drunk then looks up an old flame. The film director is in his hometown of Seoul for a night, connects with his friend, they hang out with a woman the friend knows named Boram and the owner of the Novel bar. A film director is in his hometown of Seoul for a night, connects with his friend and a former lead actor, and they all go to the Novel Bar. But the movie title is the first clue that these are alternate versions of the same day with recurring characters in different situations. I lost track of the female characters, but in my defense it’s all kinda disorienting. Ah, further in my defense: the old flame and the bar owner are the same actress.

Boram with the film director:

Our lead filmmaker is Joon-sang Yoo of at least five other Hong movies, and his buddy’s friend Boram from at least parts 2 & 3 was Seon-mi Song of Woman on the Beach, which is also about a film director hanging out with his friend. The only other Hong movie I’ve seen is Oki’s Movie, which also involved variations and repetition – I’m assuming from reading some reviews that most of his movies do. Played at Cannes UCR with Elena, which I watched the day before this. Dialogue-heavy with unshowy compositions, then one zoom per scene – I started to wait for the zoom, wonder when it would come. Pleasant viewing, gets more engrossing as the day(s) roll on, but didn’t leave me with an aftertaste of joy and wonder like Oki’s Movie did.

L-R: bar owner, the friend, the actor

Quintín:

The last scene of The Day He Arrives can be seen as a correction to the scene in Oki’s Movie where a young filmmaker refuses to allow his picture to be taken by a woman he meets in the park. This time, a woman says that she’s an admirer of the filmmaker, and when she asks him to pose for a photograph, he answers that he doesn’t like to do it but he complies anyway … Over the course of the film, Sungjoon experiences the usual bittersweet encounters with women, but also finds himself in a rather hostile film milieu, where he is harassed by film students, people don’t remember him or don’t like him or the other way around. In this last scene, where an unknown woman shows she cares for his work, Sungjoon seems to feel that nothing is wrong with his place in life, even if there might not be another film in his future. Hong’s previous films were always about a guy keeping pace of his career and feeling unsure about his work, whether he was successful or not.

Indie-drama story of loss, as widow decides to live in hometown of her deceased husband. But then after rumors spread of her buying valuable property, her son is kidnapped for real estate money she doesn’t have, then he’s killed and we get a more traumatic story of loss and the indie-drama template goes off the rails. I wasn’t crazy about it but I appreciate its unique message – religion is crap and major trauma can’t be overcome in the span of a movie.

Do-yeon Jeon of the recent Housemaid remake won best actress at Cannes, and the great Kang-ho Song (the year after starring in The Host) plays a subdued local guy who’s interested in her, becomes a Christian when she starts attending church meetings and stays with the church even after it’s clear that she won’t be dating him and she turns against the church. It’s a good portrayal of despair, if that’s what you’re after.

D. Lim:

He has said that before he starts a movie, he always asks himself, “What is cinema for?” Secret Sunshine is a work of visceral emotions and abstract notions; a study of faith in all its power, strangeness, and cruelty; a look at the particularities of human nature and experience that account for the existence, perhaps even the inevitability, of religion — all of which is to say that it’s an attempt to depict the invisible in what is foremost a visual medium … Put simply, Secret Sunshine shows how religion uses us and how we use religion. A film about the lies we tell ourselves in order to live, it suggests that there may be no bigger lie than religion — but also acknowledges that sometimes lies are necessary.