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.

P. Labuza:

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.

“Things repeat themselves with differences I can’t understand.”

Four mini-films with the same actors playing similar stories… wasn’t expecting this. My first movie by film fest and Cinema Scope regular Sang-soo.

1. A Day for Incantation

Young film teacher Jingu (Lee Seon-kyun) is told by older prof Song (Moon Sung-geun of Sang-soo’s early feature Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors) that “film as an art is finished.” Later he confronts another professor Bang, who he’s heard has paid for tenure. Later still, Jingu is attacked at a sad post-screening Q&A by a friend of one of his former students who he dated for years. “Once I became a director all these rumors began popping up” is how he pathetically defends himself.

2. King of Kisses

Now Jingu and Oki (Jung Yumi, title star of Our Sunhi) are film students under prof. Song, whom Oki is secretly dating. Jingu is frustrated when he loses an award everyone said he’d win, and that Oki won’t go out with him, but she reconsiders when he shows up at her house drunk.

3. After the Snowstorm

Big storm, nobody shows up to prof. Song’s class, then Oki and Jingu come late.

Andrew Tracy in Cinema Scope:

Oki and Jingu bombard Song with questions in an empty classroom: “Do you think I have any talent in film?” “Keep making films and you’ll find out.” “Am I a good person?” “To somebody.” “What do you want most?” “Well, I want this today, and I want that tomorrow… In life, of all the important things I do, there’s none I know the reason for.” To the extent that we can take anything Hong “says” at face value, this would seem to be an at least tentatively reliable index of his beliefs: that the thing that most interests him – the maddening unknowability of our own selves – is inseparable from his decision to portray it on film, over and over again.

4. Oki’s Movie

Oki narrates and contrasts two walks in the park: one with an older man (Song) she was on the verge of breaking up with, then with new love Jingu, where she crosses paths with her older ex.

I’m not sure it follows that the first segment is a years-later postscript to the others – some critics are saying all the parts are different time periods of the same story, but the details don’t match up, and as The End of Cinema blog points out, Oki’s final line “I chose these actors for their resemblance to the actual people” undercuts the idea that the two men at the end are the same characters we’ve seen before.

Took me the bulk of the first segment to get used to the film’s style. It felt odd that the acting seemed like regular dramatic film-acting, but the lo-fi digital camerawork with regularly placed zooms felt like it wanted a less mannered, more documentary-like story. I think it played in a sub-festival in Venice, along with The Forgotten Space, Robinson in Ruins and prizewinner Summer of Goliath.

A. Tracy:

What gives Oki’s Movie an added charge is announced in the title itself: beginning as another up-close portrait of male vanity, neediness, and narcissistic despair, it subtly shifts across the four movements to deposit narrational control into the hands of the woman who had been the vehicle of this narcissism.

Has a lot in common with Zodiac – investigations into a never-solved serial murder case, which gradually wears upon the investigator until he’s acting more like a suspect than a detective.

Our main local detective is played by Kang-ho Song, star of The Host and Thirst. His local partner is Roe-ha Kim (A Bittersweet Life). They’re joined by a city detective from Seoul, Sang-kyung Kim (Hahaha, Tale of Cinema), don’t even hide their witness-bullying and evidence-planting from him, and eventually they pull him down to their level.

It’s a period piece, set in the 1980’s, punctuated by air raid drills (in case of attack from North Korea) and footage of demonstrations throughout the country. Very well-made movie, if super-depressing by the end.

The Times:

Finally and without fanfare, though, it becomes impossible not to see these impotent and crushingly overwhelmed public servants as victims of a kind. The image of these hapless men, who belong to a postwar generation born in the grip of authoritarianism, standing helplessly by as one after another woman brutally dies has a blunt-force power that needs no explanation.