Last year I closed LNKarno with the top prizewinner Girl From Nowhere, but I’ve already suffered through Story of My Death once, so this year I picked a closer from competition which I was sure to enjoy. It’s somewhat of a comedy, coming out between In Another Country and Hill of Freedom – I’m gradually filling in the gaps of recent work but still haven’t caught anything pre-2010. We get a series of scenes of people in conversation drinking too much in no-fuss compositions interrupted only by the occasional reframing zoom – just what we were hoping for.

Sunhi out drinking with the Professor:

Sunhi (Yu-mi Jung: Oki, also in Train to Busan) is visiting the city where she attended school, aiming to get a letter of recommendation from her professor (Sang-Jung Kim, the main guy’s friend in The Day He Arrives) for a graduate film program. They meet up in the park, and he turns in a letter that’s fairly complimentary, but also says she might have good ideas but he wouldn’t know since she’s too reserved and doesn’t work well with others.

Sunhi out drinking with Munsu:

She spots her ex Munsu (Sun-kyun Lee of Hong’s other 2013 student-teacher relationship movie Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) and calls him up to where she’s having a lonely drink, says she saw his film and that it was good but too much about their relationship. These two talk for hours (he orders a bottle of soju, then after a cut there are four on the table) and he blurts out “if I make films till I die, they’ll all be about you” and demands to know why she broke up with him, so she walks out and he goes off to bother his ex-friend Jaehak (Jae-yeong Jeong, lead of Right Now, Wrong Then).

Sunhi out drinking with Jaehak:

Sunhi asks the professor about the reference letter, hangs out over drinks with him, he explains that he wrote it in a hurry and can probably do better, then runs off to tell Jaehak about this wonderful girl he likes. Later, Sunhi spots Jaehak and they go out, as captured in an epic 10+ minute shot. They talk about the other two guys, Jaehak puts the pieces together, but he’s falling for Sunhi. Now all three guys are mooning over her, but Sunhi’s got her own life, collects the much-improved recommendation from the professor and ditches all three guys at the park.

Alice Stoehr on Letterboxd:

She drinks too much soju and leans on them in the street. The men speak with each other, repeating phrases they’d said to her. Deja vu permeates Our Sunhi, as it resounds both with echoes of Hong’s earlier work and with its own internal rhymes … She’ll always be embittered and mistreated and a little too drunk. The men will always be selfish, in performances that are broad enough to be quite funny but still true enough that they hurt.


Besides checking Letterboxd, Critics Round Up and Cinema Scope for reviews of the LNKarno movies I watched this week, I went looking for 2013 festival coverage by media sites that haven’t folded and vanished since then…

Michael Pattison in Slant recommends The Green Serpent and Costa da Morte, and says The Unity of All Things “caused more walkouts in its first 10 minutes than any other.”

Richard Porton in Cineaste talks up Manakamana, A Masque of Madness, and the restoration of Batang West Side (“certainly the most notable film to ever take place in Jersey City”).

Agnieszka Gratza in Frieze covers Exhibition and Lo que el fuego me trajo, and found Pays Barbare more gripping than I did.

Based on Jaimey Fisher’s writeup in Senses of Cinema, El Mudo, Wetlands, and maybe the Aoyama sound good.

“What I want is to live in a way that suits me.”

A philosophical movie starring Kim Min-hee, who has become my favorite actress at playing drunk. Part one is a half hour long and set in Germany, actress Younghee hanging out with a friend (Young-hwa Seo, Hill of Freedom‘s letter-reader) – turns out the actress is fleeing Seoul after an affair gone bad. They go music shopping, then eat pasta at Mark Peranson’s house (with a La Chinoise poster in the kitchen). In the dreamlike final scene, Younghee is left on the beach at night alone for just a minute then is seen being carried away unconscious, presumably by the stalker we’d previously seen walking at them It Follows-style.

Part two opens with the lights coming up at a movie theater and no mention of the beach incident. She has returned to her hometown in Korea and meets up with some old friends, first at a coffee shop some of them run, then for a dinner party. First there’s Hae-hyo Kwon (the prickly guy in part one of In Another Country) then meek Jae-yeong Jeong (main dude in Right Now, Wrong Then). She’s staying at a fancy hotel with friend Seon-mi Song (The Day He Arrives), who decides to be Younghee’s assistant. Younghee is taking a break from her career and daily routines, evaluating her life, but doesn’t seem to be doing too badly – rumors are the director she recently broke up with is worse off. Back at the beach alone, not quite at night but perhaps the early evening, she dreams a meeting with the director (I think he’s the professor from Oki’s Movie) after his crew stumbles across her, and he wants to read her a book passage about love with the crew sitting awkwardly around.

The stalker from part one reappears as a window washer:

It’s a good Hong movie, probably not my favorite, but viewers who follow his personal news were mostly stunned that he made this Kim Min-hee movie about the aftermath of a scandalous affair with a film director right after getting caught having a scandalous affair with Kim Min-hee.

Spoiler: there are zombies on the train to Busan. But there are suddenly zombies everywhere, and the train survivors aren’t sure whether it’s more dangerous in the zombie-infested train, or out in the zombie-infested world. The heart of the story, which doesn’t work nearly as well as The Host, to take another Korean family/supernatural-disaster movie as an example, is that workaholic dad Gong Yoo (The Age of Shadows) is a professional asshole and a shitty father to his daughter. During the course of the invasion, not only does he step up and learn to help people and work together, but we get a real panicky villain who needlessly kills others trying to save himself, making dad look even better in comparison.

L-R: Baseballer, Tough Guy, Hero Dad

There’s also a big tough dude and his pregnant wife, a high school baseballer and his girl Jin-Hee, the bedraggled survivor from outside, two older sisters, and one extremely dedicated train conductor. Once you get bit, the zombification escalates very quickly, so it’s all panic and chaos. The action is kinda poor, but the tension is great – especially when the group pictured above fights their way through to a car with the other survivors, then Panicky Villain Guy convinces the others that the newcomers can’t be allowed to stay.

Zombies can see better than they can hear:

The two sisters:

One train crash later, our Hero Dad finally gets zombie’d fighting off the villain, and the daughter makes it to Busan with the Tough Guy’s pregnant wife. I didn’t love the director’s animated The Fake – he bridged the two films with an animated zombie train movie called Seoul Station. He’s joined here by the cowriter of Hwayi: A Monster Boy.

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.