Aging poet Ki Joo-bong (the second section of Grass) arranges to meet his grown sons – Kwon Hae-hyo (film director of In Front of Your Face) and Yu Jun-sang (film director of The Day He Arrives). Only one of them is playing a film director in this movie and I’ve forgotten which. The other is going through a divorce which he’s hiding from dad, who wants to tell his estranged family that he feels he doesn’t have much time left.
Meanwhile upstairs, Kim Min-hee and her friend Song Sun-mi (also her friend in The Woman Who Ran) have been through some stuff and are hiding from the world, resting and getting hungrier. Both groups will finally move to a restaurant down the road where the soju keeps flowing, and the dad’s dark prediction will prove correct soon after.
Hotel by the River marks a turn in the director’s work, away from his preoccupation with male-female relationships and toward questions of family and lineage. Instead of observing ridiculous men embarrassing themselves in thwarted romantic misadventures, here we are seeing the wreckage that bad men leave in their wake.
Two sisters go out for a walk and the stars of the previous movie I watched walk by – it’s another day in the Hongverse.
Lee Hye-young is a former actress back in Korea and staying with her sister Cho Yun-hee (lead guy’s mom in Introduction‘s restaurant scene). She has a meeting with director Kwon Hae-hyo (Yourself and Yours) who wants to film a feature with her, but would settle for a short film, but would settle for sleeping with her. She tells him (before telling her sister) that she’s dying, has a few months, and he leaves her a bittersweet message the next morning (“What I promised yesterday can never happen.”). Elsewhere on the trip, she haunts the house where she used to live, reminiscing and coping (“I believe heaven is hiding in front of our faces”) and visiting the cafe run by her nephew (the star of Introduction).
Antoine Thirion in Cinema Scope:
In a body of work whose narrative scope seems to diminish a little more with each film, In Front of Your Face is still surprisingly laconic: its story unfolds over 24 hours and has barely ten scenes, one of which takes up a good third of the film … While the film’s deceptive structural simplicity seems to adopt its heroine’s fixation on presence and the present, things never cease quietly going off the rails.
Matter-of-fact lboxd plot description “Youngho goes to see his father who is tending to a famous patient. He surprises his girlfriend, Juwon, in Berlin where she is studying fashion design. He goes to a seaside hotel to meet his mother and brings his friend Jeongsoo with him.”
Maybe the title is because scenes and conversations start and don’t reach expected conclusions. We don’t see Youngho talk with his dad who asked to see him, he doesn’t go back into the restaurant after ditching his mom and the famous actor.
Youngho with his dad’s assistant Ye Ji Won (Turning Gate, Ha Ha Ha):
Youngho is Shin Seok-ho, the neighbor who complains about cats in The Woman Who Ran‘s standout scene. Girlfriend Park Mi-so will return in the 2022 films. The girlfriend’s mother and the actor are both from the second scene in Grass.
Entrancing detective/seduction story that only lost me when Tang Wei buries/drowns herself on the beach. We’ve previously seen her in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and if I can find the director’s cut it’ll be time to rewatch her in Blackhat. Lead guy Park Hae-il (brother of Song Kang-ho and Doona Bae in The Host) exonerates her in her husband’s rock climbing death, falls for her, then discovers how she’d committed the crime and manipulated evidence. A year later another of her husbands has died, the evidence again shows her innocent, but further digging reveals she killed someone else to provoke the husband’s murder. Now Detective Park is fully messed up, losing his own wife and chasing after the murderess, who is pretty far gone herself, what with the beach finale. As with The Handmaiden, each scene is beautifully constructed, and if I lost the overall thread while watching, I’ll just have to rewatch in a few years (might as well give Stoker and Thirst another spin while I’m at it).
Kim Min-hee visits with two friends, and each time an unreasonable man comes to the door, then meets a third friend by accident. First up is Seo Young-hwa (Glasses Woman from Grass). They’re hanging out, conversing and eating with a young neighbor, when a new neighbor rings the bell to ask them to stop feeding stray cats, which they politely refuse – this is my vote for favorite scene, which even ends with one of Hong’s trademark Random Zooms on a cat. We also get chickens and crows, more animals than usual.
Friend 1 and a collision of neighbors:
The next friend is Song Seon-mi (Kim’s assistant in On The Beach), who slept with a local poet and now he’s obsessed, knocking on her door every day. This is not as enjoyable a meal (Song burns the dinner) or confrontation as the first one. Friend 3 is Kim Sae-byuk, also of Grass, married to an author who Kim used to date. Kim runs into Kwon Hae-hyo, the guy with cool hair in Yourself and Yours, and it’s awkward – she closes with “You really should just stop talking.” Daniel Kasman in Mubi figured out what it all means.
Comfy with Friend 2:
Less Comfy with Friend 3:
He is Sangwon, she is Youngshil, meeting by chance after years. They are young and stupid, and bad at sex – even more pathetic than the characters in Woman is the Future of Man – get drunk and hook up and decide to die together. But she awakens and calls for help, and rescued Sangwon fights bitterly with his family.
Sangwon (right) with his brother:
Dongsoo is attending a retrospective of a sick/dying filmmaker, a former classmate. He stalks an actress, Youngshil – they get drunk and hook up and consider dying together. “I’m too fond of drinking. Life is too tough.” Aha, I’d been wondering why the first 45 minutes of Tale of Cinema contained no cinema, but it was meant to be the dying filmmaker’s short film – Dongsoo claims his own life story was stolen for the script (very believable – both guys are flaky and awkward and smitten with Youngsil). Good ending. Michael Sicinski:
When Dongsoo admits to Youngshil that he believes that their old director friend “stole” his life to make the movie they just saw, he is admitting that he lives in his own head, in his own internal tale of cinema. This is why, at the end of the film, Youngshil’s final line to him – “You didn’t really understand that movie” – is so withering. Dongsoo quite literally does not understand the ‘movie’ of which he is the star, that is, his own life.
Dongsoo & Youngshil:
Incredibly, I don’t know any of the three leads from the other twelve Hong movies I’ve seen. She’s from Like You Know It All, the first guy was in Woman on the Beach, and second male lead is from Memories of Murder.
The cool guy from Burning and his wife (Yeri Han of the recent Wolf Brigade remake) are professional chicken sexers starting an Arkansas farm to grow Korean veggies in their spare time. Yuh-Jung Youn (Sense8 and a couple Hong Sang-soo films) is MVP as their grandma. The kids hide from parental arguments and reluctantly spend time with grandma, who feeds them weird things and teaches them to be aggressive card players. Potential dangers include snakes, a heart murmur, a cross-dragging Christian (Will Patton), and drought + trash fire, which strikes when grandma, struggling after having a stroke, accidentally burns down the storeroom while the others are in Tulsa. Funny timing since this week I was playing an album for the first time in decades that I bought in Tulsa when our family drove down from Arkansas. The sympathetic, struggling family and personal resonance wasn’t enough to make the actual movie, a brownish wood-paneled drama, especially great.
The entire basement-dwelling Kim family gets jobs under fake names working for the rich Park family. At first it’s easy – the son is given an introduction from the Park daughter’s outgoing tutor – but they have to get increasingly deceitful to gain each position, and getting the longtime housekeeper (Jeong-eun Lee of The Wailing) fired so momma Kim (Hye-jin Jang of Secret Sunshine) can take her job causes unanticipated consequences, since the former housekeeper’s husband is living in a hidden dungeon beneath the house. In the end, one member of each family is stabbed to death, along with the displaced housekeeper and husband, and daddy Kim hides out in the basement, possibly forever.
The last two Korean movies I saw in theaters end with the poor male lead murdering the rich male lead – something’s going on in Korea. The son wielded a baseball bat in zombie thriller Train to Busan… the dad stars in The Host and Memories of Murder (and Chan-wook Park’s little-remembered vampire movie Thirst)… rich dad is in a pile of Hong Sang-soo movies! I knew his deep voice sounded familiar. I noticed in the credits that the son’s friend (who gets him the tutoring job & gives him the rock) had a special cameo appearance credit separate from the rest of the cast list… but he doesn’t seem like anyone special.
“Bong majored in sociology before he pursued filmmaking” – the Cinema Scope writeup from Cannes is good, but this long Slate article/interview is the one everyone’s talking about.
Parasite‘s Cannes competition included the Tarantino, The Lighthouse, that Portrait of a Lady on Fire I keep seeing trailers for even tho it doesn’t open until February, the upcoming Terrence Malick war movie, the Almodóvar, the Takashi Miike I missed at the Landmark a few weeks ago, and the upcoming (hopefully?) Zombi Child and Bacurau.
“I’ve never seen a truly impressive man.”
Minjung (You-young Lee of a movie called Late Spring which is somehow not an Ozu remake) is breaking up with her deep-voiced boyfriend Youngsoo (Ju-hyuk Kim, who died last year). She’s spotted by some other dudes, chats with them in bars, dates at least one, but each time she’s someone else – or claiming to be. She’ll claim to be a twin sister, or just deny having ever been where they say they’ve seen her. I suppose her multiple identities are open to interpretation, but I assumed it’s just one woman who claims to be someone else when she’s bored with a guy.
We’ve also got an older (?) guy with cool hair and a folding bike (Hae-hyo Kwon of On the Beach at Night Alone), Youngsoo’s buddy (Eui-sung Kim, who hung around the main guy’s guesthouse in Hill of Freedom), and of course a film director (Joon-Sang Yoo, lead of The Day He Arrives, lifeguard of In Another Country). She ends up back with Youngsoo, which is slightly unsatisfying since he was such a dick in the opening scene, but I dunno, she’s also wearing the same t-shirt in the bookend scenes so maybe the parts in between never happened. This was supposed to be Katy’s first Hong movie but she fled after ten minutes, saying the style was weird and felt like the PBS show Degrassi.