Hong Sang-soo, 25 October 1960, Seoul, South Korea

There are few filmmakers as distinctive as the South Korean master Hong Sang-soo, a writer-director whose films are immediately recognisable to even those with very little investment in auteurism. At the same time, he is not easy to pin down and describe, as his style is subtle and thus often elusive for the critic, a fact compounded by Hong’s reticence to discuss the meaning of his work. 1 Therefore, there is a need for some to resort to analogies: Hong is the Korean Eric Rohmer, 2 or the Korean Woody Allen, 3 comparisons that are by no means outrageous and yet seriously inadequate, especially with regards to Hong’s style. Even within South Korean cinema itself, there is a desire to link Hong to forerunners such as Jang Sun-woo, especially 1991’s Gyeongmajang Ganeun Kil (Road to the Race Track), 4 contemporaries such as Park Ki-yong and his 2002 film Nakta(deul) (Camel(s)) and recent imitators like Lee Kwang-kuk’s Kkum-bo-da Hae-mong (A Matter of Interpretation, 2014) and Zhang Lu’s Gyeongju (2014). But ultimately Hong Sang-soo is a filmmaker operating very much, for better and for worse, within his own cinematic world, one that can be linked to both national and international contexts but which also exists and continues to evolve in its own unique form.

Hong Sang-soo

Hong emerges onto the cinema scene in 1996 with his debut feature, Dwae-ji-ga U-mul-ae Bba-jin Nal (The Day a Pig Fell in the Well), after years of study abroad, both in the United States and France, as well as a brief period as a television writer. Looking back at this film nearly 20 years later and after 16 subsequent works, one is struck with how much it differs from the idea of a Hong film most have today. It is easily the most atypical in his oeuvre, both in terms of style as well as themes. At roughly 24 seconds per shot, the editing pace is faster than his later longer take approach, and there is an inclusion of certain expressive elements, such as dissolves, that would quickly disappear from his work. This more expressive style can be seen from the opening credits and its use of foreboding music, setting a dark tone more associated with a horror film than with the type of comedic tone for which Hong has become known. It is also the only Hong film that shows the bloody aftermath of a violent act, and ends with two main characters dead and the strong suggestion that another is about to commit suicide. This has led critics to see The Day a Pig Fell in the Well more as social commentary, even as an allegory for contemporary Korea. For example, Kwak Han Ju compares Hong with Park Kwang-su and Im Kwon-taek in their respective approaches to Korean modernity, contrasting Hong’s “postmodern” approach to Park’s activism and Im’s traditionalism. 5 While there are some scholars, such as Kyung Hyun Kim, who continue to see Hong as part of the zeitgeist of Korean popular cinema, 6 Hong is often discussed, increasingly as his career has progressed, as outside of these trends and thus not someone who can be read politically. For example, Jinhee Choi describes his work as “not rooted in the Korean national story” and “seemingly indifferent to past national traumas,” 7 and Young-a Park’s recent book on film activism and independent cinema makes no mention of Hong, despite discussing many of the filmmakers of the so-called 3-8-6 generation. 8

The paradox is thus again that the beginning is not and cannot be ‘typical’: it is exceptional, since it has to bear the marks of the violent gesture of distantiation through which it establishes itself. Only the first repetition – the second story – can be typical. 9

If The Day a Pig Fell in the Well is atypical in some important ways to later Hong films, it nevertheless does share broad similarities. There is the figure of the artist in the writer Hyo-seop as well as characters working on the margins of the film industry, such as Min-jae. Like many of Hong’s other work, there is a focus on the difficulty of romantic relationships, and there is the complicated, puzzling narrative form that would become a trademark. But, as Žižek observes about first works in general, it still “bears the marks of the violent gesture of distantiation” through which Hong has to establish himself, both from Korean national and global art cinema. Even its complex narrative form can be seen as part of a broad trend towards “network narratives” influenced by the huge success of Quentin Tarantino. 10 It is thus with Gang-won-do-ui Him (The Power of Gangwon Province) that we get our first true “Hong Sang-soo film”. In formal terms, there is a turn towards a greater minimalism that would become part of Hong’s distinctive approach. The editing has slowed slightly to 33 seconds per shot, but even more significantly, there is a total lack of camera movement, a deliberate constraint often seen in certain art cinema auteurs, such as the late films of Yasujiro Ozu. In terms of narrative form, Hong makes a greater movement towards experimentation, using a split narrative between the two main characters, the former lovers Ji-sook and Sang-gwon. As Marshall Deutelbaum has argued, the narrative is even more complex on close examination, in which each sequence in the second half of the couple’s separate but simultaneous trips to Gangwon Province comes chronologically after the corresponding sequence in the first half. 11 This challenging approach to narrative form, even within art cinema norms, becomes a hallmark of Hong going forward. In terms of story, The Power of Gangwon Province remains a darker film than the later comedies, and like The Day a Pig Fell in the Well it features a murder. Here, however, the murder involves marginal characters and occurs off-screen. Like the later films, the focus becomes much more on the mundane and quotidian, such as romantic relationships, friendships, pursuing career goals, etc.

Hong Sang-soo

Hong Sang-soo

More so than most filmmakers, there is a remarkable consistency to Hong’s work, and thus a difficulty in evaluating which of his films are his greatest works. Ask a dozen Hong fans for their favourite film, it is very possible you will receive a dozen different answers. But if there is a Hong masterpiece, the most common answer is likely to be his third film, Oh! Soo-jeong (Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, 2000). The split narratives of the first two films are taken to the extreme, in which the narrative repeats itself from a different perspective in the second half. Or perhaps not. As Deutelbaum has argued, many scenes in the film’s second half that appear to be contradictory and indicative of a “he said, she said” subjectivity are in fact consecutive, in which we are seeing a scene later on temporally in the same evening. 12 My favourite example can be seen in a sequence in which the three main characters are drinking and the older man Young-soo gets up to go to the bathroom, knocking the chopsticks off the table. On the right side of the screen, we can see three other characters eating and drinking. In the second part of the film, this scene seemingly repeats itself, as we once again see Young-soo (the first Hong film for Moon Seong-keun, who would become one of his most frequent collaborators) get up and go to the bathroom, this time knocking napkins off the table instead. Thus, we are cued to read this as a repetition that contradicts the earlier scene and thus an example of the different memory of the two main characters of the same evening. However, on closer inspection, Hong shows us the same characters from the first part of the film leaving and paying their bill before cutting to the table with the three main characters. The only purpose of showing these characters is to establish that it is in fact later in the same evening and the two scenes are not contradictory, a fact supported by the characters also being much drunker than in the earlier scene. Hong is thus challenging and even openly deceiving his audience, especially since the first scene in the second half of the film actually does contradict the earlier event. It is not just characters that are unreliable, but the whole narrative form itself. As Deutelbaum concludes, “correctly perceiving this film’s structure requires skepticism as well as discernment.” 13

Hong Sang-soo

Hong’s next film, Saeng-hwal-ui Bal-gyeon (Turning Gate, 2002), begins a period in which Hong downplays the puzzle-like structure of his first three films and focuses more on character and relationships. The narrative is still split, but is now linear, with the lead character having a relationship with two different women. It is Hong’s first film with a very clear lead character, Gyeong-soo (played by frequent collaborator Kim Sang-kyung), and I think this is one of the reasons why it is one of my least favourite of his films, despite being lauded by many. I am more attracted to Hong’s films with multiple protagonists or the rare films with a female centre than when the focus is too strong towards a typically narcissistic Hong male. In Turning Gate, there seems to be an attempt to sentimentalise the lead character and his romantic failure, at least within Hong’s normal ultra-cynicism. However, the film does contain one of Hong’s best scenes, in which Gyeong-soo is caught looking at a woman’s legs at a nearby table, provoking an angry response from her boyfriend. The scene is a great example of Hong’s cinema, both darkly funny and tensely awkward, and with a piercing critique of masculinity at its core. 14 It also illustrates the growing minimalism of his style, with the entire scene playing out in a single long take of 170 seconds, shifting only slightly when the character gets up from his table. Overall, the ASL of Turning Gate is roughly 57 seconds, nearly double that of his debut and the slowest editing pace of his career thus far. This minimalism would reach an extreme with Hong’s next work, after which he would move in a different direction.

Hong Sang-soo

Hong’s fifth feature, Yeoja-neun Namja-ui Mi-rae-da (Woman is the Future of Man, 2004), represents a kind of end point for Hong and his early career, taking the increasing long take style of his films to a logical extreme. The film contains only 51 shots in its 84 minute running time (excluding credits), for an ASL of 98 seconds. 15 Perhaps more importantly, there is a lack of movement into any scenes, as the camera movement is always side-to-side and never forward or backward, and the editing is reserved almost exclusively for scene transitions. The one exception is a cut in on Heon-joon (played by Kim Tae-woo, another Hong regular) looking at a young photo of his ex-girlfriend. And this one exception is by no means easily explicable within the narrative’s meaning, remaining somewhat mysterious, something Hong would continue in later films with his use of the zoom lens. Hong takes up the zoom in his next feature, Geuk-jang-jeon (A Tale of Cinema, 2005), and continues to use in all of his subsequent films to date. It is a very obtrusive device, interrupting scenes seemingly at random and with little justification. Hong mostly uses to zoom during long takes lasting over a minute or more, with well over half of these shots containing at least one and sometimes multiple zooms. 16 After the extended long takes and lack of movement in Woman is the Future of Man, Hong decided he wanted to vary his shot scale, but wanted to find a device that would not provide the easy suturing of the classical “master shot into shot/reverse shot” structure. The zoom provides this, and has thus continued to be a distinctive characteristic of Hong’s style, all the more unique because of its mostly unmotivated nature. 17

Hong Sang-soo

A Tale of Cinema is an important Hong text for reasons beyond the introduction of the zoom. In many respects it is a flash-forward to a period later in Hong’s career, displaying a number of characteristics that would mark his future output. The divided narrative here is overtly self-reflexive in a manner not seen in his earlier films, as the first half ends up being a short film that is being watched in a movie theatre, part of a retrospective on a director’s work. In the audience is a classmate of the director, who sees the actress from the movie also attending the screening. He strikes up a relationship with this woman, and the narrative’s second half follows these characters, with certain overlaps and resonances with the first half. This greater self-reflexive style would become a more prominent feature going forward, as would experimentation with the idea of parts of his films being “authored” by fictional characters while still maintaining the general characteristics of the Hong style. Finally, A Tale of Cinema, while breaking with the increasingly minimal style of the previous films, also represents an end point in one respect, in that it is the last time Hong would explicitly depict sexuality and nudity. In all subsequent features, explicit depictions of sexuality would remain off-screen, a fact made more conspicuous by the fact that sexual situations do not disappear from the narratives, only their direct representation. It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for this, since “awkward” sex had actually become part of the Hong signature. 18 Perhaps Hong wanted to break away from this stereotype, but Hong has never been afraid of repetition, and the fact that he has never returned to explicit representations seems a deliberate choice (not surprisingly, when I asked Hong this question about explicit sexuality and its disappearance from his films at a Q&A in Busan in 2010, Hong claimed no self-awareness). Regardless of cause or intention, I believe one result of this decision has been to remove more of the disturbance and darkness from the films, a movement that can be seen in the increasingly comic tone of his later work.

Hong Sang-soo

Hong Sang-soo

With his next three films, Hae-byeon-ui Yeo-in (Woman on the Beach, 2006), Bam-gwa Nat (Night and Day, 2008), and Jal Al-ji-do Mot-ha-myeon-seo (Like You Know It All, 2009), Hong follows a familiar pattern. They are all linear films, often split narratives in terms of location, but all focusing on a lead male character and his troubled relationships with women, and are lengthy (Night and Day, at 144 minutes, remains the longest of his career thus far). Stylistically there is not much variation, with an ASL of roughly 70-80 seconds (Night and Day has a lower ASL because of the use of many short diary title cards) and the continued use of the zoom. While I generally disagree with the claim that Hong simply repeats himself (as I have been arguing, there are many variations to his work), I would be sympathetic to this charge after Like You Know It All. However, there are some important firsts in these films as well. Woman on the Beach has a final section in which the female character, Moon-sook (the great Go Hyun-jeong, who would also star in Like You Know It All), takes control of the narrative from the male lead, Jung-rae, and even forms a tentative bond with her female rival/replacement, Seon-hee. There is also a growing interest in foreign-ness, as can be seen in the scene in which Moon-sook describes her sexual encounters with German men while living abroad, a revelation that amusingly disturbs the two Korean men present (the scene is also a rare instance where the zoom is used rather expressively to comment on the attraction/repulsion towards the story by the male characters). This interest extends into Night and Day, which takes place mostly in Paris, as the lead character, the artist Seong-nam, is prevented from returning to Korea because of a possible charge for smoking marijuana (which carries a potentially lengthy prison sentence). One of the jokes of the film, however, is that the narrative is still very similar to other Hong films, as Seong-nam becomes friends with other ex-pat Koreans and begins an affair with a younger student; thus, there is very little engagement with the foreign culture. Night and Day also marks Hong’s move into digital, which would allow him to increase his output considerably (from 1996-2008, Hong makes eight features; from 2009-2015, he makes nine features plus two shorts). And with Like You Know It All, we get the first character that seems very close to a Hong surrogate in the art cinema director Kyung-nam, as well as a satire on the world of film festivals and university lectures that Hong knows very well.

In 2009, in addition to releasing Like You Know It All, Hong participates in the 10th annual Jeonju Digital Project, an initiative started back in 2000 by the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. Every year, three filmmakers are given approximately 50,000 dollars to make a short film, which is then combined into a single omnibus feature. The festival has attracted such major international auteurs as Jia Zhang-ke (2001), Tsai Ming-liang (2001), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2005), Harun Farocki (2007), Pedro Costa (2007), Jean-Marie Straub (2011) and Claire Denis (2011), as well as Korean directors such as Park Kwang-su (2000), Park Ki-yong (2003), and Bong Joon-ho (2004). The 2009 edition, titled Eo-ddeon Bang-moon (Visitors), included Kawase Naomi’s “Koma”, Lav Diaz’s “Walang alaala ang mga paru-paro” (“Butterflies Have No Memories”) and Hong’s “Cheop-cheop-san-joong” (“Lost in the Mountains”). This short is notable in being Hong’s first film with a single female protagonist, including the use of voiceover, a technique only used previously in A Tale of Cinema. More intriguing is its connection to one of Hong’s next films, Ok-hi-ui Yeonghwa (Oki’s Movie, 2010), which is composed of four different “short” films (titled “A Day for Incantation”, “King of Kisses”, “After the Snowstorm” and “Oki’s Movie”). In addition to the short film link, all star the same three actors (Hong’s most frequent collaborators, Jeong Yoo-mi, Lee Seong-gyun and Moon Seong-geun) in a story of a male professor/male student/female student love triangle. Oki’s Movie seems in part inspired by Hong’s work on “Lost in the Mountains” and his return to the short film format, which one can see inspiring the narrative involving film students as well. The interest in female subjectivity is extended further here, as the last of the short films, also titled “Oki’s Movie”, is told from the perspective of a female student, including a voiceover in which she describes her intentions and feelings. In my opinion it is one of the highlights of Hong’s career, which is ironic in that it is stylistically the least similar to his other work, using a cross-cutting approach and personal introspection not found elsewhere in his films.

Hong Sang-soo

In 2010, Hong releases two features within a single calendar year for the first time with both Oki’s Movie and HaHaHa (partially as a result of this overlapping, a fun bit of Hong trivia: Oki’s Movie is his only feature not to play at the Busan International Film Festival). They are very different films, and offer differing examples of certain types of Hong’s cinema. HaHaHa is a Hongian puzzle film, echoing back to his earliest films such as The Day a Pig Fell in the Well, The Power of Gangwon Province, and Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. The narrative consists of two characters, Moon-kyeong and Jeong-ho, who take turns telling about a trip each took to the seaside resort Tongyeong. The viewer soon discovers that the trips overlap, and has to try to piece together the narrative from the respective, alternating stories. This present framing story of the two characters telling their various flashbacks is presented with black and white stills, resembling a shot/reverse shot structure but de-familiarised, perhaps to cue the viewer to take an active role in constructing the text’s meaning. HaHaHa is also notable for a rare but very amusing Korean historical reference, as Moon-kyeong’s love interest, Seong-ok (Moon So-ri, making her first of many subsequent appearances in Hong’s films) gives guided tours about Korean history. During one lecture on the legendary Admiral Yi Soon-shin (played by the lead of Night and Day, Kim Yeong-ho), she is challenged about this official national hero and becomes very frustrated and agitated. Later, in a dream sequence, Moon-kyeong meets Admiral Yi, who gives him dating advice that eventually works in his wooing of Seong-ok. There is most likely another inter-textual joke here, as the actor Kim Sang-kyung had recently played the lead role in the TV drama Dae Wang Sejong (King Sejong the Great, 2008). Both Admiral Yi and King Sejong are revered national figures, to the point of both having statues in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square. Needless to say, Hong is not interested in the usual hagiography of such figures, but rather wants to satirise the characters and their belief in such myths.

In contrast to HaHaHa, Oki’s Movie looks back to a different earlier film, A Tale of Cinema, in its self-reflexive examination of filmmaking and storytelling. This would become a dominant strain in Hong’s next films, Buk-chon Bang-hyang (The Day He Arrives, 2011) and Da-reun Na-ra-ae-seo (In Another Country, 2012), which start to resemble essays about both cinema generally and Hong’s cinema specifically. 19 Like A Tale of Cinema and Oki’s Movie, they are also shorter works, often divided up into smaller and discrete sections, unlike the longer, single protagonist dramas initiated by Turning Gate and continuing in films such as Like You Know It All. The Day He Arrives and especially In Another Country become like short sketches for potential films rather than fully formed wholes, almost as if Hong had become disinterested in making a “conventional” Hong film and wanted instead to experiment with these story fragments. Thus The Day He Arrives repeats scenes, not for any expression of Rashomon-like subjectivity, but to examine how cinematic storytelling is always re-telling events and we are always left with representations without an original reality. This is made explicit with In Another Country, Hong’s first film mostly in English and with an international star, Isabelle Huppert, who stars in three separate stories written by a young female screenwriter (played by Hong veteran Jeong Yoo-mi). The result is Hong’s most formalist and empty work, intriguing mostly as an experiment, in which we are witness to the very process of writing and then re-writing a single story, and are left thinking perhaps even more revisions are left to come. It is undeniably self-indulgent and not really successful on its own, but within the context of Hong’s career, it maintains a certain fascination.

Hong Sang-soo

In 2013, Hong once again releases two features, Nu-gu-ui Ddal-do A-nin Hae-won (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) and Woo-ri Sun-hi (Our Sunhi), and once again breaks off into a new and simultaneously old direction. Stylistically, the two films are closest to the minimalist peak of Woman is the Future of Man, even as they maintain traits of Hong’s more recent films, most obviously the zoom lens. The ASL of Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is nearly 89 seconds, the highest since Woman is the Future of Man, only to be surpassed by Our Sunhi at a career high of 122 seconds. Both films feature bravura sequence shots that resemble and even extend his previous minimalist approach. In Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, there is a nine-minute group shot around a table, with a professor and a number of his students. It is similar to and yet works variations on a sequence from Woman is the Future of Man, showing Hong’s ability to choreograph and arrange a complicated mise-en-scène. 20 In Our Sunhi, there is a matching pair of extended long takes, each over 11 minutes in length. In the first scene, Jae-hak and Mun-soo, two old yet estranged friends, talk around a table at a bar in a typical Hong two-shot. The unusual aspect of the shot is the extreme length, with no zooms and little camera movement, broken only by an occasional interruption from a third character and the arrival of a chicken delivery. This exact same set up is repeated later in the film, this time with Jae-hak and Sunhi, the main subject of the first conversation. This sequence is also 11 minutes in length and almost exactly parallel to the first, except here the emotions are much stronger, eventually leading to the characters touching across the empty space of the table. The result is one of the most emotional scenes in Hong’s cinema, despite or perhaps even because of the extreme formalism of the style. 21

Hong’s two most recent films, Ja-yu-ui Eon-deok (Hill of Freedom, 2014) and Ji-geum-eun-mat-go-geu-ddae-neun-teul-li-da (Right Now, Wrong Then, 2015), return to his fascination with narrative puzzles. Hill of Freedom, Hong’s second film mostly in English and also with a foreign actor in the lead (Japan’s Kase Ryo), uses the device of a series of undelivered letters from the protagonist to his Korean lover to seemingly justify the scrambled chronology. I say “seemingly” because there is also the possibility that this is a false heuristic, for which Hong is fond of employing. The same can be said for Right Now, Wrong Then, in which a story of a couple’s day together is told twice, once in which their relationship goes very wrong, and then concluding with a more optimistic outcome. However, going back over the film, it is difficult to decipher if this is really two contradictory or alternative versions, or rather different parts of the same internally consistent world, consecutive events rearranged into negative and positive versions rather than a “forking paths” construction. In this way, Right Now, Wrong Then resembles Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors and its complex challenging of art cinema reading strategies. It is also Hong’s longest film since 2009, after a long period of making shorter and shorter films, culminating with Hill of Freedom, which at 67 minutes is at the edge of what is generally considered “feature” length. This return to longer form work that also invokes the form of his most acclaimed film led to Right Now, Wrong Then to being Hong’s most critically successful recent film, winning the Golden Leopard and Best Actor (Jeong Jae-yeong) at the 68th Locarno International Film Festival.

Looking back over Hong’s career, there are a large number of shifts and variations, especially for a director renowned (and notorious) for simply repeating himself. Going forward, this will hopefully continue. However, there has been a larger movement in Hong’s career that seems unlikely to reverse, which is the movement towards a more comic and lighter tone. In my view, this is unfortunate, not because I dislike his recent films, but more because I appreciate some of the darker themes of the earlier work. With Right Now, Wrong Then, there is very little of the disturbance in the story content that so marked the otherwise formally similar Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. Hong’s sharp social insight and satirical tone has not gone away, but without the more explicit content of the earlier films, the work is less confrontational and radical in its impact. That said, every new Hong Sang-soo project is still one to be anticipated, and for those obsessed with his cinema and its history, there are few more exciting directors working today.

Funding for this research was provided by the Kwangwoon University Research Fund (2016).

 

Filmography

Dwae-ji-ga U-mul-ae Bba-jin Nal (The Day a Pig Fell in the Well, 1996)

Gang-won-do-ui Him (The Power of Gangwon Province, 1998)

Oh! Soo-jeong (Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, 2000)

Saeng-hwal-ui Bal-gyeon (Turning Gate, 2002)

Yeoja-neun Namja-ui Mi-rae-da (Woman is the Future of Man, 2004)

Geuk-jang-jeon (A Tale of Cinema, 2005)

Hae-byeon-ui Yeo-in (Woman on the Beach, 2006)

Bam-gwa Nat (Night and Day, 2008)

Jal Al-ji-do Mot-ha-myeon-seo (Like You Know It All, 2009)

“Cheop-cheop-san-joong” (“Lost in the Mountains”) (short, 2009)

HaHaHa (2010)

Ok-hi-ui Yeonghwa (Oki’s Movie, 2010)

Buk-chon Bang-hyang (The Day He Arrives, 2011)

Da-reun Na-ra-ae-seo (In Another Country, 2012)

“List” (short, 2012)

Nu-gu-ui Ddal-do A-nin Hae-won (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, 2013)

Woo-ri Sun-hi (Our Sunhi, 2013)

Ja-yu-ui Eon-deok (Hill of Freedom, 2014)

Ji-geum-eun-mat-go-geu-ddae-neun-teul-li-da (Right Now, Wrong Then, 2015) 

Bibliography (Print)

Scott Burgeson, “Hong Sang-soo” in Korea Bug: The Best of the Zine That Infected a Nation. Seoul: Eunhaeng Namu, 2005: pp. 227-239.

Hye Seung Chung and David Scott Diffrient. “Forgetting to Remember, Remembering to Forget: The Politics of Memory and Modernity in the Fractured Films of Lee Chang-dong and Hong Sang-soo” in Seoul Searching: Culture and Identity in Contemporary Korean Cinema. Edited By Frances Gateward. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007: pp. 115-139.

Robert W. Davis Jr. and Tim Maloney. “Hong Sang-soo’s Geuk-jang-jeon (A Tale of Cinema): Redaction Criticism and Production Analysis”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 12, no. 1: pp. 5-21.

Marshall Deutelbaum, “The Deceptive Design of Hong Sangsoo’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 3, no. 2 (2005): pp. 187-199.

Marshall Deutelbaum, “The Pragmatic Poetics of Hong Sangsoo’s The Day a Pig Fell into a Well” in Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009: pp. 203-216.

Marshall Deutelbaum, “A Closer Look at the Structure of Hong Sangsoo’s HaHaHa”, Asian Cinema 23, no. 2 (2012): pp. 157-166.

Marshall Deutelbaum, “Approaching Hong Sang-soo”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 12, no. 1 (March 2014): pp. 1-4.

Marshall Deutelbaum, “Reversibility as Structuring Principle in Hong Sang-soo’s Turning Gate”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 12, no. 1 (March 2014): pp. 60-65.

David Scott Diffrient, “South Korean Film Genres and Art-House Anti-Poetics: Erasure and Negation in The Power of Kangwon ProvinceCineAction no. 60 (2003): pp. 60-71.

David Scott Diffrient, “The Unbearable Lightness of Hong Sang-soo’s Hahaha: Awkward Humor, Nervous Laughter, and Self-Critique in Contemporary Korean Comedy”, New Review of Film and Television 12, no. 1 (March 2014): pp. 37-59.

Marco Grosoli, “Moral Tales from Korea: Hong Sang-soo and Eric Rohmer”, Acta University Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies 3: pp. 95-108.

Moonyung Huh, Hong Sang-soo. Translated by Yook Jin-young. Seoul: Korean Film Council, 2007.

Jinhee Kim, “Cinephiliac Nation, Minimalist Film: South Korea’s Sangsu Hong and His The Power of Kangwon Province,” Utah Foreign Language Review 11, no. 1: pp. 10-24.

Kyung Hyun Kim, “Too Early, Too Late: Temporality and Repetition in Hong Sang-su’s Films,” in The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004): pp. 203-232.

Kyung Hyun Kim, “Hong Sang-soo’s Death, Eroticism, and Virtual Nationalism” in Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011: pp. 123-150.

Han Ju Kwak, “Discourse on Modernization in 1990s Korean Cinema” in Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia. Edited by Jenny Kwok Wah Lau. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003: pp. 90-111.

Akira Mizuta Lippit, “Hong Sangsoo’s Lines of Inquiry: Communication, Defense, and Escape.” Film Quarterly 57, no. 4 (2004): pp. 22-30.

James Quandt, “Twice-told Tales: James Quandt on the Films of Hong Sang-soo”, Artforum International 55, No. 10 (Summer 2007): pp. 468-474.

Marc Raymond, “Hong Sang-soo and the Film Essay”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 12, no. 1 (March 2014): pp. 22-36.

Marc Raymond, “Two-Shots and Group Shots: Hong Sang-soo’s Mannerist and Classical Mise-en-Scène”, Style 49, no. 2 (2015): pp. 196-217.

Michael Unger, “Hong Sangsoo’s Codes of Parallelism,” Asian Cinema 23, no. 2 (2012): pp. 141-156.

Web Resources

Two blog entries from Hong fan and scholar David Bordwell, showing his talent for formal analysis.

Roughly 35-minute discussion on Hong’s films.

A chance to freely and legally stream Hong’s debut feature.

An example of Deutelbaum’s close reading of one of Hong’s puzzle films.

A truly great resource for Hong news as well as some interesting mini-photo essays on his films.

An introduction to a series of posts and a podcast on The Day He Arrives, which Hartzell watches for seven consecutive days upon its theatrical run in San Francisco.

One of the first collections of writings and interviews on Hong and his films, from two of his earliest English-speaking admirers.

Interesting video essay from Kevin B. Lee, one of the masters of the form.

Nice introduction to Hong by critic Calum Marsh.

Includes links to both Martin Scorsese’s brief introduction to Woman is the Future of Man as well as other clips of Hong’s work. Also a link to Marshall and myself discussing Hong on Marshall’s podcast “Notebook on Cities and Culture.”

Amusing and insightful discussion of the difficulties of interviewing Hong.

Recent interview with Hong.

An amusing one and a half minute Hong scene, part of a series of shorts celebrating 70 years of the Venice Film Festival.

Film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on Hong’s use of space.

Recently published thesis from Concordia University in Canada on Hong’s unique use of narrative form.

  1. For example, see Darcy Paquet, “Interviewing Hong Sangsoo,” Daum Magazine (15 March 2013) http://magazine.movie.daum.net/w/magazine/read/detail.daum?thecutId=3239 (accessed December 30, 2015)
  2. There are many examples of this comparison, but for the most detailed account, see Marco Grosoli, “Moral Tales from Korea: Hong Sang-Soo and Eric Rohmer,” Acta Univ. Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies 3 (2010): pp. 95-110.
  3. Colin Marshall, “Martin Scorsese Introduces Hong Sangsoo, ‘The Woody Allen of Korea’,” Open Culture (24 April 2015) http://www.openculture.com/2015/04/martin-scorsese-introduces-filmmaker-hong-sangsoo-the-woody-allen-of-korea.html (accessed 30 December 2015)
  4. See the following synopsis from the Korean Film Archive: http://www.koreafilm.org/feature/100_89.asp (accessed 30 December 2015)
  5. Han Ju Kwak, “Discourse on Modernization in 1990s Korean Cinema” in Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia (ed. Jenny Kwok Wah Lau) (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003): pp. 90-111.
  6. See Kyung Hyun Kim, “Too Early, Too Late: Temporality and Repetition in Hong Sang-su’s Films” in The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004): pp. 203-232; as well as Kyung Hyun Kim, “Hong Sang-soo’s Death, Eroticism, and Virtual Nationalism” in Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global Era (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011): pp. 123-150.
  7. Jinhee Choi, The South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers, Global Provocateurs (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2010): p. 30.
  8. Young-a Park, Unexpected Alliances: Independent Filmmakers, the State, and the Film Industry in Postauthoritarian South Korea (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015). The 3-8-6 generation refers to individuals who were born in the 1960s and thus were in their 30s during the 1980s. By this definition, Hong is a member of this cohort, although he is often ignored in these types of generational discussions, perhaps because he was studying abroad during the politically charged fight for democracy in1980s South Korea. For an overview of Hong’s pre-filmmaking biography, see Huh Moonyung, Hong Sangsoo (translated by Yook Jin-young) (Seoul: Korean Film Council, 2007): pp. 111-118.
  9. Slavoj Žižek, The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory (London: British Film Institute, 2001): 29.
  10. David Bordwell, “Mutual Friends and Chronologies of Chance” in Poetics of Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2008): pp. 189-252.
  11. Marshall Deutelbaum, “The Structure of Hong Sangsoo’s The Power of Kangwon Province”, Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 8, no. 3 (2008) http://reconstruction.eserver.org/Issues/083/deutelbaum.shtml (accessed 30 December 2015).
  12. Marshall Deutelbaum, “The Deceptive Design of Hong Sangsoo’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,” New Review of Film and Television Studies 3, no. 2 (2005): pp. 187-199.
  13. Deutelbaum (2005), 199.
  14. A fine discussion of this scene can be found in Kyung Hyun Kim (2011), pp. 131-133.
  15. For a detailed breakdown of Hong’s stylistic measurables in all of his films prior to Ja-yu-ui Eon-deok (Hill of Freedom, 2014), see Marc Raymond, “Two-Shots and Group Shots: Hong Sang-soo’s Mannerist and Classical Mise-en-Scène,” Style 49, no. 2 (2015): pp. 212-215.
  16. A statistical breakdown of Hong’s use of the zoom can be found in Raymond (2015), pp. 213-214.
  17. Marc Raymond, “Hong Sang-soo and the Film Essay,” New Review of Film and Television Studies 12, no. 1 (March 2014): p. 25.
  18. For example, see Adam Hartzell, “Hong Sangsoo’s Unsexy Sex”, The Film Journal 1, no. 4 (January 2003).
  19. See Raymond (2014), pp. 28-33.
  20. For a comparison between these two group shots, see Raymond (2015), pp. 208-210.
  21. For an extended discussion of these two scenes, see Raymond (2015), pp. 204-207.

About The Author

Marc Raymond is an Associate Professor in the Communications department at Kwangwoon University in Seoul. He is the author of the book Hollywood's New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese (SUNY Press, 2013) and has published essays on Hong Sang-soo in the New Review of Film and Television Studies and Style.