Within the framework of the Barcelona D’A Festival we have been able to see ‘The Woman Who Ran’, the penultimate work of Hong Sang-soo, one of the most stimulating filmmakers in South Korea who, although he does not fill theaters, is quite an eminence in the world of arthouse and festivals.
Love and cinema
There is a current of opinion that speaks of Sang-soo as “the Korean Woody Allen”, a current that should be avoided since there is nothing more authentic and inimitable than his films. Before approaching his cinema, it is necessary to know his way of filming and structuring his work since, a first encounter, can be disconcerting, tedious and you can have that unpleasant feeling that someone is kidding you.
Sang-soo himself has stated many times that his films do not have a script as such, the night before filming he writes some lines of plot and dialogue and gives them to the actors as a guide, but the basis of everything will be improvisation that often comes washed down in liters of soju that bring out all kinds of passions and feelings.
Because the central theme of the filmmaker’s work is love. Throughout the more than twenty feature films that make up his current filmography, all kinds of processes are explored; from the awakening of love to infidelity, but there is always an idea above it, and it is the cinema.
Practically all his films have a meta-cinematic component, since their characters are usually directors, actresses, screenwriters or film students, who are involved in love conflicts that usually lead to what in the West would be a romantic comedy, but that Sang-soo It ends up turning into thoughtful observations about feelings through movies.
This appears explicitly in the film ‘Woman on the beach’ (2006), where the protagonist compares love relationships with the way he builds stories, creating a scheme that can help us define the mental structures on which he builds his feature films.
Specifically, ‘Woman on the beach’ is part of the Korean master’s “luminous stage”, when his works (although always reflective) had a lot of light, a lot of humor, they were always cheerful and in color (except for the masterful ‘The Day He Arrives’, released in 2011).
The first three of his works were much darker and although he still had not found his own style, it could be foreshadowed a personal voice. Proof of this will be his third film, ‘The virgin undressed by her suitors’ (2000), where all his obsessions will appear for the first time and already, from his next work, the avoidable ‘The door of return’ (2002) it passes to the color and to that light of which has been spoken before.
It would be from ‘Now yes, not before’ (2015) when Sang-soo’s cinema would become more thoughtful, more pessimistic and even abstract, although all this was already sensed in ‘Hill of Freedom’ (2014), a film of just 70 minutes where a few simple letters would be the trigger for a complex narrative game with the montage.
The director and his muse: a scandal and great movies
These games, based on repetitions or visual alliterations, had almost always been present in his cinema, but it will not be until ‘Now yes, not before’ where he will reach his splendor, a style that would be refined in his later films until he became a teacher not only of the narrative game, but of minimalism, silences and, little by little, of spirituality.
Another element to take into account, the one that attracts the most attention at first glance is the use of the zoom. A sloppy, dirty, almost aggressive zoom that he introduces in his usual fixed shots to reframe his characters in a way that highlights ideas, phrases or adds dramatic intensity.
If we had to make a first approximation to Hong Sang-soo’s work, what he has shot from ‘Now yes, not before’ (Golden leopard at the Locarno Festival) would be the best way to start because, although it continues being tremendously personal, his style is much more refined and his scenes shorter, which makes viewing easier.
‘Now yes, not before’ will open the stage in which he is still continuing, a stage that cannot be understood without knowing his personal life since, in his films, he speaks directly of the relationship he maintains with his muse Kim Min-hee to which I would know by shooting this tape.