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March 24 – April 14, 2018

The Moral Tales of Hong Sangsoo

Frequently named one of the great master filmmakers of the 21st century, South Korean director Hong Sangsoo (b. 1961) has gained new prominence in recent years through a remarkable full dozen of assured and critically acclaimed features completed since 2010. Hong’s recent films have doubled his oeuvre and deepened the restless formal and philosophical introspection that has anchored his cinema from its earliest years. A nimble modernist impulse drives Hong’s boldly unorthodox approach to narrative, with each film inventing novel ways to fracture, bend and loop their profoundly moral tales of awkward, lonely men and women facing crucial life decisions and searching for a kind of redemption, a different path from their well-intentioned but also well-worn missteps. The playful reconfiguration of cause and effect, of linear story and established character, in films such as Hill of Freedom, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and Yourself and Yours disorients but also disarms, asking the viewer to reconsider the basic perspective assumed as the common ground of cinematic narrative. In this way, Hong’s stubbornly unreliable narrators—whether through faulty memory, drunkenness or errant daydreaming—inspire the films’ embrace of the rambling late-night logic of a twice- or thrice-told tale. Repetition becomes a revelatory force in films such as Right Now, Wrong Then, making clear Hong’s abiding fascination with narrative itself as a quintessentially human impulse, a simultaneously therapeutic, self-serving but also a potentially uncanny force uniquely able to hold up an unexpected mirror to our elusive inner selves. With his celebrated recent films The Day After and On the Beach at Night Alone,an increasingly meditative and even spiritual quality has entered into Hong’s cinema, which examines human relationships—even on their most elemental, communicative level—as an ethical testing ground, a means to understand the potential and limits of empathy and understanding. While much has been made of the autobiographical thread increasingly legible across Hong’s films, especially in the recurrent figure of foolhardy film director-professors, The Day After and On the Beach at Night Alone explicitly offer stories parallel to Hong’s own recent life by carefully revealing the different levels of suffering produced by the fallout of extramarital and publicly scrutinized affairs. In these films, Hong gently implicates the viewer by asking us to consider what it means to judge others, just as we habitually do when we watch a narrative film, without fully recognizing our own heavily invested and often shifting points of view.
Haden Guest

This retrospective is presented in collaboration with the Korea Institute, Harvard, with special thanks to Sun Joo Kim, Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History and Korea Institute Director, and Susan Laurence, Executive Director.

The Brattle Theatre will be screening Hong Sangsoo's recent feature Claire's Camera from April 13 - 15.

Saturday March 24 at 7pm
Saturday April 14 at 9:30pm

The Day After (Gew-hoo)

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Cho Yunhee, Ki Joabang, Kim Min-hee
South Korea 2017, DCP, b/w, 92 min. Korean with English subtitles

High among Hong’s achievements to date is this multifaceted character study centered around a narcissistic literary publisher and critic—the kind of awkward male “intellectual” long subject to Hong’s critical/comic scrutiny—trapped in an embittered dead-end affair with a young office subordinate while clumsily failing to deceive his long-suffering wife. A single extended work day (and night) spent with a disarmingly frank new intern seems to promise redemption but makes only more legible the pattern of stubborn denial that has defined his cocoon world. Deftly fracturing time with fragmentary flashbacks and uncanny repetition, Hong effectively evokes the guilt-blinded mindscape of a man too lost in his own self-absorption and self-loathing to learn from those around him. Hong once again inspires masterful performances from his actors, this time with the wondrous Kim Min-hee as a young woman determined to be true to herself and others, and Kwon Hae-hyo as the strangely sympathetic antihero whose selfish ineptitude is oddly balanced by his private moments of reeling pain. DCP courtesy Cinema Guild.

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Saturday March 24 at 9pm

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Hae-won)

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Jung Eun-chae, Lee Sun-kyun, Yu Jun-sang
South Korea 2013, 35mm, color, 90 min. English and Korean with English subtitles

Lesser known among Hong’s recent work, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is a ruminative portrait of a young woman and aspiring actress standing at the crossroad drawn by the recent collapse of a failed relationship and by her mother’s sudden emigration to Canada. The film’s loose structure follows the melancholy Haewon as she destructively reconnects with her ex-flame and ex-film professor and begins to rethink her life. Taking full advantage of recurrent scenes of the headstrong, overwhelmed Haewon writing in her diary only to fall suddenly asleep, Hong skillfully melds together dream and memory into a composite image, both real and imagined, of a young woman marked somehow as different by her beauty and enviable style and perhaps—as she seems convinced—by her fate. One of two major films directed in 2013, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon marked an important shift in Hong’s cinema away from the stumbling soju-fueled ajashi (the Korean term for middle-age men) antiheroes of his earlier work and towards a new kind of heroine, a woman determined to achieve moral clarity and understand the true consequences of her decisions. Print courtesy Fine Cut.

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Sunday March 25 at 7pm
Friday April 13 at 9pm

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

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Jeong Jae-yeong, Kim Min-hee, Yoon Yeo-jeong
South Korea 2015, DCP, color, 121 min. Korean with English subtitles

A director’s mistaken early arrival to a small-time film festival sets into motion a chain of misunderstandings whose tragicomic reverberations Hong extends and ponders through a daring gambit by repeating the story, with slight differences, a second time. The diptych vision of Right Now, Wrong Then lends a rich polyvalence to the encounter between the filmmaker and a struggling young artist, inventing composite characters whose charm and flaws are ultimately revealed to be two sides of the same coin. A meditation on (mis)communication and empathy, Hong’s celebrated masterpiece gives the viewer a refreshing new agency by inviting us to decide which is the ethically, logically “right” story and asking us to understand the meaning of this judgment. DCP courtesy Grasshopper Film.

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Friday March 30 at 7pm

Hill of Freedom
(Ja-yu-eui eon-deok)

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Ryo Kase, Moon So-ri, Seo Young-hwa
South Korea 2014, DCP, color, 66 min. English, Korean and Japanese with English subtitles

A dropped stack of shuffled love letters inspires Hong to retell a now comically defamiliarized tale of love and longing, offering a (chrono)logically shuffled version of a strained long-distance relationship between a young Japanese man and the Korean woman he believes himself to be in love with. Hong once again invents a playful narrative strategy to challenge habitual assumptions about character agency and resolution, focusing his story more on the in-between moments and after-effects than the action itself. Taking place in the historic Jong-ro district of Seoul that remains a favorite Hong location, Hill of Freedom effectively uses the narrow alley streets, petite cafes and traditional han-ok inns as micro-theaters for his signature long-take dialogue scenes while underscoring the film’s subtle commentary on cultural difference. Veteran actress Moon So-ri stands out as the comely innkeeper who gently destabilizes the young man’s determination and desire. DCP courtesy Fine Cut.

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Sunday April 1 at 7pm

Our Sunhi (Uri Sunhi)

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Jung Yu-mi, Lee Sun-kyun, Jeong Jae-yeong
South Korea 2013, DCP, color, 88 min. Korean with English subtitles

A film school graduate’s return to campus to request a recommendation letter releases a cascade of ricocheting encounters with three men from her past who are each in turn smitten by the beautiful and indecisive young Sunhi. Hong’s gently humorous tale of deferred desire offers another variation of the determined-yet-wavering heroine that has become an important focus of his recent films, with the eponymous Sunhi offered as a gentle foil to the stumbling men, unwittingly revealing the same predictably amorous intention underlying the thwarted trio’s clichéd career advice and professed desire to “help” her. A crisp Rohmerian entry into Hong’s oeuvre, Our Sunhi is a playful study of male ego that carefully uses caricature to richly comic effect. DCP courtesy Fine Cut.

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Monday April 2 at 7pm
Friday April 13 at 7pm

On the Beach at Night Alone (Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja)

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Kim Min-hee, Seo Young-hwa, Jeong Jae-yeong
South Korea/Germany 2017, DCP, color, 101 min. Korean, English and German with English subtitles

Among Hong’s most melancholy and sophisticated films to date, On the Beach at Night Alone fully embraces the surrealist elements that have often drifted across his films. Rather than jarring, the film’s unexplained diptych structure lends the film the oneiric and ruminative quality of a daydream whose leaps in time and space are emotional rather than logical. The story of a young actress running away from her recent traumatic affair with a renowned Korean filmmaker, On the Beach at Night Alone explicitly references the unreasonable sound and fury directed upon Hong and lead actress Kim Min-hee by the Korean media when the two revealed publically that they were in a committed relationship. Hong’s novel method of writing scenes the very morning of the shoot, and only sharing dialogue with his actors a few hours before, contributes to the gentle strangeness and strength of this film in which unexpected outbursts and awkward miscommunication are able to carry a raw, almost overwhelming, emotional weight. DCP courtesy Cinema Guild.

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Panel discussion has been cancelled
Saturday April 14 at 7pm

Yourself and Yours (Dangsinjasingwa dangsinui geot)

Directed by Hong Sangsoo. With Kim Joo-hyuk, Lee You-young, Kwon Hae-hyo
South Korea 2016, DCP, color, 86 min. Korean with English subtitles

Hong riffs late Buñuel in his delightfully enigmatic tale of blind desire and doppelgängers centered around a young painter whose grief over his mother’s near death is suddenly derailed by rumors that his girlfriend has broken their joint vow to drink less and has, moreover, reportedly been seen flirting drunkenly with other men. As elusive and possible nonexistent twins or doubles contradict the painter’s cherished image of his lover, Yourself and Yours playfully questions the way relationships often create fantasy identities for one’s most cherished companion. DCP courtesy Fine Cut.

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