Hong Sangsoo: Between Men and Women titles screened in London and UK tour

Since his debut in 1996 Korean director Hong Sangsoo has established himself as one of Asia’s most original and talented directorial voices. His witty “unravellings of tangled sexual relationships” (Tony Rayns), have won him numerous awards, including earlier this year, the Prix Un Certain Regard in Cannes, and his recently completed low budget feature Oki’s Movie will receive its World Premiere on 11 September as the closing night film of the 2010 Venice Film Festival’s Horizons section.

The Independent Cinema Office, in partnership with The Korean Cultural Centre, are boldly mounting the first UK retrospective of Hong Sangsoo’s complete back catalogue via an Autumn regional tour following a BFI Southbank season (commencing 1 September), a highlight of which will be an on stage interview with Hong Sangsoo himself (3 September).

UK regional tour dates are yet to be finalised but confirmed venues so far will include screenings at: Watershed Bristol, Showroom Sheffield, Cornerhouse Manchester, Broadway Nottingham, Glasgow Film Theatre, Queen’s Film Theatre Belfast and Quad Derby.

East Asian specialist film critic and writer Tony Rayns draws parallels between Hong’s films and those of his contemporaries Wong Kar-Wai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, both of whom love to explore recurring emotional syndromes and regard film as voyages of discovery.

“Nobody probes deeper into the ways that men and women misread each other’s feelings than Hong Sangsoo. His films have the power to shake up perceptions. His approach is humorous, satirising male self-delusions and female insecurities with delicious candour”.

Another reference point is Eric Rohmer, says Rayns: “since both directors are fascinated by methods of seduction and the tricks and traps of the libido. Hong though is a better drinker than any of them, and very much his own man! The results are touching, thoughtful, sometimes startling and often laugh-out-loud funny”.

Hong appeared in the mid-1990s as the Korean Cinema renaissance was getting underway, however his work is quite unlike his contemporaries. His first three films; The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (1996), The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), and Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (2000), are tightly scripted, interlocking puzzles. However from The Turning Gate (2002) onwards he has preferred to work from a detailed treatment rather than a script.

Hong himself describes the process of conceiving a new film as: “I start with a very ordinary, banal situation, and this situation usually has something in it that makes me feel strongly. Perhaps it’s a blind feeling. I put it on the table, and I look at it. I open up, and these pieces surface. They are not related, they conflict with each other. But I try to find a pattern that makes all pieces fit into one. That’s what I do!”
He continues: “When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It’s really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films do the same thing.”

The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (Dwaeji-ga Umul-ae Ppajin Nal)
Sth Korea 1996. With Kim Uiseong, Park Jinseong, Cho Eunsuk. 114min. EST

Hong’s knockout debut, a prizewinner in Vancouver and Rotterdam, has nothing to do with pigs or wells.
But it does show a day when things go wrong.

It explores the intertwined lives of four young urban adults – a second-rate novelist in love with a married woman, a girl who foolishly loves and supports the novelist, and the married woman’s husband, who catches an STD from a prostitute – and finds the extraordinary at the heart of the everyday. A modern classic.

The Power of Kangwon Province (Gangwon-do ui Him)
Sth Korea 1998. With Baek Jonghak, Oh Yunhong, Kim Yuseok. 108min. EST.

Kangwon is Korea’s East-coast resort province, and the film presents two seemingly distinct stories about residents of Seoul taking short breaks there, one after the other. It gradually becomes apparent that the protagonists of these stories are ex-lovers who have never quite got over each other – and that the stories in fact occur within more or less the same timeframe. A brilliant piece of modernist storytelling, which cuts to the heart of the way we understand characters.

Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (Oh! Sujeong)
Sth Korea 2000. With Lee Eunju, Jung Boseok, Moon Sungkuen. 126min. EST.

The title references Marcel Duchamp because this is a splintered narrative, founded on radically different points of view about the same events.
The 24-year-old Sujeong steels herself to surrender her virginity to gallery owner Jaehoon, who was introduced to her by her married (but amorous) boss Youngsoo.
But very little tallies in their respective memories of what brought them to this point …

Hong’s funny valentine of a film reinvents the rom-com in cubist terms.

The Turning Gate (Saenghwal ui Balgyeon)
Sth Korea 2002. With Kim Sangkyung, Yea Jiwon, Choo Sangmee. 115min. EST.

The more Hong thinks about the ways we delude and contradict ourselves in matters of love/lust, the funnier he finds it.

Out-of-work actor Kyungsoo accepts an invitation to scenic Chuncheon, only to find that he’s expected to help his old friend to seduce a dance teacher – who promptly throws herself at Kyungsoo instead.
When Kyungsoo bolts, he meets Sunyoung on the train and follows her home.
But Sunyoung has something to tell him which knocks him sideways …

Woman is the Future of Man (Yeojaneun Namja ui Mirae-da)Sth Korea 2004. With Yoo Jitae, Sung Hyunah, Kim Taewoo. 87min. EST.

A wintery comedy, this starts when two old college friends (one just back from the States) decide to look up a girl they both once dated.

Sunhwa, the sometime object of their affections, now runs a bar in Bucheon, a dormitory town south of Seoul.
But flashbacks reveal that the two men remember her very differently, and the reunion has consequences, which threaten both a marriage and a friendship. Wry, sharp and funny.

Tale of Cinema (Geukjang Jeon)
Sth Korea 2005. With Kim Sangkyung, Uhm Jiwon, Lee Giwu. 89min. EST.

On the rebound from their failed romance, Sangwoon and Youngshil meet by chance and give it another go.
The story climaxes with their abortive attempt at a double-suicide. Whereupon Tongsu (Kim Sangkyung) leaves the cinema and notices that the actress who played Youngshil was also in the audience. He picks her up, but their developing relationship uncannily echoes the movie she starred in …

A narrative hall of mirrors, Hong’s film takes male vanity and immaturity to pieces.

Woman on the Beach (Haebyeon ui Yeoin)
Sth Korea 2006. With Kim Seungwoo, Ko Hyunjung, Kim Taewoo. 127min. EST.

If the protagonist Kim is Hong Sangsoo’s self-portrait, it’s not a terrifically flattering one. Kim (who takes his buddy Changwook and Changwook’s potential girlfriend Moonsook to Shinduri Beach for a working break) is manipulative, narcissistic, dishonest and emotionally immature, not to mention a compulsive skirt-chaser. The two-men-and-a-girl storyline is less formalised than most of Hong’s earlier films, but no less acute in skewering male weaknesses and female strengths.

Night and Day (Bam gua Nat)Sth Korea 2008. With Kim Youngho, Park Eunhye, Hwang Sujung. 145min. EST.

Paranoid that the Korean cops are about to arrest him for smoking dope, painter Sungnam flees to Paris and holes up in a hostel with other émigrés. Between calls to his wife back home, he fights off an old flame (now unhappily married and eager to start over) and finds himself falling for a young art student. This sardonic comedy has a retrospective edge, but the Paris setting refreshes Hong’s characteristic themes.

Like You Know It All (Jal Aljido mot Hamyeonseo)Sth Korea 2009. With Kim Taewoo, Ko Hyunjung, Uhm Jiwon. 126min. EST.

Probably Hong’s most exquisitely embarrassing comedy of manners, this puts its hapless protagonist Kyungnam (an art house director desperate to make a commercial hit) through two encounters with old friends and their wives just a fortnight apart – encounters which strangely parallel each other, although their outcomes are very different. With summery settings (Jecheon and Jeju Island) and a cast of Hong Sangsoo veterans, it’s a delight.

Hahaha
Sth Korea 2010. With Kim Sangkyung, Moon Sori, Yu Junsang. 116min. EST.

While out drinking (what else in a Hong Sangsoo film?), two old friends discover that they’ve both recently visited the seaside town of Tongyeong and agree to trade memories of their trips – not realising that they were in same places and meeting the same people. Hong’s Cannes prizewinner offers a fresh, droll take on narrative disconnections and social embarrassments and features a stunning performance from Moon Sori as a tour guide.

Lost in the Mountains + An Evening with Hong Sangsoo (BFI Southbank, 3 Sept).
A sit-down session with Hong Sangsoo, chaired by Tony Rayns, will explore just how autobiographical his movies are, why the women run rings around the male protagonists, and what draws him to ambiguous, bifurcating storylines.

The talk will be preceded by a screening of Hong’s 2009 short film Lost in the Mountains (32 mins), an uproarious tale of mistaken apprehensions and social disasters.

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