Hong Sang Soo retrospective at BFI South Bank

Hong Sang Soo

A couple of years ago, when participating in the Blogathon on the subject of A Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, I commented that the UK had never seen a Hong Sang Soo retrospective, while the US has had three of them.

The BFI, with the assistance of the Korean Cultural Centre, is now putting that omission right, with a retrospective of all 10 of Hong’s films. The series will include the UK premier of Ha Ha Ha, which featured in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes this year. Tony Rayns will host a Q&A with Director Hong after the screening on 3 September.

Hong’s films are for many an acquired taste, but they stay with you for a long time.

Tony Rayns introduces the season. Text from the BFI website:

Nobody probes deeper into the ways that men and women misread each other’s feelings than Hong Sangsoo. Claire Denis – head of the jury which gave him the Prix Un Certain Regard in Cannes this year – once described seeing a Hong Sangsoo film as feeling like being hit on the head by a rock while out walking. His films certainly have the power to shake up perceptions, but he’s never as aggressive as Denis implies. Most of the time, in fact, his approach is humorous, satirising male self-delusions and female insecurities with delicious candour.

Hong arrived out of the blue (actually, from film schools in California and Chicago) just as the Korean film renaissance was getting under way in the mid-1990s. But his films were quite unlike anyone else’s. The first three were tightly scripted gardens of forking paths: interlocking puzzle narratives focused as much on what could or should happen between the characters as on the socially embarrassing things that do. From The Turning Gate onwards, though, he’s preferred to use less forward planning: he and his collaborators work from a broad outline and he writes the scenes from day to day as they go along. Since his male leads (especially the ones played by Kim Sangkyung and Kim Taewoo, both invariably excellent) often seem like surrogates for Hong himself, there must be some confessional side to the stories he tells. But the films are fictions, not chunks of autobiography, and the many pleasures they offer include seeing how narratives twist, turn, become echo-chambers… and then end up somewhere entirely unexpected.

There are obvious parallels between Hong’s methods and those of his contemporaries Wong Kar-Wai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, both of whom also love to explore recurring emotional ‘syndromes’ and regard films as voyages of discovery. Another reference point is the late Eric Rohmer, 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. His rueful self-awareness makes it easy for viewers to get caught up in the predicaments faced by his characters. The results are touching, thoughtful, sometimes startling… and often laugh-out-loud funny.

A summary of the screening times are below. Full details at the BFI Website.

The Day a Pig Fell into the Well

* 1 Sep 20:30 NFT3
* 11 Sep 18:10 NFT3

A modern classic, exploring the fatefully intertwined lives of four young adults in present-day Seoul.

An Evening with Hong Sangsoo

* 3 Sep 20:45 NFT3

Hong Sangsoo’s first ever sit-down discussion of his work in London.

Preview: Hahaha

* 3 Sep 18:30 NFT3
* 5 Sep 18:10 NFT3

Two old friends trade memories of recent visits to a seaside town.

Like You Know It All

* 25 Sep 20:30 NFT2
* 28 Sep 20:30 NFT2

A frazzled middle-aged man encounters two married women, with very different outcomes.

Night and Day

* 19 Sep 20:15 NFT2
* 20 Sep 18:00 NFT2

A painter dodges potential arrest by fleeing to Paris.

The Power of Kangwon Province

* 2 Sep 18:20 NFT2
* 5 Sep 20:30 NFT3

A brilliant piece of modernist storytelling set in Korea’s East-coast resort province.

Tale of Cinema

* 12 Sep 18:20 NFT2 priority booking
* 14 Sep 17:40 NFT3 priority booking

Hong Sangsoo takes male vanity and immaturity to pieces in this narrative hall of mirrors.

The Turning Gate

* 8 Sep 20:45 NFT3
* 18 Sep 18:20 NFT2

An out-of-work actor is asked to assist an old friend in the seduction of a dance teacher.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors

* 4 Sep 20:30 NFT3
* 9 Sep 20:30 NFT2

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

Woman is the Future of Man

* 11 Sep 20:30 NFT3
* 16 Sep 17:40 NFT3

Hong Sangsoo’s wintry comedy sees a reunion between two men and the girl they’ve both loved.

Woman on the Beach

* 19 Sep 15:20 NFT2
* 24 Sep 18:10 NFT2

Hong Sangsoo skewers male weaknesses and female strengths in this acute tale of a manipulative skirt-chaser.

Links:

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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