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Festival Film Review: Nobody’s Daughter Haewon

I often find myself falling asleep during Hong Sang Soo films. But my two most recent experiences – a second viewing of HaHaHa as part of the KCC’s Moon So-ri season – and Nobody’s Daughter Haewon at the ICA, coinciding with its screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival, have been exceptions.

Haewon says goodbye to her mother
Haewon says goodbye to her mother. So I guess she’s *her* daughter, then

Part of the reason for staying awake on these two occasions has been the location – Tongyeong in respect of the former (I spent a happy few days at the Tongyeong International Music Festival last year), and Seoul’s Seochon area in general and the Sajikdan in particular (I went to the Sajik Daeje at the Sajikdan last in September), together with walks along the fortress walls on one of Seoul’s northern mountains. Mentally shouting out “Hey, I’ve been there” is a great way to stay awake during a Korean movie.

But there are other reasons to stay awake for the whole length of Haewon, too:

  • It’s reasonably short, at 90 minutes
  • There are enough Hongian traits of echoes and repetition to make it interesting, without making you think you’ve seen the film before.
  • The constant cuts back to Haewon asleep in a library, which make you wonder whether what you have just seen, or what you are about to see, is meant to be a dream, do not really get in the way of the narrative. Or put another way, they are titillating rather than irritating.
  • The Hongian camera style does not intrude as much as in earlier films. It’s nice not to notice his film-making techniques, which in the past have got in the way.
  • The brief bit of English dialogue was convincing (unlike In Another Country, where you got the strong suspicion that the actors didn’t know the meaning of the words they were articulating)
Haewon asleep in the library
Haewon asleep in the library – how much of what we are seeing is a daydream?

Re-reading the above points, I realise they’re all rather negative and in sum they amount to a conclusion that, if you think Hong is on the dull side, this one isn’t as dull as most. And that’s not too far from my feeling about Haewon.

But on the plus side:

  • It is at times mildly funny (though not as much as Hahaha);
  • The actress (Jeong Eun-Chae) is very appealing in this her breakthrough film;
  • and finally, for sharp-eyed Londoners, one thing that really perked me up was seeing one of the characters on the fortress walk carrying a bag from the London Korean Film Festival 2011. I wonder how they got hold of it as a prop.
Spot the LKFF goody bag
Spot the LKFF goody bag. Image via Hong Sang-soo Web

Altogether, then, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is a congenial introduction to Hong’s work for someone who hasn’t seen any before.

Hong Sang-soo (홍상수) Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원, 2013) score-2score-2score-2score-1score-0

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