By Diana Cheng
AAP Film and Arts Writer
On the heels of winning the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival with “The Woman Who Ran”, Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo created another work, “Introduction”, and won Best Screenplay at Berlinale 2021. “Introduction” is the prolific director’s twenty-fifth film.
These two features being made back-to-back in a short time make an interesting cinematic diptych. Both are sparing in screen time, “The Woman Who Ran” spans 77 minutes and “Introduction” only 66 minutes. Several of the actors appear in both. Even when sharing certain similarity, they are not so much a continuation but offer vignettes of the present, life captured in a naturalistic way.
In “The Woman Who Ran”, Gamhee (Kim Minhee) visits her friends while her husband is away on a business trip for the first time in their five year’s marriage. In three separate parts, she inserts herself casually into the life of her friends, Youngsoon (Seo Youngha), a divorcee choosing a new lifestyle, Suyoung (Song Seonmi), an artist mingling with artists in her neighbourhood, and Woojin (Kim Saebyuk), who works at a theatre.
The women’s naturalistic demeanor and seemingly spontaneous dialogues draw us into their lives. Consistent with Hong’s previous works, a still camera placed within frame of his characters eating and drinking at a table reveal the simple pleasure of sharing a meal. The interactions of the women in these casual visits exude a gratification of female friendship and independence from any male presence. Kim, long time Hong’s artistic muse, leads the cast with her signature natural charisma.
Some of these characters reappear in “Introduction”, a black and white feature with Hong both at the helm and as cinematographer. While Kim and Seo again play long-time friends in the second part, the main focus of the film is on Shin Seokho as Youngho. Shin has a short appearance in “The Woman Who Ran” with his back turned towards the camera as he rings up his neighbor to complain about stray cats.
In “Introduction”, Shin is the protagonist who appears in all three parts, portraying a young man at the crossroads of career decision and a love relation with his girlfriend Juwon (Park Miso), who has gone to Berlin to study fashion design.
We see Youngho first visit his father’s (Kim Youngho) acupuncture clinic. Just before this, the film opens with the doctor father praying to God in his office, apparently pleading for a new chance at life as he is willing to give half his wealth to the poor in exchange. This start of the film begs elaboration yet is not dealt with anymore except that we see a troubled father having called his son to come to his clinic for a talk but never actually meeting with him while his son waits.
In the second part, Youngho surprises his girlfriend Juwon by showing up in Berlin just for a short visit. Apparently missing each other sorely, Youngho toys with the idea of asking his father to support him financially to study in Berlin so the two can be together.
In the third episode Youngho brings his friend Jeong Soo (Ha Seongguk) along to a seaside hotel where his mother (Cho Yunhee) introduces him to an aging actor (Gi Jubong), whom we see in the first part at the acupuncture clinic. The veteran actor strongly reproaches Youngho after hearing that the young man wants to quit pursuing acting because he feels performing a kissing scene with an actress as betrayal of his girlfriend. Youngho leaves the scene awkwardly; his friend follows suit.
In the ending scene, loyal friend Jeong Soo stands by Youngho, watching him dip into the icy ocean, and later helping him warm up. The roaring waves of the winter sea may well be a chilling reminder for both young men that the path to adulthood calls for more than taking up smoking and holding one’s soju.
Here we see the contrasting moment, male friendship as opposed to the female one depicted in “The Woman Who Ran”. The two young men do show their inexperience as actors––could well be Hong’s intention in the casting––compared to the first film where the more mature woman actors can hold our attention even just with their mundane conversations.
While in Hong’s signature style, meaning often isn’t conveyed through spoken dialogues and dramatic unfolding, yet the 66-minute film feels a bit too sparing to offer much of a gratifying meal, with soju or not.
“Introduction” by Hong Sangsoo opens on January 21st at Film at Lincoln Center, NYC.