Thursday, November 30, 2023
From the Wire

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

In Hong Sangsoo’s new movies, “In Our Day” and “In Water,” the Korean auteur continues his signature style of minimalist storytelling. These films, recently making their US debut at the New York Film Festival, may not win over new fans, but they are fitting additions to Hong’s extensive filmography. “In Our Day” explores the themes of late-career challenges and reflection, while “In Water” adds an experimental twist with its deliberate out-of-focus cinematography. While these films may not be essential viewing, they offer a glimpse into Hong’s unique and boundary-pushing approach to cinema.

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

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Overview of Hong Sangsoo’s filmmaking style

Hong Sangsoo is a renowned Korean filmmaker known for his distinct and minimalist style of storytelling. His films often explore themes of self-reflection, creativity, and the complexities of human relationships. Sangsoo’s movies are typically small in scale, with a runtime under 90 minutes, and feature a cast of recurring actors who have become familiar faces in his works. His films are critically acclaimed and have garnered a devoted following, but some argue that his recent movies have been losing focus.

In Our Day: A standard Hong Sangsoo film

“In Our Day” is one of Hong Sangsoo’s recent releases and exemplifies his traditional filmmaking style. The movie revolves around an actor who has given up on their career and a poet who achieves success later in life. The film explores their struggles with self-reflection and their attempts to navigate the creative process. Like many of Sangsoo’s films, “In Our Day” is characterized by its low-stakes narrative and dialogue-heavy scenes. It delves into the mundane aspects of life, focusing on the nuances of human interaction and introspection.

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

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In Water: A departure from Hong Sangsoo’s usual style

“In Water” marks a departure from Hong Sangsoo’s usual filmmaking style. The film is notable for its deliberate use of a blurred effect, which creates a unique visual experience for the audience. This intentional blurring of the image adds a layer of abstraction and challenges the viewer’s perception of reality. While Sangsoo’s previous works have maintained a certain clarity and sharpness in their visuals, “In Water” experiments with a distorted and opaque visual aesthetic.

The blurred effect in In Water

The deliberate use of blurriness in “In Water” serves as a metaphorical representation of the ambiguity and uncertainty in the characters’ lives. By obscuring the details and sharpness of the image, Hong Sangsoo invites the audience to question their own understanding of the narrative. The blurred effect also highlights the importance of paying attention to the subtler aspects of the film, such as gestures and facial expressions, which may hold deeper meanings beyond what is immediately visible.

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

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The ambiguity in In Water’s storyline

The storyline of “In Water” further amplifies the sense of ambiguity present in the film. The audience is introduced to a director who is searching for inspiration on Jeju Island, accompanied by two friends. The lack of a clear script and the director’s aimless wandering contribute to the overall sense of uncertainty. As the characters stumble through the creative process, it becomes increasingly unclear whether their endeavors are genuine artistic pursuits or mere pretentiousness. This intentional ambiguity allows for multiple interpretations and encourages viewers to engage in their own subjective analysis of the film.

Hong Sangsoo’s minimalist approach to filmmaking

One of the defining characteristics of Hong Sangsoo’s filmmaking is his minimalist approach. He strips away unnecessary elements, focusing on the bare essentials of storytelling. This includes minimal production values, often shooting on digital camcorders to achieve a raw and intimate feel. Sangsoo’s films feature characters who are richly imagined but rarely undergo traditional character arcs. Instead, he emphasizes the exploration of their interior lives and the subtleties of their interactions. This minimalist style challenges the conventional notions of plot-driven storytelling and prioritizes introspection and observation.

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

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Reaction to the current trend in movies

Hong Sangsoo’s filmmaking style can be seen as a reaction to the current trends in the film industry, which often prioritize high-stakes plots and grandiose productions. In contrast, Sangsoo’s works offer a quieter and more contemplative experience. His films resist the pressures of mainstream entertainment and provide an alternative for viewers seeking a more introspective and nuanced exploration of human emotions and relationships.

The importance of being familiar with Hong Sangsoo’s canon

To fully appreciate and understand Hong Sangsoo’s recent films, it is crucial to be familiar with his previous works. Sangsoo’s films often reference and build upon themes explored in his earlier movies. Additionally, his recurring cast of actors often play similar roles across different films, creating a sense of continuity and familiarity. By immersing oneself in his canon, viewers can gain a greater appreciation for the evolution of his storytelling and the nuances of his recurring themes.

Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

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Comparison to Hong Sangsoo’s previous films

When comparing Hong Sangsoo’s recent films to his earlier works, some argue that there has been a loss of focus. While his films have always been characterized by their introspective nature and minimalist style, some feel that his recent works have become less cohesive and impactful. The experimental elements introduced in “In Water,” such as the blurred effect, have divided opinions among both critics and fans. However, it is important to consider that Sangsoo’s films are inherently subjective and open to interpretation, and what may be perceived as a loss of focus could also be seen as an evolution in his artistic approach.

The future of Hong Sangsoo’s filmmaking

The future of Hong Sangsoo’s filmmaking remains uncertain. As a prolific filmmaker, he has consistently released new works year after year. While some may argue that his recent films have lost focus, it is important to remember that Sangsoo’s films are deeply personal and reflect his ongoing exploration of themes and narratives. Each new film offers an opportunity for him to experiment and evolve as an artist. As audiences continue to engage with his work and his loyal fanbase grows, it is likely that Hong Sangsoo will continue to make thought-provoking and quietly profound films that challenge the conventions of contemporary cinema.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/23894907/in-our-day-in-water-hong-sangsoo-review