The turning gate in 2002’s Turning Gate is a mythical-icon-turned-tourist-landmark, which doesn’t itself turn, but imposes fear upon those too reluctant to pass by it, and makes them head back home. Fledgling actor Kyung-soo (Kim Sang-kyung) yawns the myth off upon hearing it from buddy Sung-woo (Kim Hak-sun) on a ferry boat to the gate. But as a narrative pattern develops, the tale is evidently no joke: Kyung-soo romances needy dance instructor Myung-suk (Ye Ji-won), retreats, romances sheltered housewife Sun-young (Chu Sang-mi), and finally retreats. Indeed, the film tackles how we absorb art and experience, and how both are bound to resurface so long as we contemplate them; by the film’s end, whether we consider Kyung-soo a progressively coarse asshole or a sympathetically calloused loser-in-love depends on whether we blame the man, or his colorful history. Hong again utilizes the chapter structure of Virgin, this time foretelling what’s to come with seemingly straightforward summaries. However, when a chapter is titled e.g., “Kyung-soo has a quarrel with a director,” the quarrel in question begins and ends amicably, and the suggestion that “Kyung-soo is reminded of the Turning Gate’s snake” is so decidedly psychological that a search for the precise moment the snake pops into Kyung-soo’s head would yield at least three matches within. The story continually resists encapsulation, and one senses that’s Hong’s perverse reason for supplying it. Only such a blatantly inadequate narrative framework could draw complete attention to the film’s nuanced, elegant style.
Working again in color, Hong concentrates his energy on palpable compositions that interact with our perceptions of the drama. Naturalistic as Turning Gate may seem, Hong’s methods are systematic: the more emotional turmoil bound to spill over, the more Hong inhibits identification. At the height of Myung-suk’s depression and Kyung-soo’s vendetta against her, he offers her a slight goodbye without even a hug, and quickly heads for the bus. The scene is shot from behind Myung-suk, so even as we’re readily prepared for her to freak out, we aren’t allowed to witness it; the scene derives high emotional tension from the power of assumption. Additionally, with Turning Gate Hong starts to find ways to work conventions into his work and use his aesthetic to subvert them—see Kyung-soo chatting with a little girl of Dakota Fanning-esque precocity only for her to be injured in excruciating detail, one shot later; or Kyung-soo and Sung-woo chatting about a college girl in the distance, followed by a reaction shot of her looking back, possibly interested, mostly trying to appear distracted; we never see her again. In a lesser film, the little girl would become a companion, and the college girl a conversation, if not a girlfriend. Hong flirts with convention, and then crushes it with the suddenness of life. —http://www.stylusmagazine.com/articles/weekly_article/lets-not-turn-into-monsters-okay-the-films-of-hong-sang-soo.htm
A regular on the international festival circuit, Hong Sang-soo is one of Korea’s most highly regarded contemporary directors. His mostly improvised, innovatively constructed films conceal rich layers of meaning beneath deceptively simple surfaces, and reveal a filmmaker with a unique, individual style. A rather notorious figure on the Seoul film scene, Hong has a fondness for alcohol that is almost as legendary as his talent for filmmaking. He’s been known to get familiar with his actors before shooting by taking them on drinking binges, and, for verisimilitude, the many drinking scenes in his films normally include actually drunk performers (who sometimes don’t remember these scenes after they’ve been shot).
Born in 1960, Hong began his film studies at Joongang University in Korea, then moved to the United States, where he received his BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His debut feature, The Day a… read more
Hong Sangsoo directs this poetic tale of a struggling actor whose romantic travails with two different women begin to reveal unmistakable patterns in his life. Hong is exceedingly adept at illustrating life's reflexivity, but here his craft reaches its greatest heights. His most emotionally astute and haunting work.