Two years ago I wrote about Brian Hung’s wonderful posters for the recent American releases of the films of Hong Sang-soo. Since then, as Cinema Guild has continued to keep the supply chain of Hong’s mini-masterpieces open to US cinephiles, Brian, their de facto in-house designer, has designed two more posters for the South Korean auteur, adding to one of the greatest contemporary designer-director collaborations that I know of (even if the two don’t actually collaborate, except in spirit.)
Last summer, in the middle of lockdown, Brian concocted a lovely combination of oversized type, photos and doodled illustrations for the belated US release of Hong’s 2016 Yourself and Yours (see below) and just last week unveiled a new design for HSS’s latest, The Woman Who Ran. (Well, I say latest, but since The Woman Who Ran had its US premiere at last fall’s New York Film Festival, the reliably prolific Hong has premiered another new film, Introduction, at March’s Berlinale.)
Brian’s poster for The Woman Who Ran is, I think, his best yet. The charming use of cut-outs and collage evident in three of his previous Hong posters reaches a new sophistication with this elegant and spare yet subtly joyous design.
I have known Brian for many years, ever since he worked as an intern at Zeitgeist Films (where I was the design director but where he hid his graphic talents under a bushel), and I interviewed him by email this week.
NOTEBOOK: This is now your seventh poster for a Hong Sang-soo film. Do you find it challenging to find new ways to interpret his films, or is Hong’s limited visual range liberating in a way?
BRIAN HUNG: Initially, yes [the former]! The direction of the first comp that I showed the Cinema Guild team was a single image and much more dramatic—design choices I made in an effort to do something different from my previous Hong posters. Ironically, the feedback from the team was that it was too similar to the On the Beach at Night Alone poster!
It took me a while to realize that the urge to do something different was entirely personal and had nothing to do with the film (which in retrospect now seems so obvious). Once I started focusing on the film and what made it unique from other Hong Sangsoo films, I was unblocked and was back on track.
NOTEBOOK: Could you say something about what it is that makes The Woman Who Ran unique from other Hong Sangsoo films and how that fed into the design?
HUNG: Hong often has a “puzzle” aspect to his films. For The Woman Who Ran, there’s a slight puzzle regarding whether the main character Gamhee (Kim Minhee), is the titular woman. I don’t want to say too much, but there’s an interesting conversation in the film about whether someone can be sincere if they say the same things again and again. Whether there’s dishonesty in repetition. That really stuck with me when coming up with the final design.
NOTEBOOK: Can you tell us how you got into poster design and what your background is?
HUNG: I stumbled into poster design. I had been working for Cinema Guild for about a year, in a completely non-design capacity. We were talking about who to go to for the On the Beach at Night Alone poster, and I flippantly said to the team, “How hard could putting some text on an image be? I know how to use Photoshop, I could do that.” Which now looking back, was a very naïve thing for me to say because I now know it’s incredibly tough. Typography and text placement is definitely what I struggle with most when designing posters. So the team let me take a crack at the On the Beach at Night Alone poster, and miraculously, they really liked my first design. And once again, I naïvely thought it would always be this easy.
I don’t come from a design background and I didn’t go to school for film. But in a way movie posters were always a big part of my life. I grew up in Shanghai during the 2000s and back then there were a lot of DVD stores that sold bootleg DVDs behind a hidden door. I would go every weekend and spend a lot of time just looking at DVD covers, picking up anything that looked interesting. For a long time, the movie poster/DVD cover was my first introduction to a film.
NOTEBOOK: Which other posters have you designed?
HUNG: For Cinema Guild I’ve also designed posters for Anne at 13,000 ft, Swimming Out till the Sea Turns Blue, Un Film Dramatique, Ghost Tropic, I Was at Home, But..., Liberté, Chinese Portrait, and I’m Leaving Now. [See four of my favorites of these below, all of which are superb.]
NOTEBOOK: Is there is anything else you want to say about the Woman Who Ran poster?
HUNG: I’m surprised how much people like the design!
See Brian’s other Hong Sang-soo designs below.
Many thanks to Brian and to Cinema Guild. The Woman Who Ran will open July 9th at Film at Lincoln Center in New York and the Nuart in Los Angeles. Click here for more playdates.