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The latest feature by one of South Korea’s (and perhaps the world’s) most prolific filmmakers is a highly confessional and seemingly autobiographical piece of drama. Well-know Korean filmmaker Byung-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo) and his art student daughter encounter the older, friendly and deeply curious Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-young) at the entrance of the recently renovate building of which she’s the landlady. The three enjoy a meal together, where the young woman reveals her interior design ambitions, while the director shares his most intimate secrets and frustrations. Byung-soo is obviously’s Sang-soo’s very own proxy.
Byung-soo constantly complains about the nature of the film industry. He claims that it is ruled by greedy investors with little interest in the artistic merit of the films. Cinema costs a lot of money, and the contents of a movie have to be arduously negotiated both before and after filming. He also questions the point of film festivals, a comment which evokes laughter from the crowds. There is a constant struggle between money and creative freedom.The middle-aged director confesses that he longs for a break. Perhaps two years without making a movie. Is this a hint that Sang-soo might be about to start a respite? Fortunately for us, Byung-soo soon changes his mind. He now wants to make no less than the 12 films on the Jeju Island, Korea’s largest and highly mystical island.
His daughter claims to be a huge fan of her father, yet is unable to name her favourite film, even after her father presses her for an answer. She enjoys the fact that his movies are highly conversational and realistic. This is naturally a reference to Sang-soo’s extensive portfolio and highly convivial filming style, reminiscent of Nouvelle Vague auteur Eric Rohmer. I myself have seen about 10 films by Hong Sang-soo, I have enjoyed most of them, yet I can barely remember their titles let alone the storyline.
The focus of Walk Up is on spontaneous conversation and commensality. About 70% of the film takes place around the dinner table. The camera remains static and non-intrusive, allowing most of the conversation to flow freely and without inhibitions. I doubt that these interactions are scripted. Characters drink a copious amount of wine, eat meat and smoke cigarettes as they share anecdotes, banal pearls of wisdoms, but also their most sincere emotions. There is no conflict. The food and the drinks are lighthearted and easily digestible, much like the film per se. Watching a Hong Sang-soo film is much much like having dinner out with a group of friends: it’s mostly relaxed and enjoyable, yet you will barely remember the details the following day (particularly if the meal was washed down with the same amount of alcohol as in the film).
Conspicuous in her absence is Sang-soo long-time lover and muse Kim Minm-hee, who has starred in nearly all of the director’s recent films. Instead, she appears as production director. She sat beside the director during the film screening at the impressive Kursaal, San Sebastian’s largest and most prestigious movie theatre.
Walk Up is showing in the Official Competition of the 70th San Sebastian International Film Festival/ Donostia Zinemaldia. Sang-soo is accustomed to winning top prizes at a-list film festivals across Europe, and it wouldn’t be surprise if he snatched an award or two.