The Hong Sangsoo Page
compiled by Adam Hartzell and Darcy Paquet
Since his debut in 1996, Hong Sang-soo has established himself as one of Asia's most original and talented directorial voices. His films appear ordinary on the surface, but they reveal uncomfortable truths about human relationships in a complex, candid manner.
Hong was born in 1960 in Seoul. He first studied filmmaking at Chungang University before going to the U.S. to receive a BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts, and an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. After spending a few months studying at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, he came back to Korea and got a job at broadcast company SBS. In 1996 he released his award-winning debut feature The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, immediately winning great acclaim and establishing himself as a leading Korean filmmaker. As his career progressed, Hong also spent time teaching screenwriting at the Korean National University of Arts (KNUA). In recent years he has focused more exclusively on filmmaking, while also launching his own production company Jeonwonsa in 2004.
Locally, Hong has been well received by critics -- though some are put off by the way that things they say or do in real life can reappear in his films. Audiences meanwhile have given his work a moderate degree of attention. Although not what you could call commercially successful, Hong's features perform noticeably better than works by most other local and international arthouse directors.
When watching Hong's films, one notices what initially seems like a contradiction. On one level, his work focuses on everyday, banal human interactions that feel stripped of any deeper meaning. Short segments of his films may appear to be made up of entirely random or spontaneous dialogue, nothing different from what you might overhear in a cafe. Yet a wider view reveals a complex and highly ordered architecture of connections and repetitions that undermine the work's supposed grounding in reality. In Adrien Gombeaud's beautifully assembled presskit for Woman is the Future of Man, Hong is quoted as saying "People tell me that I make films about reality. They're wrong. I make films based on structures that I have thought up."
Both as a screenwriter and a director on the set, Hong adopts a fluid, spontaneous working style that belies this highly structured aspect of his work. In general he prefers to shoot from a detailed treatment rather than a script, and one hears stories about him composing dialogue for a certain scene on the morning of the day it is to be shot. Yet he gives his actors very precise instructions down to the smallest details and inflections. As for editing, Hong describes it as "a process of trying to make discoveries." Sometimes major changes may take place in the editing room, as when the original conceived ending to his fifth film Woman is the Future of Man was removed in post-production.
Thematically, Hong has largely focused on human relationships, and the inability of people to ever truly connect. His unflinching and at times blackly humorous depiction of the many ways in which people try and fail to communicate -- often through out of control drinking sprees or fumbling, awkward sex -- ends up making the viewer feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. Critics and scholars such as Kyung Hyun Kim have discussed how Hong's efforts to make his audience feel awkward, and the various implications of this strategy, mark him out as a somewhat unique case in contemporary cinema.
Hong describes the process of conceiving a new film as follows: "I start with a very ordinary, banal situation, and this situation usually has something in it that makes me feel strongly. It's a stereotypical feeling, but very strong. I have this desire to look at it... Perhaps it's a blind feeling. I put it on the table, and I look at it. I open up, and these pieces surface. They are not related, they conflict with each other. But I try to find a pattern that makes all these pieces fit into one. That's what I do."
"As a person, I'm still in the process of negating," said Hong shortly before the Cannes premiere of Woman is the Future of Man. "I haven't got to the point where I'm over this negation, where I've found these small beliefs that [...] I really believe in and am ready to talk about."
This nihilist streak can turn a lot of viewers off of Hong's work, but for the director there remains hope in the process. "When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It's really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films will do the same thing." (Darcy Paquet)
Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013)
Essays and Thoughts
Details and Decomposition
Awards and Honors
2010 Cannes Film Festival,
Acquarello. "Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear?: Hong Sang-soo Searches for Lost Time in Woman Is the Future of Man." Senses of Cinema website, September, 2004.
Byrge, Duane. Review of Woman Is The Future of Man. Hollywood Reporter website.
Diffrient, David Scott. "South Korean Film Genres and Art-House Anti-Poetics: Erasure and Negation in The Power of Kangwon Province." CineAction 60, (Spring, 2003). p. 60-71.
Filmbrain. "After the End of an Affair." (Review of The Power of Kangwon Province)
Filmbrain. "How Men Are." (Review of Woman Is The Future of Man.)
Hartzell, Adam. "Hong Sang-soo's Unsexy Sex." The Film Journal, January 2003.
Holloway, Ron. "Cannes: Innovations in the Certain Regard." Kinema (Fall 2000). (Includes discussion of Oh, Soojung!)
Kim, Kyung Hyun. "Turning Gate." Film Quarterly, Vol 57, No. 4, Summer 2004: 35-41.
Kwak, Han Ju. "A Smiling Skepticism: An Interview with Film Director Hong Sang-su." Korean Culture 23, no 2 (Summer 2002): pg. 20-25.
Lippet, Akira Mizuta. "Hong Sangsoo's Lines of Inquiry, Communication, Defense, and Escape." Film Quarterly, Vol 57, No. 4, Summer, 2004: 22-30.
Paquet, Darcy. Excerpts from an interview with Hong at the Cannes Film Festival. May 2004.
Phryephox. Review of Woman Is The Future of Man.
Stephens, Chuck. "Future Shock: Hong Sang-soo's Lady in Red." Film Comment, Vol 40, No.6, (November/December, 2004): 43-45.
Stephens, Chuck. "Reunification Blues." The Village Voice, October 2003.
Stephens, Chuck. "Reunification Theories: Hong Sang-soo Cuts Both Ways." Cinema Scope, Fall 2002, no. 12: pp 43-45.