HILL OF FREEDOM (2014)
Droll and uniquely gratifying, one of Director Hong’s most accessible films involves a woman piecing together her inamorato’s actions from a jumble of love letters
For Hong Sang-soo’s 16th film, he hodgepodges timelines and scrambles events in a funny and engaging view of a will-they-won’t-they romance.
How he achieves this approach is in a suitability smart Hong manner, where an event in the film bends the cinematic delivery of the story as a dropped stack of undated love letters are picked up in a salmagundi manner.
This mishmash of messages is then poured over and delivered to us in the same fashion, jumping around at will and allowing us to play detective along with the on-screen character.
That character is Kwon (Seo Young-hwa), who walks away from the post office after picking up a stack of letters from Mori (Ryo Kase), a Japanese language teacher and her former lover. As Kwon descends some steps she drops the letters, picking them up again, but causing the letters, and the film itself, to slip into a sporadic order.
As she sits down to read each letter, we are shown the events within them, with Mori flying from Japan to Korea and staying in a guesthouse near Kwon’s house, hoping to meet her and rekindle their love.
As you may expect from Director Hong, Mori kills the time waiting for Kwon with various drunken nights out (naturally) and lengthy periods at local coffee shop Jiyugaoka (“Hill of Freedom”). There he meets owner Young-sun (Moon So-ri) where a new romance may spark while Mori also attempts to rekindle an old flame.
The fascinating element of this will-they-won’t-they romance story is that it takes place with the two lovers apart. We witness Kwon reading the letters and Mori waiting for her, at some point in time, but we largely do not bear witness to a possible relationship directly.
Due to Mori being unable to speak Korean, the film is mainly in English. This enables a new layer of awkwardness for a Hong film which are so often littered with some form of discomfiture.
From such Hong-induced awkwardness there is often plenty of laughs to be had, but Hill of Freedom moves beyond this into genuine comedy film territory. Perhaps still in that understated Hong way, this is achieved through dialogue and everyday interactions. Through that ability for misunderstanding to arise from even the simplest of conversations.
With a brisk runtime just over an hour, it is a film with remarkably scant fat, despite its focus on the notion of waiting and time, elements which often produce films of more protruded duration.
While this feels a deeply enjoyable film to watch throughout, certainly steering into brighter spots than many of Hong’s films, there is still sometimes a melancholic view of longing and the destiny of our lives.
For Hong filmography virgins, there are several good jumping-off points for this skilled filmmaker, and the funny and charming Hill of Freedom is another good first Hong viewing option.