Hong Sangsoo’s 25th feature is a monochrome meander through the prolific filmmaker’s recurrent touchpoints as a faltering actor faces his parents’ impositions
Berlin International Film Festival, 2 March 2021
An ideal first viewing for this year’s Berlinale is the familiar embrace of festival circuit darling Hong Sangsoo, continuing his prolific output with another contemplative and on-brand outing.
Filmed partly in Berlin then screened at the city’s (online) festival on the birthday of Kim Min-hee, Director’s Hong frequent collaborator, there is a coincidental comfort to the emergence of Hong’s 25th feature film.
Introduction is the fifth time that Hong has competed in Berlin, an august feat, alongside last year’s The Woman Who Ran, plus Night and Day (2008), Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013) and On the Beach at Night Alone (2017). Becoming the second Korean after the late Kim Ki-duk in 2004 (Samaritan Girl) to win the best director prize in 2020, Hong has made himself a reoccurring part of the festival, much like those looped notions in his own films.
Returning to the black-and-white hues of The Day After (2017), Hotel by the River (2019) and Grass (2019), the film follows suit from 2020’s The Woman Who Ran in its sub-90 minutes brevity, this time stretching little over an hour in duration.
Despite its clipped nature, it serves as a great work of ‘Hong Bingo’. So how many marks does Introduction achieve? There is the aforementioned black-and-white nature, the meta film industry references (this time on acting rather than directing), scenes along a beach (see the earlier Woman on the Beach and On the Beach at Night Alone), and of course, the soju-swigging scene of conflict (Introduction’s main highlight also).
Youngho (Shin Seok-ho – Hotel by the River, Grass) goes to see his doctor father, but is left waiting as he sees a patient, a famous old actor played by famous old actor Ki Joo-bong (Joint Security Area, Save the Green Planet!, Hahaha). Sometime later Youngho dines with his mother (Cho- Yun-hee), who is accompanied by that same famous actor who held up his father at the clinic.
Sandwiched between these incidences is Youngho’s girlfriend Juwon (Park Mi-so) moving to Berlin and finding accommodation with a painter, played by Kim Min-hee (just as she played a painter in Director Hong’s Right Now, Wrong Then), who manages to intimidate Juwon with her beauty.
The film’s best scene, unsurprisingly for a Hong film, takes places at the restaurant table as the soju flows. When Youngho meets his mother and the actor, alongside his friend, the two youngsters are told they can drink, but they cannot get drunk (despite the soju endlessly flowing). When Youngho reveals his acting career is failing as he considers kissing actresses for scenes a form of cheating on his girlfriend, the old actor launches into a tirade at him.
Introduction is a film about parental expectations, but also about the generational gap – both real and imagined – between today’s youth and old. Soju-soaked and self-referential, Director continues to build a filmography best understood as a whole than in its parts.