TALE OF CINEMA (2005)
A metafiction on cinema and filmmaking, his sixth film has Director Hong at his self-deprecating and anxiety-filled best
Hong Sang-soo has managed to build an international following, particularly in France where he remains a darling of the Cannes Film Festival, by holding a mirror to our human foibles and quirks.
In Tale of Cinema, the mirrors are angled in a variety of directions while simultaneously providing a satire of filmmaking and its traditional narrative structures.
“I don’t try to convince audiences about anything,” says Hong. “I just want them to interpret my works however they want.” Such license will come as a relief for many viewers as it can be difficult to process exactly what they have witnessed.
As a film reviewer, it is almost impossible to craft a review on the viewing day. Digestion time is needed to understand where exactly Director Hong has decided to needle us on this occasion.
Self-aware, yet subtle, Tale of Cinema manages to be one of Hong’s best films, with plenty of room for a plethora of interpretations.
We first meet Sangwon (Lee Ki-woo), a college student on holiday after his final exam as he wallows in his indecisiveness when he meets a former girlfriend, Yongsil (Uhm Ji-won) working at an optician's store.
He decides to wait for her to finish her shift before they rekindle their relationship and bare their anxieties to each other.
In the film's corollary section, Tongsu (Kim Sang-kyung) is a struggling filmmaker leaving a cinema and sees an older Yeong-shil, and we realise the film-within-a-film we have just watched.
A prolific filmmaker, Hong is also a deeply self-aware one. As with Right Now, Wrong Then (2015), which features another filmmaker meandering around the city drinking soju, he ponders both his craft while toiling with audience expectations of film and narrative.
Here, the three act structure of film – set-up, confrontation and then resolution – are laid to waste by transitioning from pondering suicide to a new tale of love and obsession, with nothing in fanfare to let the audience know such a shift has taken place.
It is a film without spectacle, being a Hong Sang-soo film after all, with his documentary style grounding the film’s developments in a stark realism that jars with the cinema experience.
There is a single quote in the film that manages to illustrate much of its theme and the overall career of Director Hong in a single swing. As a filmmaker Tongsu attempts to woo Yeong-shil, he claims the movie she starred in was based on events from his own life. She simply responds “I don't think you really understood the film”, an entertaining response in its own right and one that can be easily aimed at Hong’s critics and even his fans.
It provides context to the differing approaches we can take to a Hong film. We can either lavish it with meaning, pick apart ever word, every scene, and paint a picture of his intent. We can also just enjoy Hong’s film’s without such deep dives. For the interactions, for that characteristic Hong camera Zoom. Tale of Cinema is a perfect illustration of this two-stream purpose.