THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL (1996)
Hong Sangsoo’s debut feature is a pithy story of fidelity and fulfilment told across four vexed and disillusioned characters
The 1990s launched the careers of several new wave giant of the Korean director’s chair, including this somber but impressive debut outing from Director Hong.
For many directors, the early work can be rough round the edges and technically frayed, but this first offering might be Hong’s most formalistic.
Some of the characteristic traits of a Hong film, including that now famous zoom towards the face of characters, were not yet fully developed. This is also a much more drama-filled outing than the gentler meditations on human interactions that were to follow.
There is still that knack for laying bare the human soul, displaying the effects of human obsession and of course, what happens when love and too much soju come into contact.
Our foursome of troubled souls are volatile writer Hyosup (Kim Eui-sung), housewife Bokyung (Lee Eun-kyung) who is having an affair with Hyosup, germophobic businessman Dongwoo (Park Jin-sung) and young cinema ticket taker Minjae (Jo Eun-sook).
Alongside Bokyung, Hyosup is also seeing another girl, but neither offer him fulfilment while he continues to torture himself over the middling success of his writing career. Meanwhile Bokyung sees an opportunity to break the shackles of her dull domestic life through Hyosup.
We meet Dongwoo as he catches a bus to meet a client who he finds himself unable to pin down, leaving him to spend a night away from home where his jealous nature about his wife worsens.
As for Minjae, young and naive, she is placed in an awkward situation when she is asked to put her dignity on the line.
Despite these largely separate lives in the hustle and bustle of Seoul, the characters see their fortunes clashes in darker and more dramatic ways than many later Hong films.
As is often the case in Hong’s film, the male characters are selfish, boorish and deeply damaged individuals, with their female counterparts often victims to their toxic behaviour.
There is a bleakness and seriousness that does not flow though Hong’s later works, but that focus on human nature and the time we spend together is as present as ever.
Another aspect writ large is the loneliness that someone can feel while walking around a busy city such as Seoul, something which follows around some of our doomed characters here.
There is also a debut outing for another Korean future superstar, with Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, Parasite) providing a very brief cameo in the most 90s of ill-fitting suits.
This is the starting point of an important artistic arch for Hong and as far as debuts go, it is a highly accomplished piece of filmmaking from someone who would become one of Korea’s most accomplished filmmakers.