|Kwon (Seo Young-hwa) and Mori (Ryo Kase)|
Where: The Walter Reade Theater
Hill of Freedom, the most recent film from Korean director Hong Sang-soo, had its U.S. premiere at the 52nd New York Film Festival on Tuesday, September 30th and was also shown on Wednesday, October 8th, which was when I saw it. A third screening has been added as part of the NYFF52 Encore Screenings series. That screening will take place at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater.
With a 66 minute running time, the film is too short to qualify as a feature film (85 minutes or more), but too long to be a short (30 minutes or less). I'd be inclined to call it a featurette, but in our age of DVDs and Blu-rays, that term has come to refer to a short documentary film about the making of a feature-length film. And I don't think mini-film sounds right.
|Youngsun (Moon So-ri), her boyfriend, and Mori|
So, while I'm unsure how to technically characterize it in terms of its length, I will say it's a smart, well-made movie that departs from the kind of film for which Hong is typically known. Hong is frequently described as a director who makes the same film over and over, but with slight variations. Thus he can be regarded as a "one-trick pony," although this may or may not have a pejorative connotation, depending on the commentator's viewpoint. Most of his films rely heavily on repetition, of scenes and/or dialogue. What keeps his films interesting are the variations he employs.
Hill of Freedom for me was very different from the other films by Hong that I have seen, and I've seen a fair number of them. Here there really isn't much of the repetition for which he's known. In fact, the film is really a linear story -- no going back to visit the same scene from different perspectives -- although the elements of which it is comprised are not told in chronological order. (More on that in a moment.)
The film also employs the surprise of having the characters speak the vast majority of the dialogue in English. This device seems to have been used because one of the main characters is Japanese and doesn't speak any Korean, the language of all the other characters. English gives them a common language by which they can communicate.
|Mori and his landlady|
The story begins with Kwon (Seo Young-hwa), a young woman who has just returned to Seoul, being given a packet of letters left for her by Mori (Ryo Kase), a Japanese who fell in love with her during a previous visit and has returned after two years to see her again. The letters were written while Mori was trying to find her after he returned to Seoul.
While walking down a flight of stairs, Kwon drops the letters, destroying the order in which they were packaged. Since they apparently bear no dates, she can only read them in the random order in which she's picked them up. The film thus presents the various experiences Mori has had since his return in whatever order Kwon has arranged the letters. His experiences include his encounters with Youngsun (actress Moon So-ri) who works at the café whose name gives the film its title, as well as with the landlady of the guest house where he is staying and with other guests.
The viewer is thus left with the same challenge as Kwon: trying to figure out what happened when. Fortunately, this is a non-critical task; knowing the precise order of every event depicted is not crucial. It's sufficient to have a general sense of the order in which things probably took place.
I found Hill of Freedom to be one of the most enjoyable of the films by Hong that I've seen. And I've liked several of them a lot. It's funny, light-hearted and intriguing.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended.