Cheat Sheet: Hong Sangsoo

Name: Hong Sangsoo

Place of birth: South Korea

Profession: Director

Films include: The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well, Woman Is The Future Of Man, Night And Day, Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, The Power Of Kangwon Province

Who are we looking at?

Hong Sangsoo is an award-winner film director from Seoul, who has gained critical acclaim for his intricate, often hilarious and ultimately deeply poignant films about human relationships. His first film, The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well won him the Best Director award at the 1996 Korean Blue Dragon Film Awards, awards at Rotterdam and Vancouver film festivals as well as the Best For Film award for Most Awesome Title Ever (2010).

Why should we care?

In many ways, Sangsoo’s work mirrors that of directors like Woody Allen and The Coen brothers – his films are domestic, funny and often focus on the issue of isolation; interweaving storylines highlighting the difficulties of connecting with other human beings. Sangsoo is a master of construction – his narratives are often deeply complex with episodic, shifting view-points between four or more protagonists, yet as an audience you never feel lost in the action. His passion for detail comes through in his design; every setting, location and shot help underline his central themes so that the visuals of the films become just as important as the story that underpins them. Watching Sangsoo’s films, in essence, is like taking a masterclass in the awkward, horrible and devastatingly real comedy that has shot to popularity in the last few years. If you think you know your dark, difficult funnies, you need to know this man.

Case in point?

The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well

Meet Hyo-sub, a disillusioned, self-obsessed writer who’s desperate to get an advance on his next (not so brilliant) novel. In between re-writes and begging his editor for money, Hyo divides his time between two women; the devoted and naive publishing assistant Min-jae and married lover Po-kyong. Hyo-sub is a complete mess, demanding total devotion from Po-kyong, taking money from Min-jae and checking out girls in book shops just to pass the time. Meanwhile, Po-kyong’s husband has problems of his own; he’s caught an STI from a prostitute, and it’s probably for the best that his wife doesn’t find out…

Haunting, intelligently structured, and elegantly understated, The Day a Pig Fell Into The Well is a brilliant portrait of alienation, emotional vacuity, and failed intellectualism. But also, it’s funny. Promise.

Why now?

Though he is still relatively unknown in the UK, Sangsoo’s work is beginning to attract attention – after a few sell-out screenings at the BFI Film Festivals, the institute has decided to dedicate a season to him, hoping that more people will flock to see a master in action. The season – running throughout September – includes screenings of all ten of his films, as well as the first UK screening of his new film Hahaha and a Q and A session with the man himself (on the 3rd) – the first he has ever done in the UK. The season is touring around the UK, so there’s literally no excuse for you to watch something good instead of Grown Ups.

What to say at a dinner party:

“Hong Sangsoo? Well, there are obvious parallels between his contemporaries Wong Kar-Wai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, both of whom also love to explore recurring emotional ‘syndromes’ and regard films as voyages of discovery.”

What not to say at a dinner party:

The Day The Pig Fell Into The Well? Yeah… I totally loved the bit where the pig fell in the well.”

All in all, if you’re thoroughly bored of defining “comedy” as “American men falling over”, we strongly advise you to check out the cool, complicated and thought-provoking work of Hong Sangsoo – and smash your friends in the face with KNOWLEDGE.

And you can find out more about Hong Sangsoo and Korean cinema in general from the lovely folk at Hancinema.

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