A young man travels from South Korea to Berlin to surprise his girlfriend.
“As always with Hong, it sounds much more complicated than it plays, especially given that this is his third film on the trot to eschew his previously trademark pretzel-shaped timelines in favor of a more straightforward chronology. Albeit one with a big gap in the middle and a dream sequence that is delivered as prosaically real.
It’s the manner of Hong’s presentation that makes his films so scintillating, or so infuriating if you’re on the other side of the Great Hong Divide (crossing over is possible - I’ve done it myself - but be warned, like a taste for olives or salted licorice, there’s no going back). Interactions are full of pauses and awkwardnesses, some of them realistic, some of them heightened to almost theatrical effect. Hong’s is the cinema of the oblique pattern, the imperfect echo, the repetition that changes meaning slightly with each new recitation.”
“I had a particularly Hongian experience as I readied myself to write this first dispatch to you, Evan, about Introduction. Right after finishing the movie, I took a brief nap. This is a regular part of my pre-writing process: the twenty minutes of calm and quiet help me organize my thoughts, and the dreaminess helps with my creativity. I had the whole thing planned and written out in my head. I assure you it was brilliant, funny and clever and insightful. Then when I woke up, I had forgotten all of it. Not just what I was going to write, but the movie itself was gone. I’ve been trying to piece it all back together over the past 24 hours, and in doing so I’ve been wondering if this is a bit like how Hong constructs his films in the first place. It’s well-documented that he writes each day’s scripts early in the morning, giving them to the actors and then shooting that day and otherwise more or less making his films up as he goes along. Is it possible he thinks about the scripts as he sleeps at night and then forgets them upon waking? Are his final films merely fragmentary, incomplete attempts at recapturing those perfect ideals he dreamt.
There are so many dream sequences in Hong’s films, of course, including one in Introduction. What makes them unique is how indistinguishable they are from reality, or at least the version of reality as it exists in Hong Sang-soo movies. As they unfold, it’s impossible to tell whether what is actually happening is dream or reality or sometimes an alternate version of reality (there are, as he says, “infinite worlds possible”).”
“We are now in a position to better understand the curious mixture mentioned earlier, in which conscious thought, which has been relegated, is not excluded, including the idea that the conceptual base is both transcended and primary. It is the coherence or the guarded orientation of Hong Sang-soo’s work which leads us to formulate the idea that there is, indeed, at the level of his creation process, a base both forgotten and present, present as forgotten, as if it had become inseparable from the physical state experienced during the shoot, equally inseparable from intuition. Since certain choices are made and considered as the right ones, not only in the moment itself but also with regards to the process as a whole, it is in fact necessary that something akin to an orientation would maintain itself – the conceptual base which was superseded is, thus, what continues to determine the orientation in whose function each choice, though explicable, is nonetheless “the right one”, then according to which an adapted structure, or “a solution (...) ends up appearing”.
Near the end of our journey, it seems that Hong Sang-soo’s creative process is situated beyond the opposition of chance and control, reality and artifice: the process which gives coherence to his oeuvre flourished precisely at the point where the opposites are reconciled. It requires chance and confusion to get rid of the “already-given” or the cliché, but Hong Sang-soo’s practice does not consist of integrating the surprise into the method, in the same way chance is not in itself expected chance. The important thing, however, is that in order to be expected at all, chance always occurs under the guise of the unforeseeable and the undetermined: each element, from the moment that it appears, is considered in and of itself and external to every project, before being considered “right” by the filmmaker, meaning that it is selected and likely to redirect the whole. The selection of a fragment, in this process, merges with a determination, in the double sense where an element is judged “right” at the moment when it is determined itself (it could not be done beforehand, since it is unforeseen) and that its integration into a whole potentially determines the global form of a given film.”
“A filmmaker can be struck by something in life, a memory coming from other art forms, from a painting, a photograph, theatre or television, and so on. He thinks he is seizing something tangible. But, really, this thing has already been filtered. It has already passed a prior interpretation that has given it strength and clarity. By passing into film, this piece stays the same filtered, deformed thing. Something strikes me and makes sense; but if I go back, there is always some art object. I work on not using any filtered fragments and on finding raw material. That is why my sex scenes are often called realistic. In reality, I especially look for blank reference material. For me, a film is good if it provides me with new feelings and modifies my way of thinking. That is why form is so important for me. We all share the same material. But the form we use, leads to different feelings or new ways of questioning, to new desires.”
- 1Jessica Kiang, “‘Introduction’ Review: A Narrow but Deceptively Deep Cut of Hong Sangsoo Simplicity”, Variety, March 2021.
- 2Sean Gilman in conversation with Evan Morgan, “Are the Kids Alright?: A dialogue on Hong Sang-soo's “Introduction””, MUBI, March 2021.
- 3Romain Lefebvre, “The Hong Sang-soo Method”, Sabzian, 2018.
- 4Emmanuel Burdeau, Jean-Philippe Tessé, Antoine Thirion, “For me, a film is good if it modifies my way of thinking”, Sabzian, 2004.