June 15, 2014

Hahaha: Taking a Page Out of Woody Allen's Book

I don't know why the similarities between Woody Allen and Hong Sang-soo never occurred to me before. They're both directors who crank out a movie a year, and primarily focus on troubled romances -- sometimes seriously, other times comically, oft times of the summer/winter variety, occasionally triangles. They're both critical darlings who have won more than a handful of awards -- both nationally and internationally -- yet neither could be called a box-office goldmine. They also have a small group of actors they reuse in multiple movies then were drawn to casting bigger names later in their careers. For Hong, that last bit has led to Isabelle Hupert in In Another Country and pop star Rain in Soar Into the Sun. Since Hong is a master of naturalistic acting, neither celeb upstages his or her co-stars.

One way that Hong differs from Allen, however, is in his constant use of drunk scenes. In Hahaha, not only is the framework a drunk scene -- two friends recount their overlapping weekend in a small coastal town called Tongyeong -- but so are about a quarter of the events they recount: failed filmmaker Moon-kyeong (Kim Sang-kyung) taking Seong-ok (Moon So-ri) back to a hotel room, depressed critic Joong-sik (Yu Jun-sang) taking his mistress (Ye Ji-won) to meet his uncle, Moon-kyeong's mother (Yoon Yeo-jeong) drinking with all of the above at some point or another. Because it's a Hong Sang-soo film, the drunk scenes are universally good. No one facilitates as many riveting naturalistic performances as Hong.

Both Allen and Hong are experimenters with form, too. Here in Hahaha that manifests itself with the framing conversation that takes place in the present being merely a voiceover to a black-and-white slideshow of Moon-kyeong and Joong-sik toasting, talking and saying "Cheers!" But unlike Allen, Hong isn't one of the leads nor does he cast himself in a cameo. He's got a history of having stand-ins for the alcoholic, womanizing, deluded artist we assume him to be and here he does it in triplicate, the third version being a fickle poet (Kim Kang-woo) who's not only the best friend of pill-popping critic Joong-sik but also a surrogate son to man-child Moon-kyeong's mom who gives the poet a free apartment once Moon-kyeong turns it down.

This is the 10th Hong Sang-soo movie I've seen! (I'm ready for more!)

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