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PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2023 8:08 am 
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HAE HYO-KOWN AND JEONGSU IN WALK UP

TRAILER

A director, his women, and a building

The clever and impossibly prolific Hong Sang-soo's Walk Up is the second of two films included in the Main Slate of last year's New York Film Festival. It's distinguished from many similar Hong joints by its use of a small "tower" building of flats that seems to provide a lot of the structure of the screenplay. The sequences of scenes run through time from the bottom to the top floor of the building. Walk Up shows the director in top form. Walk Up is restricted as usual to static scenes, with fixed camera, of talking, mostly sitting at a table sipping alcoholic beverages, but (as has been pointed out) this time with a great deal happening in the plot line - just not on screen. This is an even more clever and inventive film than usual - but beware: it's disorienting and confusing, the little tower building almost becoming a puzzle palace.

It undercuts the entertainment value how surreal and disorienting Walk Up is. As more than one critic has said, you don't know at the end if any of it happened. You also may not be sure of the time sequence. There's too little to hold onto. At least that's how it was for me. Other experienced Hong-watchers may not be bothered, and may enjoy the familiar skewering for male (and female) ego and the playing around with the familiar Hong theme of a (successful, festival-darling) movie director whose life and career may or may not be in serious trouble but whose promiscuous flirtations with women never flag. However, the sudden leaps forward in time (and to another floor, and the male protagonist's being with another woman) took away from the ordinary human value of the experiences on offer, for me at least.

Walk Up is more purely enjoyable at first because the confusing leaps and lack of guidelines haven't yet begun. We are watching at first several women, and later one man, the director, who assumes a central position. The man is the movie director Byungsoo (Hae-hyo Kwon, a handsome grey-haired actor, seen before in Hong films but not in the lead till now). We meet the tall Ms. Kim (the long unseen star Lee Hye-yeong, also featured in Hong's recent Novelist's Film and In Front of Your Face), the building's landlady, and, some writers have argued, rather a villain as her manipulative actions and lack of respect for the privacy of her tenants play out.

Ms. Kim is also an interior designer, and Byungsoo brings his shy, previously estranged daughter, Jeongsu (Park Mi-so), who was studying painting bur wants to shift to Ms. Kim's more practical field and study with her. He arrives in an immaculately tended old Morris car, which becomes another character, like the building. The conversation goes on after Byungsoo gets a phone call and abruptly goes off for an "important meeting" and never comes back in that sequence. This and the sequences after it differ from the usual Hong scenes in that wine is drunk in fine glasses rather than beer or soju in cups, though it's replenished from a convenience store and eventually Byungsoo, seeking comfort, winds up back to beer and soju. Needless to say, whatever the tipple, the ladies in the first sequence get tipsy while they discuss art, business, and life.

Upstairs is a small, reservations-only restaurant run by Sunhee (Song Seon-mi). Another sequence is a long conversation, later in time, up there between her and Byungsoo, who is not at all displeased by the fact that Sunnee turns out to be a total, adoring fan of his movies - though the audience may see a tongue-in-cheek element in her professed way of watching his films at home: drinking, and rolling around on the floor. It becomes obvious that Sunnee and Byungsoo click, and are about to become an item. It turns out now that Byungsoo's career isn't going so well, as his big project of two years has just been rejected by investors. He considers whether, during an artistically static period, it might be unseemly to attend festivals celebrating one's own work.

There are several more stages, levels, sequences to come. In the next one Byungsoo is living with Sunnee, and not doing any work. His daughter Jeongsu turns out to have rather rapidly quit the training program in interior design with Ms. Kim for something else and effectively disappeared. Earlier, a young waiter for Sunnee who likes to be called "Jules" (Shin Seok-ho) has told Jeongsu what a tough customer Ms. Kim is, and Ms. Kim's sporadic appearances and lack of cooperation over leaks, etc. show she's indeed far from the landlady you'd want or the kind of person you'd trust.

Later still there is a conversation between Byungsoo and Jiyoung (Cho Yunhee), an estate agent who may be a new relationship for him or possibly Jeunsu's mother. By this scene, time sequences have become disorienting. In this sequence Jiyoung provides Byungsoo with supportive, affectionate care and gemütlichkeit: she grills meat for him and serves him soju, feeds him expensive wild ginseng with honey, and buys him special expensive cigarettes. He is unwell now, but never till this been so well cared for.

Jonathan Romney, in his Screen Daily review, notes how the black and white camerawork, which like the writing, directing, and editing, is all done by Hong himself, takes moments to linger on the all white walls, stairwell, and an interestingly shaped kitchen curved like something by Frank Lloyd Wright, and suggests that this intimacy with interiors makes this Hong film the one most closely linked yet with the work of the Japanese master Yasujirō Ozu. (Mayabe he's just showing off what is clearly an architecturally interesting building.) Romney names the theme of Walk Up as that of a director trying "to find a place to truly belong," which does indeed make sense of this film's shifting sequences.

It remains to refer to the enthusiastic Variety review by Jessica Kiang, one of the best writers covering festivals these days. Kiang, whose review is highly recommended as an adjunct to watching this film if you like reading reviews, suggests that Walk Up satisfies the urges of those of us who walk around streets at dusk and long to enter into the living rooms that glow in front of us as lights go on inside: we are peeking into people's living rooms. It is Kiang who particularly emphasizes and details what a "villain" Ms. Kim is. She is not bothered by the fact that when the film's over we're not sure how much of it's really "true" and how much is "just Hong, through Byungsoo, trying on different lives for size." After all one should grant that there is and perhaps has always been and element of the inexplicable and contradictory in Hong's films. It's in the improvisatory and rapid way he works. And while he thrives chiefly in the festival world and not that of (dwindling) commercial cinemas, he remains a unique and fascinating filmmaker to watch.

Walk Up 97 mins., debuted Sept. 15, 2022 at Toronto; NYFF Oct. 2; opened in Korean cinemas Nov. 3, 2022. US release Mar. 24, 2023. Starts at the Roxie, San Francisco, Fri., May 5, 2023. Metacritic rating: 86%.

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