Korean film director Hong Sang-soo has built a filmmaking career examining the small details that shape our lives every day. Now, he’s hauled in perhaps his biggest trophy yet.
On August 15, the Korean auteur, director of IN ANOTHER COUNTRY and LIKE YOU KNOW IT ALL, took home the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. He was awarded for his new film, RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN.
In winning the award, the 53-year old director follows in the footsteps of some pretty elite company. American cinema Mount Rushmore figurehead John Ford, Italian game changer Michelangelo Antonioni, iconic visionary Stanley Kubrick, and renowned Asian film auteur Kon Ichikawa have all taken home Locarno’s top prize.
Hong Sang-soo: Dimensions in Dialogue
Since his 1996 feature debut, THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL, Hong Sang-soo has been no stranger to festival prestige. Three of his films have been nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Holy Grail of festival awards. HAHAHA took home Cannes’ Un Certain Regard trophy. HILL OF FREEDOM and OKI’S MOVIE screened at Venice. At Berlin, two Hong films have been in the running for the Grand Prize.
For all of his considerable hardware and big-name fest invites, Hong Sang-soo’s style, refined over the past three decades, is resolutely stripped down. His films rarely clock in at over an hour and a half, focused on probing interpersonal relationships between small circles of characters.
Hong’s cinema, built on interaction over opulence, has earned comparison with that of Eric Rohmer. The director of THE GREEN RAY was the least flashy, most dialogue-dense, of the star-studded French New Wave crew. Rohmer’s characters’ words could define, obscure, and deceive. BREATHLESS, they ain’t.
RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN looks to continue Hong Sang-soo’s thematic interests. It is the tale of a man and a woman flirting with romance, but Hong brings a twist to the table: RIGHT’s story is told twice, with subtle changes shifting the emotional arcs of the protagonists.
In a Variety review, Guy Lodge remarked that RIGHT NOW “is a film of minute observations rather than grand revelations.” Hong’s continued work is a reminder that sometimes cinema still comes down to the bare essentials: a camera rolling on a couple of characters chatting it up.