Just five months after the theatrical release of “The Novelist’s Film,” the fantastically prolific filmmaker Hong Sang-soo offers “Walk Up,” an equally spare and melancholy study of the small moments that define a life. A conversation falters. Another bottle is opened. Three people share drinks and their universe is completely reordered.
More than most filmmakers, Hong makes movies that benefit from being considered as pieces of a much greater whole. Since the mid-90s, he has directed more than 30, and each I’ve seen tells a talky, minor-key tale of life at the borders of art and self, of relationships and time, set among a sophisticated subset of Seoul’s contemplative class. Think Eric Rohmer but with a lot more Soju.
“Walk Up” follows suit, a simple but not simplistic portrait in black-and-white, tracing the relationships in a small Seoul apartment building as they evolve and grow heavier with complications. At the center is a successful filmmaker, Byungsoo (Kwon Haehyo), who brings his semi-estranged daughter, Jeongsu (Park Miso), to a boozy meeting with an old friend (Lee Hyeyoung) who owns the building. With hindsight, the meeting seems to alter the course of Byungsoo’s life, from triumph toward tragedy. But as Hong shows, the seeds of Byungsoo’s undoing were there all along. Tragedy arrives often by drips, failures by slow accretion.
Like many great artists, Hong appears in some ways to be trying to tell the same story over and over, each new film an attempt to solve the same essential riddle about what makes us tick. Just as well. For decades, Giorgio Morandi painted almost nothing but bottles and vases. What sublime and subtle insights arise from the variations!
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