Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hong Sang-soo's Korean Rohmer-esque RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN opens in theaters

I've not seen nearly all of the 21 films of Hong Sang-soo but of those I have (including The Day He Arrives, Like You Know It All, Oki's Movie, Night and Day, Woman Is the Future of ManWoman on the Beach and his latest RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN among them), certain themes and characteristics emerge. Hong often tells stories with a Korean art film director as a leading character. (Why not? He certainly knows those ropes.) If not a director, he'll give us an artist, or sometimes both. Furthermore, this director (along with most other characters in the film) drinks a lot and womanizes whenever possible. Travel is often present --from one city to another or one country to another -- as is the sense of the past nurturing and/or hobbling the present, as well as a keen interest in responsibility and the acceptance or rejection of same.

All of this has conspired over time to make me think of Eric Rohmer when I confront the films of Mr. Hong (shown at left). And I do mean this as a compliment. Both men's film are art-house to a fault, dialog heavy and often deal in similar themes. (Hong's movies are generally lengthier than Rohmer's, so be patient.)  His latest two-hour frolic splits itself almost exactly in two, with the first hour showing us his alter ego engaging in the usual come-on to attractive women (though he does try to resist, boy, is it difficult!), drinking, flirting, babbling and generally embarrassing himself rather badly. All this is, as usual, great fun to see this pretentious little twat unmasked and undone. But it is with the second half that Hong burnishes his movie to a gleaming shine.

In both parts our "hero" busies himself with a much younger art student, visiting her workshop and seeing her creations, meeting her friends, and then, the following day, giving his talk at a local screening of one of his films. Yet the first and second sections could hardly be more different and we need to view the former in order to properly appreciate the latter.

That first section is so much like many of the other of Hong's movies that it almost seems as if the filmmaker has finally grown fed up with this typical behavior and wants to show us might occur if his characters, particularly the art-film director, were more honest. What a difference this makes.

Sure we can still imbibe and grow drunk, but even here, the results differ when we're less self-involved and more other-centered. The change of behavior even stretches into the scene at the movie theater and the relationship with the film festival curator and his assistant.

To fully appreciate Hong and Rohmer, you must be also appreciate the ability of dialog to create character, and care about and understand character enough to let it control a film. Event is minimal, and yet, because of the depth of character, event, even a small one, in a sense becomes all.

Mr Hong finds humor, sadness and surprise -- even perchance growth -- in his characters, and this makes his forays into travel, drink, sex and art so enticing and so much fun. At least I find them so. I hope you will, too.

Meanwhile, Right Now, Wrong Then -- from Grasshopper Film and running opens tomorrow, Friday, June 24, in New York at the new Metrograph and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and in Los Angeles on June 25, at the Acropolis Cinema. In the weeks following, it will hit another six cities. Click here then scroll way down and click on Where to Watch to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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