Move over, MCU: ‘The Hong Sangsoo Multiverse’ arrives at Lincoln Center

Move over, MCU: 'The Hong Sangsoo Multiverse' arrives at Lincoln Center

South Korean film director Hong Sang-soo has accumulated a passionate following among New York film buffs over the past few decades with his intimately scaled, structurally slippery films about men and women trying and often failing to connect.

His work is featured in The Hong Sangsoo Multiverse, an extensive screening series that starts tonight at Lincoln Center. Dennis Lim, director of programming for Film at Lincoln Center and the author of a new book about Hong’s film Tale of Cinema, spoke with Gothamist and WNYC’s Sean Carlson about how this extensive series of crafty double features came to be.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For folks out there who have not yet discovered Hong Sang-soo and his work, can you just describe to us what his work is like, and what makes his films so special?

Hong is a little bit of an outlier when it comes to the South Korean pop culture boom […] he also predates it. He’s been working since the mid 1990s, and he’s made 27 films since 1996, so quite a lot of films. I think there are two things that Hong define: it’s that he is prolific, and that the films are in a sense repetitive, because they’re sort of instantly recognizable films. If you’ve watched a Hong Sang-soo film, you’ll immediately be able to tell, from a single scene or even an image, that you’re watching one of his films.

They all revolve around relationships, romantic complication, the difficulties of men and women trying to get together, failing to get together. Alcohol plays a big role. They’re films that tend to be focused on some of the mundane in-between moments of life. But there’s something, I would say, kind of addictive about Hong’s work, in that if you tune into his wavelength, I think chances are you will keep coming back for more. It’s the kind of work in which the more you see, the more is revealed to you.

You mentioned how prolific he is. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think, what am I doing with my life? He released 27 films since his first, “The Day a Pig Fell Into a Well,” in 1996 — that comes out to more, sometimes, than a film a year. How is that possible? Like, how do you even produce two films a year?

Well, I think this is also key to the appeal of Hong, the myth of Hong. He goes into production without a script. He starts with the bare minimum: he knows where he’s going to shoot, and he knows who he’s going to work with. But he writes the scenes that he will shoot every morning of the production. He writes them on the spot, and then gives his actors their lines and shoots them. He tends to shoot in chronological order, so he doesn’t take a long time to edit them — which is why, as you say, he can make on average one film a year or sometimes more. The thing about a medium like cinema is that it is so dependent on time and money, and Hong has essentially done away with both of them.

So let’s talk about this series at Lincoln Center, The Hong Sang-Soo Multiverse. You’re basically showing everything that he’s made, presented as a series of double features — love double features. What is the advantage of seeing two films at once? And was there a method behind how you paired the films?

Yeah, as I said, Hong’s work is I think best consumed in bulk. I feel like the more you see, the more you get out of it. And the work is also often quite carefully or intricately structured: he works with repetition, with multi-part films, with flashbacks and dream sequences. There’s often a lot of mirroring in the films, a lot of doubling. So we thought the double feature would be the best way to present the work.

We mentioned that Hong is popular with New York film buffs. He seems to be pretty popular with Lincoln Center audiences. Do you think there’s a reason behind that?

Well, I think we’ve shown the films a lot — I mean, I discovered Hong at the New York Film Festival as a filmgoer before I started working at Lincoln Center. I’ve been working with the festival for maybe over a dozen years now, and we’ve shown his films every year. I think it speaks to this quality of Hong’s work, which is that once you’re on his wavelength, there is something addictive about the work — I think you’re likely to want to see more. And there’s something about his method, this idea that he can work so quickly while making work that remains interesting and playful all the time […] there’s something that strikes a chord with younger audiences, especially with younger artists and filmmakers.

The Hong Sangsoo Multiverse: A Retrospective of Double Features runs through May 10th at Lincoln Center.

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