Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Hong's Multiverse

Walk Up (2022) - Hong Screen Shot 2023-03-17 at 10.51.20 AM A little three-story white building in Seoul is the setting for Hong Sang-soo's new film, Walk-up (Tab in Korean which means tower or monument). Kwon Haehyo plays Byeungsu, a film director of some repute. Always playing supporting role in Hong films, this is the first time I remember Kwon playing the main character. Like many of his previous films, Hong plays with multiple scenarios and possibilities involving same set of characters in the same place, all the while contemplating about steady companionship vs being alone, being productive, retirement, health and mortality.

Byeungsu is seen arriving in a European made small car with his daughter, Jeongsu (Park Miso, Introduction). He is trying to get his shy, estranged daughter a job through an acquaintance who is an interior designer Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-young, In Front of Your Face) who is the owner of the said building. She has a cafe on the first floor and rents out the second and third floor. The top floor has access to the roof. After introducing his daughter, Byeungsu leaves for an important meeting nearby, promising to come back soon. Jeongsu and the cafe owner converse awkwardly over some wine while waiting for Byeungsu to return. A couple of wine bottles later, Jeongsu drunkenly puts herself forward, aggressively asking for a job. Then she goes out to get more drinks.

When Byeungsu comes back on foot, he, Ms. Kim and Sunhee (Song Seon-mi), one of Ms. Kim's tenants, a cook and a big fan of Byeungsu, start drinking. Byeungsu tells them that his new project that he was working on for the last two years just got rejected by the investors. They also talk about how Jeoungsu working for Ms. Kim didn't work out. And there is palpable attraction between Byeungsu and Sunhee as they keep drinking and exchange their mutual admirations.

When we come back to the scene again, it's them as a couple living in the tiny place and Ms. Kim as their landlord. The ceiling is leaking, and the toilet doesn't work well. And Byeungsu is having health problems. Even though they seem happy together and Sunhee cares for him, feeding him some fresh salad concoction. But something is still off. And it bothers him that she is going to go see her old frenemy he doesn't approve. The place, once a charming space becomes unbearable tiny trap. Byeungsu wonders to himself that if being alone is better.

Next time we see him, he is living with yet another woman (Cho Yun-hee), a very supportive, affectionate woman who brings meat to grill and soju, while also getting Korean medicinal roots preserved in honey. This is an ideal scenario for an aging man. Is this his imagination, daydream or real?

With its elliptical ending, Walk-Up concocts different alternatives for our director protagonist. There is a natural flow to Walk Up that is harmonious and playful, yet never disruptive. It's as if Hong was daydreaming about the possibilities of his future, dreaming about retiring in Jeju Island, possibly with someone who will support him and spoil him. It's funny that this simple small white concrete building in the middle of glass urban jungle serves as an oasis that inspired Hong to dream up Walk Up. It's a good addition to Hong's expanding multiverse.

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