Saturday, December 31, 2022

Curator’s Choice ’22: Introduction

Hong Sang-soo’s films do not usually bring to mind the career of American actor Neal McDonough (seen in films like 1922 and the series Yellowstone), but one of his latest characters also happens to be an actor who refused to perform in love scenes. While McDonough admirably takes his commitment to his wife seriously, Young-ho maybe got ahead of himself with his girlfriend Ju-won. Of course, communication is awkwardly imperfect for everyone in Hong’s Introduction, which screens during MoMI’s Curator’s Choice series.

At a mere sixty-six minutes,
Introduction has the virtue of being Hong’s shortest film released this year—out of a whopping total of three. It also happens to be improvement over The Novelist’s Film. It still lacks the playfulness of his best films, but the cagey temporal jumps harken back to the old Hong. He also rather deviously has his characters withhold information until late in their conversations, to keep viewers somewhat in the dark.

In the first part, we see Young-ho cooling his heels in his semi-estranged doctor-father’s waiting room, hoping to ask for money to allow him to study abroad. Part 2 is a flashback, wherein he visits his (future ex-) girlfriend in Berlin, where she is studying fashion. Hong flashforwards again in Part 3, revealing his relationship did not last, despite his self-defeating on-screen abstinence.

None of this is really earthshaking, but it carries more irony than most of Hong’s recent films and the atmosphere of sadness is rather potent. Shin Seok-ho is a classically nebbish Hong protagonist. Park Mi-so is appropriate flaky as Ju-won, while both Seo Young-hwa and Cho Yun-hee add welcomed tartness as Ju-won’s mother and Young-ho’s mother, respectively.

Introduction is probably one of Hong’s most neurotic films yet, but it unfolds in a more interesting manner than many of his recent offerings. As a result, it is at least his most watchable film since Grass—and maybe even since Claire’s Camera. It is still only recommended for Hong fans, but it might rekindle some of their old admiration when it screens tomorrow (1/1) during Curator’s Choice.