Humour and profundities abound in Hong Sang-soo’s latest.
Hong Sang-soo’s films are so deceptively simple that they are easy to underestimate—the assumption being that anyone could make movies like he does. His brilliance, however, derives from the seemingly unconstructed nature of his narratives, which hide an otherwise rigorous approach. Hahaha is not as scabrous or resonant as Hong at his most ruthless, but its wit and its characters ensure another excellent work from the ever-dependable Korean filmmaker.
The tale, for one, is not as effortlessly contrived as a film like Turning Gate. Here, two protagonists recount their adventures in love over food and drink, oblivious to the parallels and degrees of separation within each other’s tales. Each story is filled in with pieces from the adjacent story—an experience that neither of them realise is shared. Hong’s men are the relentless stalkers and ne’er-do-wells of his previous films, and are self-centred as usual—perhaps less wilfully so this time around—while his female characters frequently settle for second best. The film also features a rare (for Hong) authority figure: the mother (played by The Housemaid’s Yoon Yeo-jeong), the film’s lone independent, comfortable-in-herself character (although there’s more than a hint of loneliness in her existence).
Once again, Hong focuses on the rituals of everydayness: conversations, eating, drinking, walking. The film is more mobile and the camera ‘busier’ than the minimalism of his previous feature, Night and Day. The conversations that form the backbone of the drama sparkle for their subtext: beneath the banality of everyday dialogue, Hong constructs a swirling world of repression, narcissism, and resignation. Furthermore, Hong presents an extremely complicated set of rules, rituals, and mores governing basic relationships.
The acting is impeccable as always, benefiting from the time and space Hong allows his cast. The film is also extremely funny—a point that seems continually lost on audiences and critics alike—with plenty of laugh out loud moments, matched by sharp social satire. Although it may appear that Hong is making the same movie about the same things, Hahaha remains as fresh as his first film. In drawing profound conclusions from the subtle differences in human relationships, it’s also further proof of the director’s unmistakable genius.