Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | October 10th, 2021
Introduction (Hong Sang-soo, 2021) 1 out of 4 stars.
For a variety of reasons, I have spent a good portion of time over the past year becoming acquainted with the œuvre of South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, after encountering my first of his films (but hardly his first) at the 2020 New York Film Festival. That movie, The Woman Who Ran, proved an intriguing minimalist odyssey about a young woman’s time away from her otherwise omnipresent husband. Filled with engaging performances and delightfully rambling sequences (inside Hong’s usual meandering structure), The Woman Who Ran was also photographed more precisely than are many of the auteur’s other works, though with his ubiquitous reframing zooms.
Now comes Introduction, which just had its U.S. premiere at the 2021 New York Film Festival. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as cinematically successful as its predecessor, existing as a trivial footnote to Hong’s already uneven output. Forgettable, it is also visually uninspiring, perhaps not quite the introduction one might hope for. “Farewell” would be a better title. Or maybe just a brusque “buh-bye.”
Divided into three sections, each labelled with a simple Arabic numeral, the movie features some of Hong’s regulars, including Seo Young-hwa, Cho Yoon-hee and Kim Min-hee. We start in South Korea (1), then jump to Germany (2), then back to South Korea (3). The nominal plot concerns the relationship and breakup of two twentysomethings, Juwon (Park Miso) and Youngho (Shin Seok-ho), though the how and the why of their love remain a riddle.
The titular meeting takes place in the third section, where Youngho’s mother (Cho) has arranged a luncheon between him and an older actor (Ki Joo-bong), since her son has lately expressed an interest to become an actor, as well. Or has he? It’s never clear, or of much interest, either way. But after a drunken meal, replete with much yelling, Youngho meets, on the nearby beach, his former partner, Juwon, back from her studies abroad (in part 2). But then she walks away, and he takes a winter swim in the ocean. The end.
Narrative is always elusive in Hong’s work, yet the better examples take advantage of their seeming formlessness to explore emotions and behavior in at least halfway thought-provoking ways. Not so here. Worse, it’s the ugliest of all the films of his I have seen. Hong shot it, himself, on what looks like frequently out-of-focus black-and-white video in mostly uninspiring locations. Everything feels flat, from the dialogue to the spaces, improvisatory conversations in need of more rehearsal.
At 66 minutes, Introduction is also on the shorter side, even for Hong. I would not wish more of this failed exercise on anyone, but more development, of any kind (character, drama, you name it) would perhaps have helped. I’ll still keep coming back for more, as there’s something in the accumulation of scenes across Hong’s prolific outpouring of content that occasionally yields satisfying results. In the case of this latest, however, once is enough.