- Reviewed at Berlin International Film Festival 2021.
Hong Sangsoo’s films are too charming to be loathed, so their notorious divisiveness forms two camps: fans and the indifferent. I’ve been either side of that equation, but Introduction has me raising the soju glass and drinking deep. One flaw of his rarer, weaker films is the overloading of conversation with character’s backstories, but in this richly compact 66-minute tale of parents trying to guide their young adult children into an uncertain future, it’s what’s left out of its few scenes – including a two-year jump – that makes how much we come to know and feel about its characters seem miraculous.
People are being sidelined from the start. We meet the youngsters, Juwon (Park Miso) and Youngho (Shin Seokho), as a couple just as Youngho is telling Juwon to wait for him in a Korean city cafe. “What shall I do?” she asks. “Watch video clips – but that’s boring,” they laugh as she leaves.
Youngho’s been called to see his doctor father (Kim Youngho), a specialist in acupuncture and herbal medicines, who we’ve seen desperately praying to God for help about something unclear. While Youngho is busy reminiscing with his father’s receptionist (Ye Jiwon), the doctor is also visited by a famous theatre acting friend (Ki Joobong), who he gets to lie down behind a curtain before abandoning them all to vanish upstairs.
Shooting his own film in black and white as well as directing, Hong, as ever, captures the poetry of simple quotidian things: tulips, snow falling, cheery greetings, people smoking. Subtle observation is his mojo.
Juwon’s now in Berlin with her mother (Seo Younghwa), visiting the mother’s artist friend (Hong favourite Kim Minhee) – the first of the film’s two introductions – who’s offered to share her apartment with Juwon so the latter can study fashion. Through inference, mood and a few key details we feel a wealth of personal history – though if the scene were an audition, you’d have to say Juwon flunks it. “I’ve never studied fashion, I just like clothes,” she tells the painter. She even leaves early, having been texted by Youngho that he’s flown out to Berlin just to see her, full of schemes about studying there himself, and dismissive of the cost.
Two years later they’re no longer together. At Youngho’s side instead is a faithful buddy (Ha Seongguk). Youngho’s mother (Cho Yunhee) has summoned him to a Korean seaside hotel to introduce him to the actor who visited his father. “Don’t get drunk or I’ll get angry,” says the actor as he keeps refilling the boys’ soju glasses.
That the film’s climax is a drunken debate about the morality of acting followed by a dream sequence should surprise no Hong fan. The gulf between generations – epitomised in a simple sequence of the boys on the beach trying to attract the attention of Young-ho’s mother on her hotel balcony; the importance of contacts in building lives; the slipperiness of human relations; the increasing irrelevance of politesse; the casual arrogance of youth; the hurt of fleeting passion… this film of acute precision aches with them all.
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Originally published: 3 March 2021