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Hong Sang-soo Introduction Review

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Introduction | 2021 Berlin International Film Festival Review

Introduction | 2021 Berlin International Film Festival Review

Prelude Mood: Sangsoo Explores Familiar Themes with Droll Snippets

Hong Sang-soo Introduction ReviewWhat might one make of Hong Sang-soo if Introduction was their first experience with the perennial South Korean auteur? Coincidentally, it serves an eponymous purpose in more ways than one, seeing as Sang-soo is invoking a familiar song and dance, albeit an exercise akin to his minor revolutions of droll human interactions marked by constant frustration and soju. For aficionados of Sang-soo’s wheelhouse, it’s another lark from the filmmaker, a locale straddling frippery conceived during the pandemic and only slightly acknowledging the current state of the world through glib remarks by self-consumed characters. Familiar faces now feel like old friends, popping up to share snide, catty remarks. In the realm of Sang-soo, it belongs to the same web of his expected translucent membranes, conjuring pleasant emotions more memorable than its depictions.

Youngho (Shin Seok-ho) is summoned to his father’s office, an acupuncturist, only to have their rendezvous interrupted by a famed theater director. His girlfriend Juwon (Park Mi-so) moves to Berlin to study fashion design, rooming with an artist (Kim Min-hee) who was once a beloved student of her mother’s (Seo Young-hwa). Youngho shows up in Berlin declaring he wants to move to the city as well to be near her, a desire which dictates his reaction to his own mother’s (Cho Yun-hee) attempts to have the famed theater director jumpstart her son’s career as an actor.

Introduction is a medium length feature with a running time of sixty-six minutes, and as thus feels akin to some of Sang=soo’s other B-side tracks, like Claire’s Camera (2017) or Grass (2018). At the same time, it’s perhaps a bit more cohesive than those comparison points, uniting parallel themes through the usual haunts in a portrait of characters who choose to believe in maudlin interpretations of choices and consequences. Karmic trauma, or the fear of it, defines the brief trajectories of these characters.

As per usual, Sang-soo’s finest moments play like throwaway moments of microaggressions or barely concealed resentment. Juwon and her mother’s brief bit with the difficulties of German door mechanisms, for instance, or Youngho’s bizarre flirtation with his father’s secretary (the usual inappropriate boundary pushing Sangsoo prizes between men and women), provide memorable moments. However, perhaps the most fun to be had is between Sangsoo’s usual muse Kim Min-hee and Seo Young-haw (who was much fun in last year’s The Woman Who Ran) as an ex-student turned artist and a mother/teacher looking for a favor to house her own daughter for study abroad. Min-hee deftly avoids speaking in formal Korean (“let’s see what comes out organically”) and dismisses any potential notion she’s either old, in comparison to Juwan, or possibly wasting her time as a painter. For fans of Sangsoo, these interactions certainly satisfy.

As usual, the entertainment industry and moral quandaries on the beach rear their head, and its small cast of characters focus on the younger generation being ‘introduced’ to futures they have little interest in committing to. Instead, these young people prize impulsivity, shirking the desires of their parents with their own slipshod excuses, like young adults everywhere. It’s life, it’s funny, it’s Hong Sang-soo.

Reviewed on March 1st at the 2021 (virtual edition) Berlin International Film Festival – Main Competition. 66 Mins.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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