An Interview with Director Hong Sangsoo
Festival Advisor and Asian Cinema Expert Tony Rayns discusses our Festival Opening Film, The Day After, with director Hong Sangsoo ahead of its 26 October Premiere.
TR: How do you decide which films to shoot in colour and which in monochrome?
HS: I don’t know, maybe it’s the mood I think the film will have? Or the season and locations, the winter in Seoul? Or my own emotional attitude at the time? When something feels right to me, I usually avoid analysing it. Even if I did, I doubt I’d know for sure.
TR: The film’s Korean title refers to Natsume Soseki’s novel Sorekara (“After That”), which seems to be Bongwan’s parting gift to Areum. What’s the connection (if any!) between Soseki’s book and your film?
HS: The morning of the day we shot that parting scene, I wrote in the script that Bongwan gives Areum a copy of Soseki’s novel Kokoro (“Heart”). We went to the location, a publishing company office, where I was pretty sure that we could lay hands on a copy. Anyhow, they had lots of books in stock there. When I asked the actual owner to find a copy of Kokoro for me, he looked for it but came back to say he couldn’t find it, though he knew he’d had a copy. He offered me instead a copy of another novel by Soseki, Geu-hu (“After That”). At that moment I realised I’d found the title for the film. As it happens, I started reading Geu-hu a few years ago, but I stopped after just a few pages. It made me feel dark and uneasy.
TR: I think this is the first time you’ve contributed the music to one of your own films …
HS: Actually, it’s not. There are two pieces of mine in Right Now Wrong Then: the short one and the title music. That title music is basically a new arrangement of an old Korean song, but I wrote the second part of it myself. In On the Beach at Night Alone, I wrote the song which Kim Minhee sings in front of the café. And in Claire’s Camera, the song which Kim Minhee sings on the sidewalk by the beach with Isabelle Huppert. I didn’t credit myself with any of those musical contributions, simply because I didn’t feel like doing so at the time.
TR: So what happened this time?
HS: I like to edit my films as I go along, and I was editing some scenes from The Day After three or four days into the shoot. I wanted to add some music to the scenes I’d assembled. There’s a small electronic piano in our production office, so I came up with that piece just to see what the scenes would look like with some music. Later on the people around me said they liked the music. So I decided to keep it for the film.
TR: The women in your films are almost always smarter than the men, both emotionally and intellectually. Is that just the way you see it? Or are you deliberately subverting Korean ‘patriarchal assumptions’ about women?
HS: My women characters are smarter? Perhaps they are, perhaps they’re not. I should stress that whatever meaning is produced in any film of mine, it’s very rarely based on any ‘clear understanding’ or ‘explicable view’ that I may have!