Hill of Freedom
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
A Japanese man arrives in Korea to find his old lover. While he stays at a guest house, he encounters various people.
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★★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
"Tell me about it later."
Hill of Freedom returns, after a three film sojourn in the point of view of female protagonists, to the male perspective, in the person of Mori, a Japanese man in Korea to look for a woman, Kwon, whom he has decided he is in love with because she is the best person he has ever known (he respects her so much! A sentiment interchangeable with love in the recent films). The bulk of the story is relayed in a series of letters (memento mori?) Mori wrote to Kwon after he was unable to find her, his voiceover narration guiding us through the requisite drinking bouts, awkward social encounters and questionable life choices. One of Hong's funniest films, my notes are mostly just pages and pages of dialogue as I furiously transcribed at least half the script. Formally there is at least one development in Hong's repertoire: for the first time that I can recall, Hong uses a dissolve. It's a quick one, eliding a moment within a scene (early on, when Kwon accidentally drops the letters on a stairwell and scurries to pick them up, with disastrous consequences for the temporal continuity of the rest of the film). And of the three big drinking scenes, only one is in the standard Hong shot, parallel to the table with the actors arranged perpendicularly, facing each other. The other two table scenes are angled off to the side, privileging one of the drinkers over the others (this is a return for Hong rather than a new approach, Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors uses the same setup, among other earlier films). Unusually, none of the characters are specifically stated to be in the film or film teaching business, although Mori is told that he has the fine mustache of an artist. As sweet and warm as anything Hong has yet made, but with a dark cloud of instability under its fragile reality. The dreams and fantasies of Night and Day and Nobody's Daughter Haewon and the scripts of In Another Country, along with the temporal loops of The Day He Arrives and Oki's Movie (to say nothing of the manifold points of view in Hahaha and Our Sunhi), give the recent films a slippery, kaleidoscopic quality. I experienced Hill of Freedom as ending happily, but looking back on it, I'm not so sure that's what really happened.
★★★★ review by Arsaib Gilbert on Letterboxd
I can't imagine there's ever been a comedy in which keeping track of the characters' attire was of paramount importance. Such detective work is usually only reserved for crime-related films. That's not to suggest that one can't otherwise enjoy Hong Sang-soo's tightly constructed Hill of Freedom (Jayuui eondeok), but if you want to figure out the film's coda, not to mention what transpired during the scenes just prior to it, then remembering what clothes were being worn by the characters at certain points in the film would go a long way. Don't worry if you don't, though. Even David Bordwell, who liked the film, was left puzzled by it to some degree.
Contrary to what many critics have claimed, the entire film isn't told in flashbacks—other than the opening scene, there are three scenes just prior the coda that take place in "present time." Moreover, not all the flashbacks are scrambled. The first two sequences, consisting of four shots, take place before Seo Young-hwa's character drops the letters on the stairs. Hong zooms in on the one page she fails to pick up.
Although Bordwell is incorrect in stating that Hong "gradually reveals that she is reading [the letters] in the [titular] café," as Hong makes this clear very early on, his intuition about the coda is correct: it is indeed the letter she did not retrieve. It details what happened at the end of the dinner date—the first sequence Seo's character read out of order—between the characters played by Moon So-ri and Kase Ryô. I'd like to believe it's not a coincidence that Kase's character is seen in easily identifiable shirts.
★★★★½ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd
"Hill of Freedom doesn’t just jumble its narrative for the purpose of self-conscious storytelling, it shows how each event, peppered in a different way, can bring a new perspective. But unlike other films where Hong returns to the events, he pushes us forward on, and like the broken English used by the characters, we might not realize the implications of a phrase or moment until after it has been ingested. "
My favorite along with Hahaha. Reviewed on the latest podcast.
★★★★ review by r_emmet on Letterboxd
A Japanese man in Korea looking for a phantom love. Reads Bergson (I think), and believes time is an illusion. The structure is appropriately fractured. A woman is reading his letters, drops them on the stairs, and so the movie proceeds in the shuffled time-shifting manner in which chance has arranged them.
He has to communicate in English, with a limited vocabulary. So he cannot cloak his intentions with words. Everything is direct. People are "great" or "poison". Very very funny and very very sad.
★★★★ review by Vadim Rizov on Letterboxd
The dialogue is predominantly in awkward English, because Japanese Mori (Kase Ryo) is in South Korea to search for Kwon (Seo Young-haw) without a handle on the language. Lingua franca necessity supplements/supplants alcohol as the primary agent for awkward truth-telling. Other disjunctures from past precedent include a liquor switch (wine is the norm, with soju making only a token cameo), a complete lack of characters related to the film industry, and a cessation of repeated trips to the same locations where events mockingly echo each other. Time isn’t real, Mori theorizes, but at least memory is no longer stuck in a loop.
Reviewed over here. (PS: Hong's best since the 2010 combo of Oki's Movie and Hahaha.)
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