Hong Sang-soo Notarized: Nobody’s Daughter Haewon

English Title: Nobody’s Daughter Haewon
Korean Title: 누구의 딸도 아닌 해원/Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Haewon
Premiere Date: February 15, 2013
U.S. Release Year: N/A
Festival: Berlin
Film Number: 14
First Viewing Number: 12
First Viewing Date:
Viewing Number: 2
Ranking (at beginning of run): 11
Ranking (at end of run):
Film Number (including shorts): 16
First Viewing Number (including shorts): 13
Ranking (at beginning of run, including shorts): 11
Ranking (at end of run, including shorts):

Running Time: 90 minutes (14th longest)
Color/Black & White: Color
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Shooting Format: HD Video
Structure: Three unequal parts, moderate repetition
Recurring Actors: Yoo Joon-sang (sixth appearance), Lee Sun-kyun (fourth appearance), Gi Ju-bong (fourth appearance), Kim Eui-sung (third appearance), Ye Ji-won (third appearance), Ahn Jae-hong (second appearance), Bae Yu-ram (second appearance), Shin Sun (second appearance), Jung Eun-chae (first appearance), Han Jai (first appearance)
Season: Spring (March 21-April 3)
Weather: Rainy, cloudy, foggy
Alcohol: Soju, makgeolli, Cass beer
Non-Alcoholic Drinks: Coffee (iced), tea (Chinese), water
Food: Meat/kimchi grill, instant ramen, bananas, rice, banchan
Drinking Scenes: 2
Creative People: Film actors, directors
Academia: Film professors and students
Vacation: N/A
Dream Sequences: 3
Film Screening: N/A
Films Within Films: N/A
Q&A: N/A
Naps: N/A
Family: Daughter-mother
Vehicle Scenes: N/A
Crying Scenes: 3
Number of Shots: 58
Number of Zooms: 13 out, 27 in
Music Style: Bright piano and synth strings, piano Symphony No. 7 (Beethoven), synth Symphony No. 7
Title Background: Light blue with black thin lines/Orange with blue text for closing credits
Voiceover: Yes

At first glance, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon seems like an outlier in the neat Jung Yu-mi cycle that will come to a head in the next film, without the clear continuity that Hahaha and The Day He Arrives had in putting Yoo Joon-sang in the lead. For one, it is the first time since Night and Day that Hong has put an actor new to his universe as the lead, not to mention the title character, something previously only afforded to Oki and Soo-jung (the virgin stripped bare by her bachelors). For another, it could be seen as a Jung film that simply doesn’t have her acting in it: the love interest is Lee Sun-kyun as a film professor once again, there’s a mention of a Professor Song, and there’s a greater emphasis on unreliable or ambiguous events, here via an extended dream sequence in the manner of “List.” But Jung Eun-chae, who only appears in one more Hong, has a distinct presence all her own, and in its own way this film plays with unsettling undercurrents in a manner more akin to The Day He Arrives while also accessing a piercing emotionality; something of an strange but enormously successful hybrid for Hong.

The complexities begin with the title of Nobody’s Daughter Haewon; between this overt statement of rootlessness and the first fifteen minutes of the film where Haewon spends time with her mother and dreams of, of all people, Jane Birkin as her mother figure, an immediate contradiction is established that the rest of the film only begins to fully unravel. For even though Haewon is certainly the main character, the film is at its core dedicated to trying to determine who exactly she is as a character, something constructed during each interaction she has with another character.

This is in large part owed to Jung’s performance. Unlike, say, Jung Yu-mi’s expressiveness or Yoo’s hangdog expressions, Jung has something more cagey, an innate sadness influenced by her mother’s departure to Canada — like Moon-kyung in Hahaha — and the weight of her affair with Seong-joon; the guilt about infidelity is far more emphasized than normal, especially considering his baby, and the secrecy about their relationship is almost absurd. There’s also, as Birkin notes, something of a Charlotte Gainsbourg quality to Jung; she lived for nine years in England, is notably taller than other Hong women — which may or may not reflect mixed-race heritage, an unexpected detail thrown out during the only true Hongian scene of drunken conversation — and her face is more defined, a quiet determination in her eyes that makes her more overtly unpredictable than almost any Hong protagonist thus far.

That unpredictability defines Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, not only in its dream sequences and upending of the last third of the film; aside from Haewon in the library, the last “real” image is of Seong-joon crying alone in Fort Namhan, and the final shot and line are some of Hong’s most mysterious moments. For one, there are the two decisive shifts in perspective, where characters talk about Haewon while she isn’t within earshot; Hong almost always has one of his main characters in the conversation in every scene (Seong-joon doesn’t quite qualify), so these exclusions feel incredibly pointed. While one is openly hostile, film students deriding her dating habits and supposedly aristocratic manner, and one is more of concern, both set her apart as different, calling the viewer to see her as a new kind of Hong protagonist, one that should be examined even as she introduces each party by writing in her diary (a possible callback to The Day He Arrives).

Even though there’s the putative structure of days that’s reminiscent of Night and Day and the conscious repetitions, especially the recurring use of “The Spot” cafe/bookstore and the cigarette, this is probably the first Hong that I found genuinely hard to pin down structurally. It can be roughly subdivided into interactions with certain people, although Seong-joon floats in and out without warning, and is initially set off-balance by the dedication to Haewon’s interactions with her mother Jin-joo (Kim Ja-ok, who died of cancer a year after this film). The caginess is there already: her hesitancy about the prospects her mother mentions, the willingness in her dream that she has to sell her soul to be like Gainsbourg, the idea that living is dying and that seizing the day is necessary when a person comes closer to death with each moment. But the final scene they have together, where Jin-joo recognizes her daughter’s growth and the plan for them to just have happy days from then on, is really quite moving, in the same manner as in Hahaha, only for Haewon to fall into her old habits again.

Among other things, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is maybe the most unexpectedly metatextual Hong yet, where characters and motifs from other films float in without warning. Joong-won, a professor from San Diego who apparently is rewriting a script for Martin Scorsese, is played by Kim Eui-sung, who enacts the exact same “two extremes” approach of reading a woman as he does in The Day He Arrives. When he injures himself while drinking, Seong-joon has almost the exact same facial wound as Kyeong-nam in Like You Know It All; Kangwon Province is mentioned again. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, used as the credits music for Night and Day, becomes the theme of this film, with Seong-joon listening to a synth version of it as his mood music. Most destabilizingly of all, Joong-sik and Yeon-joo reappear as themselves (and played again by Yoo and Ye Ji-won, the latter with a much shorter haircut) from Hahaha, with Joong-sik still taking his depression pills and wearing his glasses (which he doesn’t do in other Hongs); apparently, he’s still married despite swearing to live with her, and their affair has now been going on for 7 years at this point. Since this is part of the dream, which lasts even longer than the previous longest one in “List,” it’s unclear whether these are simply projections of her mind (which may have even seen these Hong films in-universe) or incorporating her actual friendships with these characters, but the possibilities intermix, as if suggesting that the only way to understand Haewon — and Hong at large — is through other films, which is of course a great part of the Hongian approach.

Other parts, while not as explicitly related to Hong’s other films, have a surreality all their own: the repeated use of the lit cigarette on the ground even after Dong-joo, the awkward bearded bookseller, departs from the film; the reappearance of a few film students from The Day He Arrives; the amazing details of the drinking students — I’ve always been incredibly fond of the woman who’s slumped in the back, about to fall asleep at any moment. There’s also Gi Ju-bong as something of a counselor figure for both Seong-joon and Haewon, and Joong-won’s apparent mind control that allows him to summon gray taxis and the very nature of his character, which straddles the line between charming and creepy in his sudden conviction that they must marry, coupled with Haewon’s genuine consideration of it.

Still, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon both is and isn’t a film about Haewon dealing with her relationships, where true closure remains in the realm of fantasy for her; her mother is still alive but far away, she can’t quite communicate with Seong-joon in the way she wants; she still lacks motivation to go to class and engage with fellow students who despise her. Instead, she’s left with the English copy of Norbert Elias’s The Loneliness of the Dying, which reminds me of both her observation that death resolves all and of her statement that she’s the devil. More than any other Hong protagonist so far, Haewon is at her core a person afraid to show who she is, whether through “real” conversation or little things like writing in a book or paying an unspecified amount for it. All she can do is sadly dream of such things, and they’re such unsettling, mysterious, wonderful dreams to watch.

Hong Sang-soo Notarized: In Another Country

English Title: In Another Country
Korean Title: 다른 나라에서/Dareun Naraeseo
Premiere Date: May 21, 2012
U.S. Release Year: 2012
Festival: Cannes
Film Number: 13
First Viewing Number: 2
First Viewing Date: October 10, 2016
Viewing Number: 3
Ranking (at beginning of run): 17
Ranking (at end of run):
Film Number (including shorts): 15
First Viewing Number (including shorts): 2
Ranking (at beginning of run, including shorts): 18
Ranking (at end of run, including shorts):

Running Time: 89 minutes (16th longest)
Color/Black & White: Color
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Shooting Format: HD Video
Structure: Three parts, heavy repetition
Recurring Actors: Jung Yu-mi (fifth appearance), Yoo Joon-sang (fifth appearance), Youn Yuh-jung (third appearance), Moon Sung-keun (fourth appearance), Moon So-ri (third appearance), Isabelle Huppert (first appearance), Kwon Hae-hyo (first appearance)
Season: Summer
Weather: Rainy, sunny
Alcohol: Soju, Max beer
Non-Alcoholic Drinks: Ginseng tea, water
Food: Barbecue, corn chips, halibut sashimi, tuna sandwich, banchan, instant ramen, grapes
Drinking Scenes: 5
Creative People: Directors, screenwriter
Academia: Folklore professor
Vacation: 3
Dream Sequences: 2
Film Screening: N/A
Films Within Films: 3
Q&A: N/A
Naps: 3
Family: N/A
Vehicle Scenes: N/A
Crying Scenes: N/A
Number of Shots: 70
Number of Zooms: 18 out, 32 in
Music Style: Gentle piano and harp, calm piano and synth horn
Title Background: White paper and blue pen/Purple background for closing credits
Voiceover: 3

Among his countless strengths, Hong is one of the greatest directors of all time in crafting “major minor” films, where the films that might be perceived as even more sketch-like or tossed off than his others nevertheless contain some of his most piercing insights. His Huppert films, especially In Another Country, have this particular quality for me, and that’s partly why it’s taken me a while and numerous viewings — this was the second Hong I watched, on my 19th birthday — to key in on what makes them so special in his work, above and beyond her presence and their own particular differences.

Huppert and Hong met at a retrospective for him in 2011 at the Cinémathèque Française, and he proposed her acting in one of his films over makgeolli during a photo exhibition for her in Seoul. Indeed, I’m almost certain that her casting played a substantial role in sustaining Hong’s international profile for a few more years: after being mired in Un Certain Regard for the past few films, he made it back to the Cannes Competition, albeit still not winning anything. And, while this was selected for NYFF in Richard Peña’s last year, it did form the third part of the annus mirabillis of the 2012 release year, where three Hongs all played for a week in New York thanks to Cinema Guild, including, for the first time, a film that premiered in the same year. I had assumed this was thanks to In Another Country specifically, but Oki’s Movie and The Day He Arrives actually were released before Cannes on the week of April 20th, but it’s still notable all the same.

But before getting to Huppert, I want to talk about how In Another Country adds yet another shining dot to the Jung Yu-mi constellation. As it turns out, the first three shots appear to be literally reused from the first three shots of “List”; almost the inverse of the relationship between Straub-Huillet’s History Lessons and “Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene.'” There’s the shot of the West Blue Hotel sign, the conversation between her and Youn before the latter eats some cake — it’s cut off right before the pan left as Jung leans back — and Jung beginning to write on her notepad. But I had also totally forgotten about how Jung incorporates both herself and her mother into the script — for some reason I had remembered it being three aborted attempts at writing a script, instead of a purposeful structuring of three separate stories about a charming French woman named Anne (a Haneke reference?).

In all three, Jung is the helpful hotel manager Won-joo, perhaps after moving to Mohang like she suggested in the conversation with her mother — though she says she’s taking time off, and her given age of twenty-five seems less than the conversations in “List” suggested. She makes tuna sandwiches, introduces people to their rooms, and goes out with Anne each time, though they always seem to either part ways or lose each other. Each time she is told she is complemented by Anne, and each time she self-effacingly demurs with a charming politeness; her mother is also cast in the third part as the most totally friendly person to Anne, also getting an opportunity to smoke on the balcony she was on at the beginning. In Another Country itself, even before getting into the “main” narratives, thus becomes a more explicitly playful film for Hong than normal, where the writer — conceiving of these stories to calm her nerves in a possibly tense situation, as opposed to the determination to make the best of her circumstances in “List” — is allowed to participate in the action, a pleasant recurring face that can also take responsibility; it reminds me much more than I expected of Kim Min-hee in Grass.

Still, while Jung’s presence and the importance of “List” are crucial, In Another Country is really dedicated to Huppert in a way Claire’s Camera isn’t. Aside from, as some have noticed, an opportunity for Huppert to utilize her underappreciated comic acting and to shed the adamantium imperiousness that typically forms her screen presence, across the three parts she gets to show very different sides of herself, despite the surface-level similarities of her charmingness and Frenchness.

The first part focuses on her as an outsider the most, largely because of the sharp interplay between the heavily pregnant Geum-hee (Moon So-ri from Hahaha) and Jong-soo — Kwon Hae-hyo, one of my favorite Hong recurring actors in his first role, already playing the untrustworthy man. Huppert is frequently an observer in these scenes, watching as Korean is being spoken in front of her and interjecting with salient readings of tones of voice and reactions. Even in her scenes with Yoo Jun-sang’s lifeguard — hilariously probably the most Hong has fixated a male, or even female body — she often watches as he sings remarkably well, though he’s as much of an ultimate observer across all three story lines as any of Yoo’s other roles, especially in the second part. The only time she truly expresses herself audibly is when she talks about her (relatable) laziness and unwillingness to take on responsibility, to Jong-soo and Geum-hee’s disagreement. In some ways, that’s what makes this incarnation distinct from the others: as an international director inspired by one that Jung’s character at the Jeonju Film Festival — it’s also worth noting that Anne and Jong-soo kissed in a Berlin playground, another invocation of Germany — she also has a certain remove, not wanting to get too involved with anyone and simply visiting for the pleasure of it.

The second part presents perhaps the most unalloyed portrait of Anne alone — wandering around in the town that, in both this part and the third, she claims has nothing, a far cry from Mi-hye’s attitude in “List” — while she waits for Moon-soo; this is the only part where Moon Sung-keun appears, and the first two dreams and third actual appearance form a mini-trio within the triad structure at large. The central dream, in particular, is probably Hong’s longest yet — aside from “List” of course — and, on my first viewing, honestly threw me; I hadn’t experienced anywhere close to the acidity of early Hong, and so I thought the heated discussion in the sashimi restaurant was uncharacteristic. But it also gets across, as much as the halting English that all characters speak (Huppert less so of course), a certain cultural difference: the sarcasm that Anne deploys throughout that’s typically not within Hong’s scripts: people say what they mean, whether it turns out well or not. Anne is in many ways a cagier character than the typical Hong protagonist: when she slaps Moon-soo when they appear to finally meet in the end, it could be to persuade herself she isn’t dreaming again, that she’s still mad at him for being late, or any other reason; the difference from normal is that she says that she’s doing it because she loves him, a more Western expression of love that would be anathema to most Koreans.

The last part is more overtly reflective, not just because it’s about a woman picking up the pieces from her divorce — the inference, of course, is that this is an iteration of Anne where her motor company VP had an affair instead of or alongside her own with Moon-soo, though the wealth she has isn’t explicitly laid out this way — or because it features religion to perhaps the greatest degree in Hong yet. Anne writes in French on a ceiling tile, reminiscent of Ji-sook in The Power of Kangwon Province, and adds what looks like a cross on it; later she will first question and then be bewildered by the monk played by Kim Yong-ok, the only actor in this who isn’t a recurring Hong figure, though his timing and expressions are excellent. Like the impromptu Q&A in Oki’s Movie, these very direct questions — why do I lie? why am I so miserable? what do you mean? what is love for you? — are met by hilariously cryptic koans that nevertheless resound with intuitive meaning. After this, and her request for the Mont Blanc fountain pen that acts as a more concrete thing in this part that feels more abstract and limited by her own understanding than the rest — sadly we don’t get to see the monk’s drawing of her — she is liberated, free to drink soju from the bottle, sleep with the lifeguard, and set out on the “unknown path,” while it appears that Jong-soo and Geum-hee are back again to actually make the film about the “suffering” people of Mohang (we never see any inhabitants, everyone is an outsider of sorts), with the latter possibly pregnant again. Despite the overtones of suicide, it remains much more ambiguous, and indeed almost feels more like a near-omnipotence over what happens in the narrative: Won-joo immediately intuits the significance of the lighthouse — only seen when Mi-hye and her mother find it in “List” and when Anne stumbles upon it without looking for it in the second part; later she can’t find it again — Anne gives up her fruitless quest for the lighthouse, and of course she retrieves the umbrella that was stashed in the previous part.

Little moments of greater meta-awareness on Anne’s part are present in other parts as well: she dreams of the tent in the second part and then finds it; she knows to ask to pay for the international phone calls that Sook had bemoaned moments before; she realizes that Jong-soo will try to seduce her on the dry bed, which for once doesn’t carry over to the third part.

When I first saw this, I recall saying that In Another Country was the type of film I’m almost predisposed to love, foregrounding its repetition in ways that were obvious to me even then. That’s still true, but more and more I’ve come to adore the mysterious manner in which Hong evokes it and finds it within the obvious techniques: the significance of the shot from the balcony of Geum-hee in the second part, who doesn’t otherwise appear and which calls back to her last shot in the first part; Anne saying “c’est beau” twice in the second part; the fork in the road, which is taken to the right in the first and third parts and left in the second; the lifeguard saying he’s not cold in the first two parts (in different contexts) but cold in the third. The foreignness of Anne, and her ability to transcend and escape the narrative structure in a way that Yoo and Jung can’t quite in their films, are definitely differentiating factors, as is a greater focus on aging (especially for Sook), but the plays with repetition are all Hong’s own.