Also with three releases this year, the idiosyncratic director has two titles in the Cannes lineup: ‘The Day After’ in competition and ‘Claire’s Camera’ starring Isabelle Huppert.
For those familiar with the work of South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, it is perhaps not so surprising that he has two titles in this year’s official Cannes lineup. After all, Hong has been widely hailed as a “minimal realist” in the tradition of French greats like Eric Rohmer — about which Hong nonchalantly tells The Hollywood Reporter, “I think it’s a job for other people to put forward those comparisons or labels. I just do what I can do. If someone tells me, ‘You are a minimal realist,’ then all I can do is to answer, ‘Oh, really?!’”
The prolific 55-year-old has made 21 films since his 1996 debut, The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, which renowned Korean film critic Kim Young-jin said “marked the modernization of South Korean cinema.” Just three months after On the Beach at Night Alone debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February, Hong will bring to Cannes The Day After, a stark relationship drama shot in black and white, which is in the main competition, and out-of-competition entry Claire’s Camera, which reteams the director with French screen icon Isabelle Huppert five years after their previous collaboration, Another Country, vied for the main prize in 2012.
One reason, perhaps, why Hong is able to make movies so quickly is that he abandoned writing traditional screenplays years ago, instead relying on instinct and inspiration while penning treatments. “I’ve come to the point where I start with almost nothing,” Hong says. “As time went on, the treatments became shorter, to the point where I’d start production with only a few pages of notes.”
For both of his Cannes titles, Hong secured a minimal number of locations, and “for the sake of the actors” told them the essentials about the characters they play. He begins writing out the scenes for the day’s filming at about 4 a.m. each morning. Actors then memorize dialogue for a scene during scant preparation time. “They don’t have much time to memorize,” he says, explaining that the cast has 30 minutes — at most — to rehearse.
“I make use of the things that come to me while shooting as I incorporate them into an evolving whole,” he says. “I don’t even know what I know about a given actor. And I don’t try to organize or explain what I know. But on the day of shooting, the particular situation and the conditions of the film come together to create a kind of pressure. That pressure allows a few things among the many thoughts and feelings I have about this actor to come out. I write them down.”
As for what he’ll do next, in typical Hong fashion, he says he isn’t sure: “When I finish a film, I tend to fix a time to shoot my next film. I’m thinking that October of this year might be a good time to shoot something. As to what I’ll shoot, I have no idea.”
This story first appeared in the May 21 Cannes daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.