Introduction (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A usual exercise by Hong Sang-Soo

South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo’s latest film “Introduction”, which received the Best Screenplay award when it was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, is a usual exercise you can expect from Hong. Like many of his films, it is pretty dry and simple in terms of story and characters, but we get some amusement anyway as the camera phlegmatically observes the characters, and the result is another fun work to be added to Hong’s long and steady filmmaking career.

The movie is divided into three acts, and the first act is mainly unfolded at a small clinic in Seoul, which is run by some middle-aged oriental medicine doctor. After the comical opening scene showing this doctor praying to God alone in his office, the movie promptly introduces us to his young son Yeong-ho (Shin Suk-ho), and the movie generates a series of amusing moments of dry humor while Yeong-ho keeps waiting for his father at the clinic. Because his father is occupied with one thing after another, Yeong-ho continues to be stuck in the waiting room, but he has no choice but to wait more because his father wants to meet and talk with him for an unspecified important personal reason.

At least, the situation is not that frustrating for Yeong-ho thanks to the clinic nurse, who has apparently worked there long enough to know him well. When Yeong-ho subesequently goes outside for a little moment of smoking, the clinic nurse soon comes to him, and the mood becomes a little warmer as he and the clinic nurse have some cordial private conversation.

After that moment, the movie moves onto the second act, which mainly revolves around Yeong-ho’s girlfriend Joo-won (Park Mi-so). She and her mother have just arrived in Germany because Joo-won recently decided to study art there, and, fortunately, her mother happens to have a painter friend who can provide Joo-won a place to stay. When they enter the apartment belonging to that painter, Joo-won cannot help but impressed by how beautiful and confident that painter is, and then she comes to have some doubt on whether she will be all right as trying to studying in an environment quite alien to her in many aspects.

Anyway, Joo-won later receives an unexpected message from Yeong-ho, who impulsively decided to come there just for spending some more time with his girlfriend. They agree to meet each other at a spot not so far from that painter’s residence, and the camera patiently observes their following conversation, which seems to be casual on the surface but reveals to us more about their mutual concern on whether they will be able to maintain their relationship even though they will be separated from each other for several years at least.

As subsequently entering the third act, the movie moves back to South Korea, and this part is mainly unfolded in a quiet rural beach town during one cold day. Yeong-ho’s mother is meeting some old veteran stage actor at a small seafood restaurant, and the actor, who incidentally appears briefly as one of the doctor’s patients during the first act, is considerably drunk after drinking several glasses of soju, a cheap Korean alcoholic beverage which has always been a common story element among many of Hong’s works.

Anyway, Yeong-ho’s mother has her son come to this meeting because she has been really concerned about his future. He aspired to be an actor for years, but he was recently discouraged by a rather trivial private conflict, and Yeong-ho’s mother wants the actor to give some pep talk to Yeong-ho as a wise and experienced senior.

However, right from when Yeong-ho arrives along with his close friend, we can easily sense what is bound to happen next. The actor has Yeong-ho and his friend drink along with him just for making the mood more cordial and casual, and we consequently get a cring-inducing moment of social embarrassment when the actor attempts to give some meaningful advice to Yeong-ho but then only comes to end up embarrassing himself as well as others around him.

While sticking to its dry and plain storytelling approach as before, Hong’s screenplay later slips into an unexpected moment around its finale. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead that this moment reflects a lot about how much Yeong-ho feels uncertain about himself and his life. Yes, there is still lots of time and life in front of this lad, but he remains not so sure about what to do next as another chapter of his life is about to begin.

Like Hong’s other films, the movie depends a lot on its performers, and they are fairly good in their unadorned acting while occasionally demonstrating precise comic timing. While Shin Suk-ho gradually comes to hold the center, Park Mi-so, Ye Ji-won, Seo Yeong-hwa, Jo Yoon-hee, and Kim Min-hee are engaging in each own way, and Ki Joo-bong, who previously collaborated with Hong with “Hotel by the River” (2018), is fun to watch in his certain highlight moment.

On the whole, “Introduction” is another notable work from Hong, though it is rather superficial compared to his recent films such as “Hotel by the River” and “The Woman Who Ran” (2019). At least, I enjoyed it to some degree, and its rather short running time (66 minutes) quickly passed by when I watched it at a local arthouse movie theater today, so I will not grumble for now.

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