Tuesday, 22 April 2008
THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE (Hong Sang-Soo, 1998)
The Power of Kangwon Province is the second film of Korean director Hong Sang-soo, and his first film as both writer-director. Like his first film, The Day a Pig Fell Into The Well, The Power of Kangwon Province contains a complex storytelling style that relies a great deal on the viewer's ability to recall earlier scenes and make connection. However, the narrative is simplified to some extent. Hong's first film was split into four parts with four main characters. Here, there are two halves with two leads. This, combined with images that are have more depth and have a more picturesque quality, makes The Power of Kangwon Province a slightly more accessible work.
In an interview, Hong described the film's structure as follows: "A woman and a man, who recently broke up, travel separately to a same location by coincidence. One person trails the trace of the other person. It is about two individuals missing their partners and they ae connected by the structure of the film. (2-1)+(2-1)=2 structure." (54) This structure does not reveal itself, however, until the second half, which makes the audience have to retrace the original story and the meaning we felt it had. In one way, this makes the film work similarly to many mainstream movies in which the plot gradually enfolds and we can make sense of earlier actions that seemed ambiguous. But at the same time, Hong is calling on a far greater cognitive ability from the viewer than most films, almost insisting that the viewer re-examine the film a second time.
Thematically, the links with Hong's earlier film are clear. These are films dealing with sexuality in contemporary Korean society, with its mixture of hedonism and repression as ultimately two sides of the same coin. Both of Hong's early works show graphic sex scenes, often involving prostitutes and/or the affairs of married men. Like popular cinema, Hong places human relationships at the center of his concern, and could certainly be viewed as almost apolitical, especially compared with his contemporary Lee Chang-Dong. But the difficulty and violence of these relationships is such that Hong leaves the viewer unsettled. The Power of Kangwon Province is more subtle in this regard than Hong's debut film, but if the implications of what has been shown are considered, it is just as disturbing. Adding to this disquieting atmosphere is the sense of irrationality and mystery that Hong inserts. With The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, this occurs with a Bunuel-like dream sequence. In The Power of Kangwon Province, the conclusion features the lead male character returning to his office to see only one of two goldfish remaining. Earlier, the lead female character had, in a curious scene, buried a goldfish she had discovered on a mountain path. In an interview, Hong explains the use of such coincidences:
"I think I focus on serendipity a lot. I think those things happen unusually when I shoot. If I told a person next to me of all of the coincidental events that I have experienced in my life, that person would surely think of me as either a charlatan or a fanatic. I welcome strange coincidences and think that they are like a wedge driven into the frame of a banal and conventional mind. And I would like the audience to feel the space that is open beyond the broken structure." (57)
Stylistically, Hong opts for more long takes and often simplifies the number of angles he shoots from. Earlier in the film, especially during scenes in nature, Hong opts for a shorter focal length and shoots many depth of field compositions. But as the film nears its conclusion, Hong flattens his images more in the style of Asian minimalism (for example, the still above in which the two main characters come together near the conclusion). I am looking forward to viewing Hong's third film, The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000), which I also just purchased here on DVD, in which Hong takes on black and white cinematography for the first time.
Huh Moonyung, Hong Sangsoo (Seoul: Korean Film Council, 2007)