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Berlinale Bloggers 2021
Coming of age

“Introduction”, the sixth black-and-white production by Hong Sang-soo, is screening in the Competition of the 71st Berlinale.
“Introduction”, the sixth black-and-white production by Hong Sang-soo, is screening in the Competition of the 71st Berlinale. | Photo (detail): © Jeonwonsa Film Co. Production

Hong Sang-soo, winner of the Silver Bear at the 70th Berlinale in 2020, is back for this year’s Competition with his 25th feature to date. Introduction, part of which was shot in Berlin, is the Korean filmmaker's sixth black-and-white production.

By Hyunjin Park

The cultural sector, including the film industry, has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic – which may be one reason why we long for the medium of film all the more. Hong Sang-soo, who has become a perennial guest at the Berlin International Film Festival with his prolific works, is back for this year’s Competition with a film produced during the pandemic.
 
Not only did Hong Sang-soo direct Introduction, he also provided the screenplay and music, and produced, shot and edited the film. It’s about the mysteriousness of our very existence and about a young man coming of age. In his usual manner, Hong stages encounters between young people who are still insecure and dependent, on the one hand, and grown-ups who don’t take them seriously, on the other.

UNSAID AND MYSTIFYING

Introduction tells the story of Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho), a young man who goes to see his father, a doctor, at a clinic for traditional Korean medicine, his girlfriend Juwon (Park Mi-so) in Berlin and his mother on the Korean coast. Despite its simple tripartite structure, the film is highly nuanced and leaves plenty of questions unanswered – which makes some of the storyline hard to understand. We see the father suffering as soon as he’s left alone, and Young-ho looks distraught too whilst waiting for his father. When Young-ho smokes a cigarette outside the hospital in the snow, it’s unclear whether he’s still waiting for his father or whether the two have already met up: in fact, father and son are not shown together in a single scene. An old actor, who’s initially reluctant to enter the hospital, seeks out Young-ho’s father there to tell him something, though we’re never told what.
“Introduction” obyHong Sang-Soo Unsure what they want from life: Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho) and Juwon (Park Mi-so). | Photo (detail): © Jeonwonsa Film Co. Production
This narrative device of unheard dialogue recurs in the third part of the film during a conversation between Young-ho and a friend of his: we’re never told what he actually wanted to tell his friend. Between the second and third chapters in the film is a sequence that seems like a dream of Young-ho’s. Due to omissions, the story of his relationship with his girlfriend remains incomplete. The film gives us only very vague hints about the relationships between the characters, especially between Young-ho's parents and the old actor. Words unsaid and scenes unshown somehow accompany us throughout the film.

CERTAINTY IN UNCERTAINTY

Young-ho and his girlfriend Juwon are beset with the uncertainties of youth. Juwon makes up her mind to study fashion design abroad, but expresses doubts to her mother about whether her plans will work out. And a Berlin artist asks her why she is studying fashion, her response doesn’t carry much conviction. Young-ho would like to live with his girlfriend in Berlin but is still financially dependent on his parents. He was actually planning to go into acting, but the profession doesn't quite suit him and he’s planning to quit.

Despite all the uncertainties in his life, Young-ho is firmly convinced that a man’s love for a woman should have only honest motives – contrary to what some Korean men might do in his situation. The couple meet in a dream. Young-ho listens to Juwon and comforts her, although she is physically and psychologically damaged. He may be an awkward good-for-nothing still under his parents’ control, but he’s very different from the men in Hong Sang-soo's other films who desperately seek to conquer women.
 
At the end of the film, Young-ho takes off his trousers and leaps into the frigid sea. His decision is both impulsive and daring. When he emerges from the water shivering with cold, his friend pats him on the shoulder approvingly and embraces him. The Berlin artist who asked Juwon about her studies asserts that people need a driving impetus in order to live, and the two young men standing there before the cold sea with its roaring waves seem filled with human warmth.

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