One of Hong’s longest films but certainly one of his finest as two friends share over drinks the bittersweet details of their own separate trips to the seaside town of Tongyeong, as the uncertainties of love and conflict control the narrativisation of their memories.
Cast: Kim Sang-kyung, Moon So-ri, Yoo Joon-sang, Gi Ju-bong, Youn Yuh-jung
Plot: Two friends, while having drinks together, share their memories of visiting the seaside resort of Tongyeong.
Awards: Won Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Love & Conflict; Memories
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Asian Film Archive’s ‘Hahaha: A Season of Comedy’ Programme
It’s hard to subjectively—let alone objectively—rank the films of Hong Sang-soo, but Hahaha should come close to the summit in my books.
It’s one of Hong’s finest works and also one of his longest, clocking almost two hours which is a rare occurrence, much like if Lav Diaz produced a 90-minute feature.
From the onset, one can feel that Hahaha is noticeably different from Hong’s usual output—his conversational style and no-frills aesthetics are all intact of course, but here his narrative framing device is through the use of flashbacks as two friends share over drinks the bittersweet details of their own separate trips to the seaside town of Tongyeong.
Yet, the film doesn’t feel like a ‘flashback’-type picture and part of the reason is that Hong uses black-and-white still photos of these two guys and their voiceovers instead of a normal set of moving images.
“I only see good things. I only see the good in people too.”
What transpires is their recollection of love and conflict and we see these stories develop through the course of the film in what might be described as a series of muted joys and laments punctuated by a brotherly ‘call to arms’—a simple cheers and a sip of alcohol—at the end of each turn-taking sharing.
There are interconnecting relationships far too complicated to describe, unbeknownst to the two friends, which Hong pulls off admirably.
Perhaps what I find most intriguing for me is that Hahaha is not interested in the form of conventional storytelling that shows us what the protagonists remember of the past.
Instead, Hong taps into the uncertainties of love and conflict in a way that controls the narrativisation of the protagonists’ memories. It’s a kind of reverse engineering, a very subtle sleight-of-hand.