Rather underwhelming and at best a minor effort, Hong’s latest explores the nature of being an artist, be it writing, filming or performing, while also functioning as a genteel love letter to his star and muse Kim Min-hee.
Cast: Lee Hye-yeong, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo
Plot: A female novelist takes a long trip to visit a bookstore run by a younger colleague who has fallen out of touch. Along the way, she meets a famous actress.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize (Berlinale)
International Sales: Finecut
Subject Matter: Moderate – Relationships; Artists
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
I’m quite baffled how this won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlinale, but anything that Hong Sang-soo touches nowadays seems to turn into awards gold.
The Novelist’s Film could go either way for fans—some might enjoy its lightness of tone and the high contrast black-and-white cinematography; others may lament that it is more of the same from the South Korean auteur, and that there isn’t much to chew on, well except for the scenery, and maybe Kim Min-hee.
Whether it works for you or not, it’s still impossible to regret watching a Hong film. Even the most minor of efforts over the years is unmistakably his, and in The Novelist’s Film we get an exploration of what it means to be an artist, not just writing (poet or novelist), filming (director) or performing (actor), but also what it means to not be working.
“People need to drink once in a while.”
Lee Hye-yeong (who was in Hong’s preceding In Front of Your Face) plays a well-known novelist who has writer’s block and hasn’t written in years, but she wants to film someone, perhaps Kim Min-hee.
I mean who doesn’t want to film Kim, who has exclusively worked with Hong since 2016’s The Handmaiden, directed by his compatriot Park Chan-wook. She plays a famous actress who hasn’t acted in years but is compelled to star in the aforesaid novelist’s film.
In typical Hong style, there are conversational set-pieces held in long takes, often with food and soju. While The Novelist’s Film is ultimately slight, it is possibly Hong’s most explicitly expressed if genteel love letter to his star and muse. I’m sure Kim/Kim’s character would feel the same way seeing herself/her character on the big screen.