Berlinale FF 2021

Introduction review – Hong Sang-soo’s latest is a meandering bore

Even die-hard fans of the idiosyncratic South Korean auteur are likely to find this slight and sluggish film patience-testing

Morose embraces, melancholic chain-smoking, intergenerational woes: yes, this is certainly a Hong Sang-soo film. Although the South Korean writer-director is known for his lightness of touch and lack of plot, Introduction – a reedy, 66-minute feature – takes the notion way too far. While some of the director’s more successful features find light-hearted aphorism in otherwise sparse stories, this one displays only the most banal of his trademarks in sluggish detail.

As to be expected, there's little in the way of story. A Korean student named Ju-won (Mi-so Park) moves to Berlin to study fashion, moving in with a sophisticated older woman. Ju-won’s boyfriend Young-ho (Seok-ho Shin) decides to turn up and surprise her, but he later gets a verbal pummelling from his father for giving up on his acting career. Later, Young-ho and his new friend Jeong-soo go to the beach, with the former going for a dip in the sea.

Many like to posit that there is something Rohmerian about the way Hong Sang-soo explores alienation and awkwardness, but rather crucially Introduction lacks the sprightly charm of an Eric Rohmer ditty. It’s not even pretentious enough to be compared to a “student film” – it’s just altogether inert.

Gathering his cast of regulars, including The Handmaiden’s Kim Min-hee, the filmmaker indulges in many of his usual conventions: stilted street conversation and signature zooms, to name just two. But with such a dogged pursuit for naturalism comes an overwhelming aura of actedness, with characters forcing their awkwardness into dialogue in a mannered way. We don’t learn much about said characters, either (though at one point a girl reveals that ice cream gives her diarrhoea – nice!). There’s a fashion student who doesn’t know much about fashion, and an actor who decides to quit his profession because he can’t bear to kiss someone who isn’t his girlfriend. One soju-soaked speech from a soused father does enough to prick up your ears, but there’s little else to invest in, visually or philosophically.

If Introduction was intended as some kind of pithy dictum, the idea has failed to translate. The plot synopsis suggests this is a story in which “mothers attempt to introduce their children to life, but their offspring have decided to write their own introduction.” I mean, sure, but so what? At one point a character says “whether sincere or playing around, it’s all love” – the sort of meaningless word salad one would find in an influencer bio. Breezy to a fault, Introduction certainly won’t recruit any new Hong Sang-soo fans and may only succeed in alienating existing ones.

Introduction was screened as part of the Berlin International Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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