I'd say his last three are his best starting points and they're also my three favorite. But really all his films are very similar. They're usually structured as two separate stories, with the second playing off or countering the first. The main character is often a film director, and the characters always drink a lot and have complicated romantic lives. We're generally not meant to see the protagonist as heroic, but rather identify with his bumbling through life the best he can without being too noble or sober.
It's so easy to spend a week with a bunch of Dardenne or Borzage. You have a mini festival, read up on why people love their films, and then apply your own impressions to the existing analysis. The films of Hong Sang-soo are not easy to find. You really have to want
to see his films. sdedalus has been very quiet about singing the filmmaker's praises, and I've now only seen one of his films. However, solely on the basis of that one film, I have a lot of reason to believe that Hong Sang-soo lives up to the hype. I do have some problems, and that's okay because some of my favorite directors - like Takeshi Kitano, Robert Rodriguez or Wong Kar Wai - make artistic decisions that keep their appeal fairly limited, but it places them among the more interesting filmmakers out there.
(500) Days of Summer (which I liked a lot) said it wasn't a love story but a story about love. That film is Nora Ephron by-the-numbers compared to the interesting loops this film takes. It doesn't plow the romantic genre for fertile soil, but lift the entire plot of land out of the ground to view from a whole new angle. I hope I'm not giving the impression that this is some Chris Nolan, time jumping, impossible to follow mood piece. There story is actually a really simple love triangle, but it's told in four parts and each section looks at the triangle from a different point of view. They act as four separate short films, but they don't come together to form a single narrative so much as they come together emotionally to give a more complex outlook of the characters.
The script is excellent in its structure, but I wish the characters sounded a little less like they were speaking with one voice. The two men in particular are too similar. Perhaps one is meant to represent an older version of the other, but all three of them are written and performed much more flat than they should be. These were not film actors, not even indie performers. Facial expressions were practically non-existant and the look of the film was very flat and digital. It might have been deliberate since two of the leads are aspiring filmmakers, but Oki's Movie looks like it was shot by an aspiring filmmaker, not a cinematic director. I'd have to see more of Sang-soo's films first. BTW, I read a lot about these films being funny but I think you need a large crowd for that. The humor is way too subtle for one person in a darkened living room to find much funny.
Oki's Movie offers a refreshing perspective on the genre, and is very brief (80 min). I wish I had a few more films so I could get a better handle on Hong Sang-soo, who now passes Theodoros Angelopoulos as the most incomplete director in this marathon. I had to pull some strings to get hold of Oki's Movie, and I don't know when I might dig up some more. Still feeling the shame.RATING: ***