- FILM & PEOPLE
- K-Cinema Library
Aug 03, 2020
- Writerby Pierce Conran
2010 | 116 MIN | Drama, Romance
DIRECTOR Hong Sangsoo
CAST KIM Sang-kyung, YU Jun-sang, MOON So-ri, YEA Ji-won, KIM Kang-woo, YOUN Yuh-jung, KIM Gyu-ri, KI Joo-bong
RELEASE DATE May 5, 2010
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For his 10th film, director HONG Sang-soo decamped to Tongyeong, a small, picturesque town on the southern coast of Korea, bringing along with him some of his favorite collaborators, including KIM Sang-kyung, YU Jun-sang and MOON So-ri. Though unmistakably a HONG creation, Hahaha has come to be seen as a pivotal moment in his filmography, one during which he made a more overt move toward comedy, yet without sacrificing any of the philosophical themes, mirrored repetitions and prosaic daily sketches he has come to be known for.
Moon-kyung (KIM Sang-kyung) is a filmmaker contemplating a move to Canada. Before leaving, he decides to meet his film critic friend Jung-shik (YU Jun-sang) for a few rounds of makgeolli (Korean rice wine). They quickly realize that they both recently visited the town of Tongyeong and they decide to share their experiences there, exchanging alternating episodes over each round of drinks.
Moon-kyung visited his mother (YOUN Yuh-jung) in Tongyeong, who runs a small pufferfish soup restaurant, and before long meets a local guide (MOON So-ri), whom he starts to pursue. Jung-shik, meanwhile, is visiting his young poet friend (KIM Kang-woo), and also frequents the same pufferfish restaurant. Jung-shick’s mistress (YEA Ji-won) soon arrives to stay with him. Moon-kyung’s advances toward the tour guide are dealt a blow when she reveals she is seeing the poet, however unbeknownst to her, the poet also has eyes for the young server (KIM Gyu-ri) in the pufferfish restaurant.
Though they never seem to realize it, Moon-kyung and Jung-shik were in fact in Tongyeong at the exact same time, and the characters in their stories overlap. Occasionally, as the friends swap turns recounting episodes, one scene will start with one friend stepping out of a location, while the next scene starts mere moments later, with the same characters, while the other friend walks into frame. Yet the repetition is not merely limited to their mirrored experiences in Tongyeong, but also within each individual tale. For instance, the backside of the Napoli Motel on the harbor repeatedly finds Moon-kyung walking past with a female companion after many drinks, only for the woman to abruptly leave him.
Whenever HONG leaves his Seoul comfort zone (generally the central Bukcheon neighborhood), he finds a special tone in the new locations he visits, be they around Korea or in Europe. Tong-yeong is no exception, as the hilly, coastal town is big enough to feel alive and bustling, yet also small enough for characters to believably be bumping into each other all the time. Its history also plays a large role, as MOON So-ri’s tour guide recounts the great exploits of Admiral YI Sun-shin, who repelled a Japanese invasion from his headquarters in the region and whose posthumous title Chungmugong inspired Tongyeong’s original name, Chungmu. Admiral YI’s portraits also hang in a museum run by a character played by KI Joo-bong, another regular at the pufferfish restaurant. Admiral YI himself appears in Moon-kyung’s dreams.
Hahaha, which was the first Korean film to earn the Un Certain Regard award at the Cannes Film Festival, is fondly remembered by HONG fans as one of his most droll and enjoyably creations, and one that features one of his most impressive casts.