Hong Sang-Soo – Hotel by the River

Hotel by the River’s opening credits inform us that filming took place between January 29, 2018 to February 14, 2018. It comes as no surprise that Hong Sang-Soo shot Hotel by the River so quickly given his output of six films in the past three years alone. By this point, Sang-Soo aficionados will know the elements that make this possible: Natural lighting, small crews, minimalist stories, and scenes shot on location. Sang-Soo’s style recalls the guerrilla nature of French New Wave filmmaking, but there’s a fifth element that enables Sang-Soo to be distinct. It’s not a dramatic climax involving soju and food, but rather, how Sang-Soo handles time. To watch a Sang-Soo film is to inhabit time or as Henri Bergson puts it, “time as duration.”Perhaps the plot first. The aging poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) resides at the eponymous hotel located by the Han River. There, he reunites with his two estranged sons (Joon-Sang Yoo and Hae-hyo Kwon) and befriends two women (Kim Min-hee and Seon-mi Song) also staying at the hotel. Through their conversations we learn the backgrounds of these characters and the significance the hotel plays in their lives. Like other Sang-Soo films, events in Hotel by the River feel episodic and disconnected as if they were, appropriately, an assemblage of verses pieced together. Younghwan waits for his sons at the hotel cafe. Unbeknownst to Younghwan, his sons wait for him on the opposite of the cafe, hidden from view. Later on upstairs, the two women lie in bed napping, exchanging brief words between moments of waking. Sang-Soo punctuates dialogue with silence giving Hotel by the River a sense of non-urgency. Younghwan tells the two women that he has no qualms with passing away after having seen their beauty. Younghwan may initially appear to be an old and awkward man flirting, but he’s sincere enough and repeats the sentiment towards his two sons. Hotel by the River’s atmosphere, like Younghwan, contains an atmosphere of peace.

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