Hong Sang-soo does not experience writer’s block. He says he can’t. With On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate in 2002, Hong adopted his now signature working method of writing the screenplay as he goes, waking up at 4 a.m. to write scenes that he will be shooting later that day. He has only characters and locations in mind and allows the weather of the day to guide his writing. This technique necessitates that he shoot his films in chronological order, and because he tends toward long takes, he only needs a day or two to edit an entire film.
For both Hill of Freedom (2014) and The Day After (2017), however, Hong had to deviate from his usual methods. For the former, he wrote the screenplay in the order of how events in the film unfold in sequence, but shuffled them during editing. For the latter, the use of flashbacks, a rare occurrence in his filmography, interrupted the chronology of production. The pairing of Hill of Freedom and The Day After in Film at Lincoln Center’s program of single-ticket double features dispels any misguided sense that Hong makes the same film over and over again, applying the same artistic strategies.
Hill of Freedom begins with Kwon (Seo Young-hwa) visiting her old workplace to retrieve a stack of letters from her old lover Mori (Kase Ryo). She drops the stack, causing these undated letters to scatter on a staircase. As she reads them in a coffee shop , the film presents events described in the letters in broken sequence. In one of the many drinking scenes, a staple of Hong’s filmography, Mori tells the owner of the titular coffee shop, “Our brain makes up our mind-frame of time continuity: past, present, future . . . we don’t have to experience life like that . . . but in the end, we cannot escape this frame of mind.” While the film’s achronological structure destabilizes linear temporality, it ends up underscoring Mori’s point as we, like Kwon, try to piece these events together in the “correct” order and make sense of the story.
The Day After revolves around an extramarital affair between Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo), a writer and publisher, and his former employee Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byeok). In the first minutes, we see Bong-wan fleeing his suspicious wife at home to go to work. During his walk across an apartment complex to a nearby train station, a series of flashbacks reveal Bong-wan’s alcohol-fueled, intimate moments with Chang-sook and his desperate nighttime exercise routine, which torments him even more. Here, the past and the present collapse onto each other and Bong-wan experiences them concurrently. If time is merely the framework of our mind, like Mori says, perhaps it is possible to experience it according to the logic of our emotions, Hong seems to wonder.
Hill of Freedom and The Day After screen tonight, April 16, at Film at Lincoln Center as part of the series “The Hong Sangsoo Multiverse.”