Hotel by the River

Hotel by the River

2019, NR, 96 min. Directed by Hong Sang-soo. Starring Ki Joo-bong, Kim Min-hee, Song Seon-mi, Kwon Hae-hyo, Yu Jun-sang.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., March 1, 2019

South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo’s work has often been compared to Woody Allen's, but that seems somewhat reductive, the through line here being a prolific output and a predilection for an obsession in mining the comedic depths of the relationships we hold in our lives. Be they lover, family, or friend, Hong composes his films as a series of moments between the characters that while not often reaching a finality, linger in the mind days later.

His new film, Hotel by the River, offers no mystery in its setting. The aging poet Young Hwan (Ki) has holed up in an idyllic hotel, and while parsing out his next book, invites his two sons to visit him. He has had a vision of his death, and wants to mend those ties that bind. Add to that another occupant of the hotel, Sang Hee (Hong mainstay Kim) has checked in to nurse heartache from a breakup and a burn wound on her hand. She calls her best friend Yeon Ju (Song) to aid in her recovery, and the two wander the grounds in a beautiful black and white snow-laden landscape, when not drinking or napping together in their hotel room. These two narrative strands only come together occasionally, and often in rueful ways. The father must contend with two estranged sons, one of which is a successful filmmaker (a classic Hong trope) bristling with resentment for his family. The interplay of pauses, gestures, and camera zooms are the tools that Hong has utilized over three decades of filmmaking to capture the absurd and the profound in often unexpected ways. The director is notorious for not having a working script, writing the day’s scenes the morning of, and improvising at any given moment. The internet tells me that this film was shot in two weeks, and while Hong’s off-the-cuff style seems restless at times, it coagulates like a small scab that never quite stops itching.

“I’m tired of him, he always says the same thing,” laments one of the sons about their father in Hotel by the River. The same might be said for Hong, but it is in his intense examinations of these tributaries of the human condition, done with such grace and care, he has mapped out moments of humanity that are often lived, but rarely seen.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Hong Sang-soo Films
Woman Is the Future of Man
...

May 27, 2019

Right Now, Wrong Then
...

May 27, 2019

More by Josh Kupecki
Non-Fiction
Olivier Assayas sharpens his teeth for this new attack on the question of art versus commerce

May 24, 2019

Tolkien
The trials and triumphs of the man who would create Middle Earth

May 10, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Hotel by the River, Hong Sang-soo, Ki Joo-bong, Kim Min-hee, Song Seon-mi, Kwon Hae-hyo, Yu Jun-sang

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle