Academic journal article Style

Two-Shots and Group Shots: Hong Sang-Soo's Mannerist and Classical Mise-En-Scene

Academic journal article Style

Two-Shots and Group Shots: Hong Sang-Soo's Mannerist and Classical Mise-En-Scene

Article excerpt

Like most auteurs, there are certain familiar and cliched phrases used to discuss the work of Hong Sang-soo, the most common of these being a variation on the idea, "all his films are the same." For instance, critic Mike D'Angelo begins his review of In Another Country (2012) by declaring: "Hong Sang-soo tends to make the same movie over and over: a multi-part story in which heavily inebriated males--usually academics or filmmakers--awkwardly woo one or more bewildered females." Similarly, in his review of Oki's Movie (2010), Nick Schager states, "it features so many elements that have calcified into the director's trademarks (solipsistic student and/or director protagonists, boozy escapades, clumsy romantic entanglements, divergent points of view, and segmented narratives) that it feels trifling at best." These statements are at once understandable and even accurate on a certain level, given the large number of repetitions of narrative and character that occur in Hong's films, while also being demonstrably false, especially in terms of visual style. While Hong's visual style is both recognizable and seemingly familiar from film to film, it is constantly evolving and rather difficult to define. As a result, more attention is often given to Hong's narrative experimentation and/or thematic concerns and less to his work as a cinematic stylist (for example, Deutelbaum, "The Deceptive Design," "The Structure of Hang Sang-soo's," "The Pragmatic Poetics," and "A Closer Look at Structure"; Diffrient, "South Korean Film Genres"; Chung and Diffident; Kim, The Remasculinazation, Virtual Hallyu; Quandt). This essay aims at systematically quantifying and explaining how Hong has constructed his mise-en-scene over the course of his career and analyzes the meanings of Hong's visual approach. While the term mise-en-scene has a long and varied history of multiple definitions and meanings, this essay will focus on mise-en-scene as the art of cinematic staging, further defined by Adrian Martin as "the art of arranging, choreographing and displaying" (Mise-en-Scene and Film Style 15). The concentration will be on two variations of Hongian shots, the two-shot and the group shot, and how each respectively provides examples of mannerist and classical approaches to mise-en-scene.

There have been various attempts to label recent contemporary international art film style and how these films differ from the classical art cinema of the past. For example, Ira Jaffe's Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action (2014) outlines an international trend toward long takes, long shots, austere mise-en-scene, and the lack of emotion and affect, a cinema where "nothing happens," which includes such diverse filmmakers as Jim Jarmusch (United States), Alexander Sokurov (Russia), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey), Cristian Mungiu (Romania), Lisandro Alonso (Argentina), Pedro Costa (Portugal), Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Jia Zhang-ke (China), and Bela Tarr (Hungary) (among others) (Jaffe 1-3). Matthew Flanagan, in his PhD thesis on "slow cinema," lists many of the same filmmakers, along with art cinema veterans such as Chantal Akerman and Theo Angelopoulos and experimental directors like James Benning and Straub/Huillet (Flanagan 8-9). Flanagan also quotes Tiago Magalhaes de Luca in stressing "the hyperbolic application of the long take" as the key formal component of the field of slow cinema (Magalhaes de Luca 21; quoted in Flanagan 9). However, Hong Sang-soo is not included within this classification, despite sharing many of the stylistic traits, particularly the use of the long take. I would argue that this is the result of the extreme amount of dialogue in Hong's films, combined with the generally comic tone the majority of his films employ (see Diffrient, "The Unbearable Lightness" for an extended analysis of Hong's use of comedy). As a result, the comparison made is usually to Eric Rohmer, a similarly dialogue-centric director of comedies of manners who, despite being part of the French New Wave, is often seen as something of a cinematic outlier (this tendency to compare Hong and Rohmer can be seen directly in Grosoli and is also discussed and critiqued by Deutelbaum, "Approaching Hong Sang-soo" 2-3). …

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