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in water ★★★★★



Director: Hong Sang-soo

Cast: Shin Seokho, Ha Seongguk, Kim Seungyun

Release Date: Berlinale 2023

The sheer majesty of Hong Sang-soo’s body of work is unparalleled. The South Korean auteur continues experimenting with his craft and usually delivers two movies yearly to his disciples. In the last few years, with films like Walk Up, Introduction and A Novelist’s Film, you can sense Sang-soo has been exploring even more about what the creative process is and how we battle through our mind and subconscious to make our visions a reality in film. His latest film, in water, explores the process of creating art, and this time Sang-soo has shot it through a blurred lens.

The film follows a young actor who decides to give up acting and make a short film. The small crew comprising the actor himself, the cameraman and the female lead arrive on rocky, windswept Jeju Island. In search of an idea, the young actor explores the surroundings, waits for the right light to emerge and watches the horizon from the coast. One day he catches a glimpse of a figure amid the rocks at the bottom of a cliff, prompting him to take the plunge and exchange a few words. Thanks to this conversation, and a love song written years earlier, he finally has a story to tell.

in water is a triumphant ode to the creative process. As the breeze from the ocean flows around the frame, we reflect and connect with ourselves. The distorted visuals fully immerse you in the mind of a visionary expressing himself. Everyone’s journey is different, but we must find inner peace and that one moment of inspiration to ignite us. Sang-soo’s briskly paced tale gives us the time to understand more about these quiet moments. Be it talking with friends while sipping on soju or gazing blankly at the shoreline. We need these tranquil moments to clear our minds to better ourselves and make us remember what motivates us.

Recently Sang-soo has been revisiting youth-led stories in his work, and while we can’t answer for the auteur, it almost feels like he is reflecting on his younger years. As you go through his aquatic haze, you soon sense this may be coming more from the heart than his usual work. Sang-soo is still at the height of his powers, but reflecting on why and how he got to this point is always good food for the soul. The trio in this tale are all at a crossroads within their careers and lives, and coming together creatively could potentially steer them in a new direction or reaffirm what they already knew. As the static camera framing stays still and we listen to the conversation flow, we understand more of what they long for. Sang-soo’s dialogue is always rich in context, but within in water, it feels like another level of euphoric clarity.

Like any journey, the people you meet on the way are the ones that can change your perspective and ideas. The lone stranger gathering trash from the rocks almost feels like a beacon of hope for our filmmaker. That long stare down towards the shore has delivered an idea, and as we gaze into the horizon, Kim Min-hee’s beguiling siren voice sings us to another chapter. The song is beautifully blended into the film and fits eloquently with Sang-soo’s long-term collaborator and partner. in water is a moving piece of cinema that further establishes Hong Sang-soo as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation.

Lover of all things indie and foreign language. Can be found rambling on YouTube at times!

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