Under the direction of prolific South Korean director Hong, Hill of Liberty is by turns charming, playful humorous and gently melancholy. In other words, it’s an instantly welcome cinematic release, and one that couldn’t have come at a better time – even though it originally came out six years ago.
The plot is simple but ingenious. A woman, Kwon (Seo), retrieves a mysterious bundle of undated letters from a school somewhere in Seoul. She stumbles down the stairs and the missives fall from her hands and scatter on the completely useless floor. She later begins to read them, resulting in a story unfolding in flashbacks necessitated by the chronological mess of the correspondence.
native English-speaking Japanese Mori (Kase, from Takeshi Kitano’s Contempt) arrives in the district of Kwon. In love with the past and seeking to find himself, he spends his days alternately looking for Kwon and sitting alone, reading in a nearby café. Director Hong drops clues here and there – the book Mori is so engrossed in is titled “Time” – but the overall tone is less of a clever mystery and more of a mundane conundrum. In addition to the puzzle, Young-sun (Moon), an affectionate waitress with whom Mori begins an attempt at love, and a comically rowdy neighbor who repeatedly tries to have fun with Mori. It’s pretty much everything as the story goes, but it all sticks in your mind nonetheless, a dreamlike slice of sublime romantic slippage.
Hong has made eight more films since Hill of Libertydebut in 2014 at the Venice Film Festival. He’s definitely a niche writer, working as he does in the shadow of his better-known contemporaries (in the West), such as Oscar-winning Bong Joon-ho and genre favorites Park Chan-wook and Kim. Jee-woon. But while this triad regularly employs outrageous and often extreme storylines and manic camera work to assault audiences, Hong’s films are more frequently compared in terms of structure and tone to those of the late French national treasure Alain Resnais (Last year in Marienbad). The two filmmakers delve into the mysteries of time, memory, and perception, resulting in films that can appear introspective on an almost granular level in their meditative examinations of the inherent weaknesses in human connections. It may sound like a terribly serious art-house navel-gazing, but ultimately Hill of Liberty is surprisingly satisfying in its sheer banality – albeit abjectly disjointed – fishy out of water.
Hill of Liberty is currently available as a virtual cinema version at local arthouse theaters. Choose from:
• Violet Crown Cinema (Tickets here).