A credible source told me that director Hong Sang-soo doesn’t mind if you nap in his films. Hotel by the River’s quiet contemplation lulled me into a few lengthy blinks so I missed a little of its wry, slow narrative.
Writer Young-hwan (Gi Ju-bong) is at a hotel on the Han River, the guest of the owner who loves his poetry. He is contemplating death and is mildly annoyed at the arrival of his two sons – the bucolic Kyung-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo) and the ‘desperate to be loved’ Byung-soo (Yoo Joon-sang). They drink coffee and old hurts bubble to the surface as the sons compete for their father’s approval.
Meanwhile two women, A-reum (Kim Min-hee) and Yeon-joo (Song Seon-mi) occupy a room down the hall. They are sequestered in the empty hotel as A-reum tries to come to terms with the end of a relationship. The two disparate groups occasionally intersect but their separateness is, I suspect, a metaphor for the human condition. There are some funny moments – Byung-soo is particularly affecting as the son who just wants his dad’s love. He is a somewhat famous film director and a lovely scene where the women gossip and dismiss him as “not really an auteur”, “just diligent” I presume is self-mockery by Hong.
The black-and-white photography is occasionally worth it. There are zooms and sudden piano and strings that seem to underline something but primarily make the viewer conscious of the artifice of film. Perhaps this is deliberate. Overall it was a pleasant contemplative few hours that didn’t particularly change my understanding of the world.
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you think in the comments below.