Hong Sang-soo gave the Korean film industry a jolt back in 1996 with début “The Day a Pig Fell into the Well”, a contemporary examination of everyday lives. As one of the raising auteurs of 90s, his refreshing perspective and parsimonious approach to narratives still persists as welcomed motifs to his impressive and continuing filmography.
“Ha Ha Ha” is the story of two friends sharing their experiences of love and relationships on a recent holiday they both had in Tongyeong. Jo Moon-kyung (Kim Sang-kyung from “Memories of Murder” and “May 18th”) is a film director from Seoul whose mom owns a popular restaurant (with globefish being its main attraction) in this small seaside town. Jo-Moon-kyung’s gaze is caught by a local museum guide (Moon So-ri as Yang Seong-wook) and, between visits to his “principle-less” mother; he gentlemanly makes his courtship of her. His character is cumbersome and he has a genteel laugh that can dissolve any awkward situation.
Jo Moon-kyung’s drinking buddy is the woeful Bang Jong-sik (Yu Jun-sang in “Moss” and “Return”) who is struggling to overcome his depression while solidifying his romantic feelings with his stewardess girlfriend (Ye Ji-won as Ahn Yeon-joo). Bang Jon-sik is accompanied in his tales by the existential poet Kang Jeong-ho (Kim Kang-woo) who is actually currently dating Jo Moon-kyung’s love fancy.
Although the two main characters’ never actually come to realise that their stories are intertwined, there are common elements and that run through both stories. Both individuals frequently visit Jo Moon-kyung’s mother’s restaurant and there is a red hat that flouts around between characters, just to name a couple. As spectators to their stories we are shown the bigger picture and some of the serendipitous threads that reappear. Sometimes ironic while other times comical, Hong Sang-soo presents a retrospection that elegantly blurs the perceived distances between people.
Interestingly, the “present” is never actually shown. That is to say that while we are watching the friend’s stories, we only are only shown still pictures of Jo Moon –Kyung and Bang Jong-sik. The result is that their recollections act more as the present than the still images themselves. This is counter-intuitive as one might expect an unmoving image to represent the past and the moving image the future. Moreover, the film begins with Jo Moon-kyung’s voice-over as he introduces the story of him and friend sharing their stories - a story of story-telling as it were. This is an interesting narrative technique that I think is worth taking note of while watching the film and it bolsters Hong Sang-soo’s directorial preference of using language to move his stories forward.
“Ha Ha Ha” depicts the frailty of contemporary existence. Hong Sang-soo zooms in (figuratively and literally) on these flawed individuals as he examines the paths people share and the unexpected commonality people have with those around them. It's a great watch if you have the patience for relatively slow story telling, I found Hong Sand-soo’s characters to be very likeable and relatable and this films message made me slow my perceptions of the interactions I have on a daily bases, instead of being on autopilot. Cheers!
-Christopher J. Wheeler
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