Starting with his debut film THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL (1996), Korean director Hong Sang-soo (*1960) has created a unique cinematic oeuvre, which counts as one of the most idiosyncratic undertakings in contemporary cinema. Highly sophisticated in formal terms, yet also blessed with a comedic lightness of touch and an extraordinarily understanding of linguistic ambivalences, his films explore ever new permutations of men and women, eating and drinking (alcohol), (cinematic) fantasy and reality. Hong Sang-soo is one of the few auteurs for whom minimalistic modernism and highly entertaining narrative cinema go hand in hand. Hong is an inimitable chronicler of male malaises, with apathetic men - intellectuals, artists or filmmaker - usually being at the centre of his films, their narcissism leading them to unhappiness as well as into all kinds of amusing scrapes. Hong’s female characters appear to be playing along with the men’s games, yet manage to evade the imaginary projections of male fantasy again and again, WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN (2004) being the pleasingly paradoxical title of one of his films. Hong's erotically coded linguistic games are often taken as proof of a certain proximity to Eric Rohmer, but the ambiguous disruptions and surprises in his films are frequently more reminiscent of the surreal fictions of Luis Buñuel; like Buñuel, Hong often leaves the boundaries between dream, memory, film and reality pointedly unmarked. Hong is a master of mise en abyme: his later films in particular contain intricate film in film constructions within which it's no longer clear whether cinema is imitating life or the other way round. His obsessive use of doublings, mirror images and repetitions makes Hong Sang-soos oeuvre into a form of playful meta-cinema: films in films and films about films – a TALE OF CINEMA (2005), as one of his most beautiful films is entitled.
Despite all this, Hong's films cannot be reduced to mere self-referential formalism, as they function at the same time as almost ethnologically exact observations of everyday life in Korea. Hong tunes into the linguistic nuances and physical gestures of the characters, who get hopelessly caught up in such inglorious emotions as envy, cowardice and egotism, as a means of revealing the social habits of the (pseudo) intellectual Korean middle class in pitiless yet amusing fashion. Similar to the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Hong Sang-soo's "Tales of Cinema" invent their own world, in which countless echoes and resonances emerge between the individual films – seemingly insignificant motifs and things from earlier films reappear in modified form in later ones. This is but one of the many pleasures to be had from viewing his oeuvre as a whole.