Hill of Freedom (film)

Hill of Freedom (Directed by Hong Sang-soo)/2014

This movie was my first viewing at the 2015 New Zealand Film Festival. The director of this film is Hong Sang-soo from South Korea. As a screen writer and director he brings a uniquely quaint and feel-good quality to his films.  When I watch them I tend to drift off into a comfortable feeling, and enjoy them for their soft, caring approach and their lack of violence or overindulgence in pain or drama.  Painful things happen, but they are explored with a realism that gives dignity to the characters without forcing a moral, judgmental structure onto the viewing experience.

Hill of Freedom is about a young Japanese man called Mori who comes to Korea to find an ex-lover he feels he has failed in some way in the past.  He writes letters to his ex-lover, Kwon, letting her know of his experiences in Korea and waits for her arrival at a guest-house.  The order of the film follows the order that Kwon reads all the letters; she reads them all in one sitting without ordering the letters first (they are not dated).

One curious aspect of this film is that there is no stylistic indication when the movie moves back and forward in time.  It caught me beysurprise a bit as I am used to some kind of indication that the movie was moving in a nonlinear fashion: for example, a change in the colour to black and white, a slight blurring, or a slowing down of time.  I initially found this a bit strange, but on reflection, this cutting gave the movie a crisp and refreshing style.

The nonlinear style of the film makes the intentional point that linear time is not an objective thing.  The point is made explicitly by Mori as he explains that in the book he is reading the argument is made that humans experience linear time due to the survival benefit it has for humanity. Our minds create a past, present and future because experiencing reality in this way allows us to reflect on past actions and create future plans, which in turn aids our survival.

It is unique to create a romantic-comedy with such an intensely philosophical undercurrent.  Moreover, the philosophy does not dominate what is most important to the movie: Mori’s quest to reconnect with Kwon.  This may not have been a conscious decision by Hong Sang-soo, but still reflects the role of philosophy in human life accurately: a background issue that sets the framework for our existence but in day-to-day life takes a backseat to other issues: love, work, sex, family and money.

Hill of Freedom is the name of the film but also the name of Mori’s favourite café in town.  He ends up having a brief romantic relationship with the owner of the café, Young-Sun.  In a standard American romantic-comedy this relationship would have ended in a kind of despair as the two ladies battle for the heart of the one man, with the pain of being rejected being played out loud, and the guilt of producing this kind of heartache significantly impacting Mori’s final reflections on the situation.

However, this does not happen at all, and the situation resolves without grief or guilt being central.  This might either display a lack of empathy in the mind of the writer/director, or a mature outlook that wants to maintain a care-free mind set in a reality where a certain level of suffering is inevitable.


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