Walk Up

Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Distributed by: Cinema Guild

Written by Michael Clawson

In the cinema of Hong Sang-soo, déjà vu is a sensation you come to expect. Films like “Right Now, Wrong Then” and “The Day He Arrives” open up worlds of possibility through their use of repetition and subtle variation. After a string of films that broke from this famous directorial habit, “Walk Up” shows Hong bending the form in Buñuelian fashion once again, this time for a story centered around the inhabitants of a single apartment building. It is Hong’s most structurally complex effort in years, and its tricks are both haunting and magical.  

The story begins as Byung-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo), a filmmaker, brings his grown daughter Sun-hee (Song Sun-mi) to meet an old friend, Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-young). Sun-hee is an aspiring interior decorator, and Byung-soo hopes Ms. Kim might share with his daughter her expertise in this creative field. Ms. Kim is also the landlord of the four-story walk-up where she, Byung-soo, and Sun-hee convene. She gives them a tour: her own workspace is in the basement, a restaurant takes up the first and second floors, a couple resides on the third, and a reclusive bachelor lives at the top. “Walk Up” introduces us to these various apartment dwellers, but does so while warping our sense of time and toying with the prospect of parallel realities, the effect of which is pleasurably confounding.

What’s especially charming about the film’s trickery is that it’s accomplished through modest means. Never one for flashy technique (unless you consider the occasional zoom to be ostentatious), Hong makes clever use of conversation detail, editing, and mise-en-scène to complicate our perception of time’s passage and the fixedness of characters. It’s in service of an exploration of the many and varied stages of creative life: while Sun-hee is angling to kickstart her career as a decorator, Ms. Kim is a gifted professional, and Byung-soo, who registers as a stand-in for Hong, finds himself at varying levels of success at different points in the film. Shot in black and white with simple camerawork and long takes, the sparseness of the film’s visual style belies its intricate construction.

“Walk Up” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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