New for me
On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (often simply called Turning Gate) was one of director Hong Sangsu's most popular and accessible early films, but because of the circumstances as I developed my initial interest in Korean cinema, I completely missed the film and, despite catching nearly all of the rest of his filmography, I haven't actually seen Turning Gate until recently, but after seeing it, I can see why the film is regarded as one of his most accessible films, especially following the weightiness of his first two films and the cerebral quality of Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. Turning Gate is Hong's first really comedic film, building upon a rather critical and ironic view of human folly and the degree of lightness afforded by that comedy makes Turning Gate much more accessible than his previous films, but also the reduced degree of formalism, tearing away the fantastic elements of his first two films as well as the structural play of Virgin. Also, Turning Gate is the first complete embodiment of Hong's standard story, featuring a love triangle; self-deceiving, but earnest, sex-loving men that work in the film industry; and critical, observational comedic irony. But, in his comedy, Hong doesn't pull punches with his depiction of his characters, resulting in a comedy that also doubles as a hefty character study of a flawed man, making Turning Gate quite interesting and possibly still one of his best films.
In Turning Gate, actor Gyeongsu (Gim Sanggyeong) is a bit down on his luck, his past film having been a failure and getting cut from his next film. Stuck without much to do, he takes an invitation from his old friend, Sungwoo (Gim Hakseok) to visit him outside of the city and with nothing left to do, he does. During his travels, he meets two different women, dancer Myeongsuk (Ye Jiwon) and train passenger Seonyeong (Chu Sangmi), both of whom seem to immediately take a liking to Gyeongsu, but as Gyeongsu explores the potential of both women, he discovers that relating to them is more complicated than being liked.
One of the reasons that Turning Gate is so effective is because, despite its nearly two hour running time, the storytelling is quite lean, sticking to Gyeongsu and his misadventures and each scene is rife with conflict, keeping the dramatic levels pretty high throughout the film, but even more distinctive than the quality of the storytelling is just how well realized Turning Gate's Gyeongsu is, full of hubris, but earnest enough that you can't help but feel just a little bad for how his impulsive decisions land him in regretful places. I especially liked some of the interesting characterization details, especially how Gyeonsu has a tendency to "take" phrases and behaviors from other people, perhaps because he's an actor and how he reuses these things on people he meets later, but also betrays a kind of malleability to his character which the film actually goes as far to indirectly call him out on.
And frequent Hong collaborator Gim Sanggyoeng manages to perfectly capture that unstable, but passionate nature well, still being able to find the earnestness and self-believing sincerity to contrast, both following in a long line of Hong male protagonists of this ilk, yet also establishing a unique pathos for his Gyeongsu. Likewise, his counterparts both manage to infuse a lot of character into the women they play, with Ye Jiwon's Myeongsuk capturing an obsessive willfulness that's almost frightening, and Chu Sangmi's Seonyeong managing an interesting kind of elusiveness that understandably captures Gyeongsu. Hong shows continued development towards his present stylistic presentation with his garish green title cards and simple music, but in terms of camera direction, handles the film smoothly and invisibly, keeping the focus on his characters and what they're up to, which is good because he works well with his actors here.
Still, how much of an impact the film leaves, as we see where Gyeongsu ends up as a result of his decisions, despite asking us to laugh at him, shows just how deftly Hong's observational style manages to split between dramatic character study and moments of ironic comedy. While I do think that Turning Gate is definitely a more accessible Hong film than his preceding ones, with its economical storytelling and comedic attitude, the detached, observational, and even critical style still might not win over the most casual of moviegoers. But even so, I think, because of how well all the elements come together in Turning Gate, that it is still easily one of the most engaging, interesting and enjoyable films in Hong's long filmography and definitely a good place to start checking out Hong's films, or, if you're already a devotee, a film you should definitely see. 9/10.