A regular on the international festival circuit, Hong Sang-soo is one of Korea's most highly regarded contemporary directors. His mostly improvised, innovatively constructed films conceal rich layers of meaning beneath deceptively simple surfaces, and reveal a filmmaker with a unique, individual style. A rather notorious figure on the Seoul film scene, Hong has a fondness for alcohol that is almost as legendary as his talent for filmmaking. He's been known to get familiar with his actors before shooting by taking them on drinking binges, and, for verisimilitude, the many drinking scenes in his films normally include actually drunk performers (who sometimes don't remember these scenes after they've been shot).
Born in 1960, Hong began his film studies at Joongang University in Korea, then moved to the United States, where he received his BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His debut feature, The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996), brought him immediate international acclaim, winning him Best New Director awards at Korea's Blue Dragon Awards and at the Asia Pacific Film Festival; he then went on to win additional awards at the Rotterdam and Vancouver film festivals. Setting the tone for Hong's subsequent efforts, the film is a de-romanticized vision of modern relationships that features dark humor, sparse dialogue, improvised performances, and precise camerawork. His second film, The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), has two parallel, intersecting story lines about thwarted love affairs and garnered him even more international awards, including a Special Mention in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. The provocatively titled The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors followed in 2000. Shot in black-and-white using only medium-range shots, it follows a doomed love triangle from each character's point-of-view. Hong's most rigidly structured film, it earned him comparisons to Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, along with even more international recognition, but it is also the film in his oeuvre about which critical opinion is most divided. His fourth film, Turning Gate (2002), a melancholy comedy about a depressed young actor's romantic failings, continues the development of Hong's finely honed, highly personal directorial voice.