NYFF51 Spotlight: Hong Sang-soo’s “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon”

Acclaimed South Korean director Hong Sang-Soo (Night and Day, Woman Is the Future of Man) returns to the New York Film Festival for the seventh time with Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, one of his two feature films to hit the festival circuit this year. Nobody’s Daughter Haewon screened in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival, and the film stands out as an interesting part of Sang-Soo’s oeuvre for its attention to detail and commitment to its subject.

Hong, who usually portrays male characters, changes course with a young film student as his heroine, although the power rice wine holds over his characters remains constant. The film is a representation of the eponymous Haewon’s struggle with her mother’s abandonment, subsequent feelings of loneliness, and increasing reliance on alcohol. Hong is interested in letting scenes play out to the fullest—using long takes, medium shots, and a zooming camera, he dabbles in the space between dream and reality, exploring themes of identity and secrecy.

Jeong Eun-Chae, in a standout performance as Haewon, inhabits whimsical dream territory and awkward dinner get-togethers with equal ease. The film allows Haewon to question who she really is: if she is "nobody’s" daughter, then who is she? The people around her (mostly men and her mother) tell her she is pretty, but she clearly does not know what to do with this information—in one scene she calls herself “the devil.” During the only section of the film when Haewon is not on camera, the other students gossip about her to her on-again, off-again lover and married professor, Sung-Joon, envious of her affluent background and curious about her mixed-race ethnicity.

Haewon experiences a spur of the moment encounter with a professor from the States, and he asks her to marry her, but her response is that he barely knows her. While she is tempted by the prospect of a different life with him, she is still attached to Sung-Joon, clinging to him in times of loneliness, yet somehow seeming even more lonely in his presence. The limited time frame of the film allows these questions of who Haewon is and whether the people who surround her can actually know her to be realized as they can only on film—as glimpses into a person’s individuality. Hong has created a fascinating portrait of a young woman’s internal crises, allowing the audience to observe her life in a sympathetic manner, effectively giving her life meaning.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon
Director: Hong Sang-soo

Section: Official Selection
Screens: September 29 at 9:00pm + September 30 at 3:30pm

NYFF Official Description:
Since his debut in 1996, the South Korean filmmaker (and NYFF regular) Hong Sang-soo’s oeuvre has grown organically, layer by layer, with each new film building on the overtones and ramifications of the one preceding it. Few artists in the medium work with such freedom, and fewer still make films of such complexity expressed with such eloquent simplicity and with such attention to place and season. In Hong’s 14th movie, a chamber-piece, a young film student named Haewon (Jeong Eun-Chae) finds herself at loose ends when her mother moves to Canada. She clings to her married lover, a film professor (Lee Sun-Kyun), and is bowled over by the insights of another professor (Kim Eui-seong) living in San Diego. Meanwhile, she struggles to find her own way and her own identity the way we all do when we’re young: a little bit at a time, encounter by encounter, experience by experience, in reality and in dreams.

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