Korean Reviews Reviews

Film Review: A Traveler’s Needs (2024) by Hong Sang-soo

"Who is that person? Who is she?!"

Festival audiences might already be used to the fact that provides a new cinematic experience almost every year – in this regard, 2024 is no different. The latest movie by this productive director, “A Traveler's Needs”, had its world premiere at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, and was nominated for the Silvestre Award at the IndieLisboa International Film Festival.

The film, surprisingly for the Korean director who has a habit of working without a prepared script, is relatively well-structured and might be one of his most intelligible works, though still quite puzzling. The story follows Iris, a French woman () who tries out an innovative method of teaching languages. She thinks that the learning process is quicker if the sentences her pupils try to memorize are emotionally significant to them. The viewer can see her simple everyday life as she goes from place to place, interacts with others, and sometimes gets lost.

In his seventh film in three years, Hong Sang-soo tackles the topic of language barriers and teaching a language by a foreigner. In a humorous way, he seems to be critiquing the idea that just because someone is a native speaker of a certain language, they are also good at teaching it. Between elements typical for his works, like showing characters who drink a lot of alcohol (this time it's Makgeolli, not Soju) and discuss their love life, he also presents how Koreans treat a foreigner: some with distrust, but some with ka ind of fascination or what one might call “reverse orientalism”, which is especially visible through the character of Inguk () who offered Iris a place to stay, and seems to be infatuated by the simple fact that she is from “another world”.

The movie is shot in the aesthetic that's typical for Hong Sang-soo – scenes are usually located indoors, and consists of a single hand-held shot with few instances of using zoom. When asked about his filming style at the Berlinale he said, “This might sound very irresponsible, but I don't know what I'm doing” – this quote might perfectly encapsulate the “charming amateurism” of this creator.

Isabelle Huppert who plays the main character, commented on her third collaboration with the Korean director as follows: “It's very difficult to project yourself into the story or role because there is no role or story. There is just the way he captures the present moment and the state of a person confronting a certain world.” Just like actors had to improvise on set, Iris's behaviour also seems improvised – she is a somewhat mysterious character that doesn't have a clear objective, and just lives in the moment.

“A Traveler's Needs” is perplexing, but also witty and light-hearted. For the fans of Hong Sang-soo, it doesn't really offer anything significantly new, but the subjects he touches on feel quite refreshing. For people that are not familiar with his work, it seems like a great starting point to get introduced to his rich filmography.

About the author

Tobiasz Dunin

I'm from Poland and I work as an editor. To be honest, I'm not sure how I got interested in Asian cinema or Asia in general, but I started watching movies pretty late - only when I started college. Since then, I watched a lot of films, and visited a few festivals, which I absolutely love doing. When it comes to what movies I like, I try to keep an open mind, but I generally avoid horrors, musicals and documentaries.

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