Dir: Hong Sangsoo. South Korea. 2010. 116mins


Hong Sangsoo’s biting humour and complex, idiosyncratic style is as well-formed as ever in his 10th feature Ha Ha Ha. Nonetheless its rather stifling atmosphere in contrast to the breezy cool of Woman on the Beach (2006) and Like You Know It All (2009) will make it a hard sell beyond the director’s small group of devoted fans.

The film’s title is a word play on the Chinese character for “summer” as well as the more obvious connotation in English.

The independently-produced work is being well received on release in its native South Korea, where it stands a good chance of earning back its modest $100,000 budget. Internationally, prospects beyond France and perhaps the US are uncertain.

A clever framing device provides the audience with a comparatively accessible narrative structure, at the same time as the characters themselves prove more difficult to embrace. Shortly before emigrating to Canada, the aspiring film director Moon-kyung (Kim Sang-kyung) has a drink with his younger friend, the film critic Joong-sik (Yu Jun-sang). While talking they discover that they have each recently traveled to the seaside town of Tong-yeong. They agree to tell their stories, recounting only the good memories, but they don’t realize that they in fact spent their time in the same places with the same people, without ever running into each other.

These narrated flashbacks, shot in a purposefully nondescript visual style, set the stage for all the awkward social encounters and petty misunderstandings that animate Hong’s work. The director has cast a particularly large group of name actors this time around, and while the acclaimed Moon So-ri (Oasis) shines in her first Hong role as a hypersensitive tour guide, some of the young stars are merely so-so.

What some viewers may miss in this film is a character like Ko Hyun-jung in Like You Know It All who provides a counterpoint to the strained, awkward social dynamics of the other characters. Hong also refrains from introducing any major new stylistic developments in this latest work.

The film’s title is a word play on the Chinese character for “summer” as well as the more obvious connotation in English.

Production company: Jeonwonsa

Domestic distributor: Sponge Entertainment

International sales: Finecut, +822 569 8777

Producers: Hong Sangsoo, Kim Kyoung-hee

Screenplay: Hong Sangsoo

Cinematography: Park Hong-yeo

Editor: Hahm Sung-won

Music: Jeong Yong-jin

Main cast: Kim Sang-kyung, Yu Jun-sang, Moon So-ri, Yea Ji-won, Kim Gang-woo, Yoon Yuh-jung, Kim Min-sun