Hotel by the River ★★★★

Hong takes an unexpected turn into Lynchian territory in Hotel by the River, a sneaky drama about a bad-dad poet’s misdeeds told using devices that he himself might have employed in his work. As often happens in the director’s movie, a scene appears midway through that lays out the gambit in explicit detail. “Side by side,” the inspiration for one of the son’s names, is the theme here, and it not only manifests itself in narrative devices (several scene setups are based on proximity, there are two pairs of main characters besides the poet, the editorial scheme shuttles back and forth between two parallel threads, etc…) but also lays out the moral structure of the film, acknowledging the inevitability of moral lapses. The faintly supernatural tone (the film begins with a deadly premonition from the poet) hangs over all that we see, turning Hong’s typical structural playfulness into something that feels more obviously cosmic in nature, turning coincidences into something pregnant with meaning. More subtly upsetting than usual for the filmmaker, even as it retains many amusing moments, the movie uses the poet’s aimless wanderings as a recapitulation of his relationship with his sons, just as his interactions with the women show us indications of his self-centered chauvinism. Definitely a strong entry in the filmmaker’s body of work… and the incriminating zoom after the father asks a son whether he hates women is peak Hong, at the very least.

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