Nobody's Daughter Haewon – review

Hong Sang-soo's subtle tale of a teacher-student romance has hidden depths

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Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo has made 14 feature films and earned international awards recognition, including an Un Certain Regard win at Cannes in 2010 and a couple of Silver Bear nominations in Berlin. Remarkably, his films have so far failed to crack UK cinemas, making the release of this touching, observant and compassionate tale of a young woman struggling to make sense of the world all the more welcome.

As her mother prepares to move to Canada, Haewon (Jeong Eun-chae) finds herself emotionally lost and attempts to rekindle a relationship with a film professor – an older, married man with a rudimentary understanding of "boundaries". Making frequent use of long takes in which group interactions weave and unravel (a scene in which the two ex-lovers get drunk with quarrelsome students is by turns amusing, heartbreaking and excruciating), Hong's apparently slight and meandering tale reveals hidden depths; the rituals of polite society cracking under stress; the unspoken longings and betrayals of relationships fuelled more by need than desire; the sense of desperation always lurking at the edge of the frame.

A recurrent musical motif using a bowdlerised pop version of Beethoven's 7th strikes a typically jarring note – at once cheesy and disposable, yet still lingering and profound. Most importantly, Haewon emerges as a complex character in whose foolishly open company we would happily spend more time, her understated manner speaking volumes, her gestures gently telling their own story.

Contributor

Mark Kermode

The GuardianTramp

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