Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013) — Image via

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon

Directed by Hong Sang-soo (2013)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Haewon), the first of two 2013 films by prolific director Hong Sang-soo, is almost obstinately small in scale, taking place over three days in a very limited set of locations that the characters return to repeatedly, often to make the same mistakes. Ultimately, responsibility for sustaining viewers’ interest in the film falls squarely on the shoulders of its protagonist, 20-something film student Haewon (Jeong Eun-Chae), and relative newcomer Jeong takes up that challenge energetically, creating an engagingly quirky and memorable character.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013) — Image via acaciasfilms.comThe film begins with a chance meeting on the street between Haewon and English actor Jane Birkin, who asks her for directions and, to Haewon’s delight, tells her that she resembles her daughter (fellow actor Charlotte Gainsbourg). Haewon’s excitement is cut short, however, when she awakens from her dream and realizes that she is sitting in a café, waiting for her mother Jinju (Kim Ja-ok), also an actor. Jinju is preparing to leave Korea for a new life in Canada, where Haewon’s brother lives, and she and Haewon have made plans to spend one last afternoon together, apparently for the first time in longer than Haewon can remember. They walk and talk, and Jinju encourages Haewon to flirt with a young man at a bookshop, in whom she shows little interest.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013) — Image via acaciasfilms.comAfter parting with Jinju, Haewon, feeling sad, calls up her on-again, off-again lover, Seongjun (Lee Sun-kyun), who happens to be the director of her film program and is married with a young child. The remainder of the film is largely devoted to Haewon’s troubled relationship with the immature, confused Seongjun, with detours into a brief encounter with an even older film professor (Kim Eui-seong), who offers to marry Haewon and take her to America, and a picnic with her friend Yeonju (Ye Ji-won) and Yeonju’s lover Jungshik (Yoo Jun-sang), also a married man. Along the way, Haewon has at least one and possibly two more dreams, leaving viewers wondering exactly how much of her story is meant to have really happened.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013) — Image via acaciasfilms.comIn her gangly physicality, awkward behavior (upon seeing Jungshik, she asks, “Is your depression better?”), and arguably unjustified air of self-confidence, Haewon is more than a little reminiscent of Greta Gerwig’s heroine from Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. Unlike Frances, however, Haewon experiences relatively little character development, which is understandable given the story’s short timespan but also indicative of Hong’s interest in characters who keep repeating their bad choices. In any case, despite those bad choices and what her classmates regard as her pretentious, “aristocratic” attitude, one feels compelled to root for Haewon, who certainly comes across as more of an individual than many of the people, and especially many of the men, around her. (At the end of the day, the most sympathetic man in the film is the elderly hiker who kindly shares his bottle of soju with her.)

Hong has devoted most of his career to making films about the people who make films, and in Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, the world those people inhabit is portrayed in a darkly humorous and often pathetic fashion. (Witness Seongjun’s attempt to give added meaning to a moment with Haewon by playing an awful pop rendition of the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, undoubtedly a jab at The King’s Speech and its ilk.) The film, and Haewon herself, will frustrate many viewers, but enjoyed on its own very constricted terms, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon has much to offer.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.