While certainly nothing new for South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, “Walk Up” is a tender slice of filmmaking sure to satisfy fans of the formal and screenwriting aspects of filmmaking. Even if it does not feel as purposeful as previous efforts like “The Novelist’s Film,” it is still overwhelmingly endearing.
“Walk Up” is the latest feature from Sang-soo, following Byungsoo (Kwon Hae-hyo), a film director, who takes his daughter Jeongsu (Park Miso), an aspiring interior designer, to visit a building owned by his old friend Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-yeong), already established in the design field.
The three amicably chat the day away, drinking and enjoying each other’s company until Jeongsu leaves to get more wine. Byungsoo spends the rest of the day meeting the tenants of Ms. Kim’s building, learning their stories and discussing topics ranging from art and love to dietary decisions.
It should go without saying, but “Walk Up” is yet another Sang-soo film firmly rooted in the director’s signature style. The tone is cozy and inviting, allowing audience members to dig into the conversations between characters that are clearly analogs for Sang-soo’s own insecurities at the time of writing.
The structure of “Walk Up” is incredibly satisfying. While it does not have the same narrative thrust as “The Novelist’s Film,” this movie instead opts to let its story play out in multiple chapters. Each of these chapters are represented by a different floor and the person Byungsoo encounters living there. All of these chapters help paint an increasingly complete picture of Byungsoo. So, what ends up happening, is the structure of the film reflects the structure of the apartment complex.
As is typical, Sang-soo’s cast of regulars all deliver fantastic performances. Hae-hyo ends up bearing the brunt of the emotions in this film, being the principal character. Hae-hyo does an excellent job conveying the character’s inner turmoil and fears. Here he serves as a mouthpiece for the director’s vulnerabilities, his inability to find satisfaction in love or the art he creates and growing isolation from those around him. He is a slave to his vices.
In general, “Walk Up” delivers just about everything that Sang-soo’s fans have come to expect from him. The revealing conversations between close friends drinking, the metanarrative that reflects Sang-soo’s own strife, the familiar cast of actors giving emotionally unguarded performances, it is all here.
One disappointing aspect of “Walk Up” was the stylistic flairs, such as shooting the film in black-and-white, feeling less purposeful than they did in “The Novelist’s Film.”
Another area of disappointment was that while Byungsoo’s own story is incredibly well realized, many of the side characters suffer as a result, not feeling nearly as fleshed out.
Overall, “Walk Up” is undeniably standard fare for Sang-soo, and ultimately, it is hard to ask for it to be much more than that. I only get so much mileage out of Sang-soo’s style, and after seeing both this and “The Novelist’s Film,” it already felt like he was treading water with certain themes and ideas. At the very least though, the concept is fresh and the performances are still charming as ever.
I would give “Walk Up” a 6/10, and recommend it first and foremost to fans of Sang-soo, but I would additionally encourage anyone unfamiliar with his work to give it a shot. His movies are contemplative works of conversation that are sure to sate the appetites of die-hard film fans.