Director Hong Sang-soo, acclaimed by critics but not yet a household name, has a chance for recognition this week as his latest work competes at the Berlin International Film Festival.
His 14th feature-length movie, "Nobody's Daughter Haewon," will premiere at the festival, which kicks off Thursday. Cinephiles are watching to see if Hong can impress a star-studded list of judges and guests to become Korea's next top-shelf director.
"Haewon" revolves around a college student who spins into depression following the departure of her mother to Canada. She falls back on a troubled affair with a professor, who offers to whisk her away.
Known in the industry for his complex interweaving of multiple storylines and his examination of isolation that is at once humorous and serious, Hong, 52, could be the next in line after critics' darling Kim Ki-duk, who won the Golden Lion at the Cannes last year for his film "Pieta."
The film represents a comeback to the Berlin festival for Hong, who impressed in 2008 with "Night and Day," and an opportunity to follow up on his effort at Cannes last year, where he showcased "In Another Country." The New Yorker hailed that comedy for reaching "exquisite heights of self-mocking pathos, painterly finesse, and symbolic density."
Hong arrived on the scene in 1996 with the feature "A Day a Pig Fell into a Well," which won immediate acclaim for its honest portrait of alienation and the shortcomings of intellectualism. His "Woman is the Future of Man," (2004) about a sullen love triangle, saw limited box office success but competed at Cannes; while "HaHaHa" (2010) won the festival's Certain Regard prize.
"Country," meanwhile, starring Isabelle Huppert, cast the actress in three different roles, highlighting the director's penchant for complexity and close examination of the awkwardness and, at times, the futility of human relationships.
The Berlin festival appears to be stepping up its game this year with a spate of industry heavyweights, including Won Kar-wai, who will head the competition jury, as well as actor-director Tim Robbins, a judge. Gus Van Sant will compete with his film "Promised Land," about the shale gas industry; while Bruno Dumont offers the period piece "Camille Claudel, 1915" starring Juliette Binoche.
Other offerings include Steven Soderbergh's new thriller "Side Effects," featuring Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Rising Korean director E J-young's film "Behind the Camera" will run as part of the "panorama" section for independent films. Works from two other Korean directors Lee Don-ku and Kim Dong-ho will also be screened non-competitively. The event runs through Feb. 17.