Writer and director Shin Su-won weaves an intimate, moving tale of of a filmmaker as she attempts to balance her family and career.
This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
In the opening scenes of Hommage, writer/director Ji-wan (Lee Jun-eun) and her producer (Kim Ho-Jung) enter a multiplex. They walk by a poster for a big-budget blockbuster, scoffing at the bloated action flick when their independent film is left in the shadows. In a summer filled with talk about the return of the blockbuster saving cinema, it’s a timely matter that Shin Su-won’s intimately haunting Hommage has its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Hommage follows Ji-wan as she attempts to balance her career as a writer/director with her marriage to a drunk, deadbeat husband (Kwon Hae-hyo) and wannabe poet son (Tang Jung-sang). She takes a job restoring the film A Woman Judge, a 1960s film from Hong Eun-won, one of Korea’s first female directors. Soon Ji-wan throws herself into an investigation of the film and filmmaker, trying to discover the full version of the film in time for the restoration’s premiere.
Lee Jung-eun is fantastic as Ji-wan, a woman teetering between home and work life. She works from her kitchen table, quietly simmering as her husband and son exclaim she’s failing on her household duties when she fails to make them a home-cooked dinner. There’s a quiet desperation that Jung-eun portrays, holding the pressures of her life at bay as she searches for an outside career to give her meaning. Yet there are places where domesticity and filmmaking combine – Ji-wan meets with the aging editor of A Woman Judge at her home. She assists the elderly woman with removing laundry from the clothing line, folding clothes as they discuss A Woman Judge. They can’t shut out home life, but they also can’t turn off their work life either. It’s a powerful image of the duality of women in the film industry, often having to exist in two worlds at once. It’s also perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek to have Jung-eun, known for her role as the housekeeper in Parasite, portray a writer/director with a disdain for housekeeping in Hommage.
Lee Jung-eun is fantastic as Ji-wan, a woman teetering between home and work life.
Shin Su-won’s direction is perfection in Hommage. There are themes of ghosts in the film, with Ji-wan haunted both by the past of the A Woman Judge, and with her neighbors – in one scene, Ji-wan thinks she hears her neighbor through the wall saying “Let me out.” The next day, a woman is found dead in the car park outside her apartment complex. The camera haunts the characters as the ghosts haunt Ji-wan, lingering around the actors as the scenes unfold. Juxtaposed with the censorship faced by A Woman Judge (scenes, such as the lead female character smoking, were cut), it seems a luxury to intimately observe the characters in Hommage.
Shin Su-won also deserves praise for the script of Hommage. As this is Su-won’s sixth film, one could wonder if some of the male microaggressions are taken from real life. Ji-wan’s son discredits his mother’s films, stating she should make more films like The Avengers. Ji-wan tries to direct an actor who’s dubbing the restored version of A Woman Judge, only to hear him say it’s a shitty film when the record booth mic is accidentally left on. When she attempts to look for the cut scenes of the film in a dilapidated cinema, she has to stand up to a cantankerous projectionist who swears he doesn’t have a cut of the film. Even Ji-wan’s body attacks her, throwing a life-threatening health crisis that prompts a full hysterectomy. It’s a serendipitous event, as in her recovery, she accidentally uncovers a lead on the location of the cut scenes of A Woman Judge.
There’s a final scene towards the end of Hommage where Ji-wan comes out of the shadows of the rundown cinema, holding the film to the light streaming down through a hole in the ceiling, trying to find the lost scenes of A Woman Judge. It’s a nice reminder for us all to come out of the shadows and celebrate independent films like Shin Su-won’s Hommage.