There is an interesting link between space and the way people behave. Filmmaker Hong Sang-soo uses space and setting to weave a quiet narrative in Walk Up, bringing together two people who have never met and the one who links them but hasn’t seen either of them for a long time. Straightforward conversations about interests, careers, and life make up the entirety of the film’s dialogue and offer an inviting window into these three characters as seen throughout the four floors of one woman’s apartment building.
Byungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) is an established director trying to help his daughter Jeongsu (Park Miso) enter into her own industry: interior design. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce her to his old friend Ms. Kim (Lee Hyeyeong), who has made her mark in that field, and has an impressive building to show for it. As they talk, Jeongsu describes her interest in that work as based in part on being able to meet many people, describing herself as reserved, hopeful that the many professional interactions she will have will force her to come out of her shell.
While this could be a straightforward story of a supportive father aiding his daughter in her career pursuits, there exists more drama in that parental relationship that surfaces when Byungsoo leaves to take a work call. Jeongsu and Ms. Kim remain behind, drinking wine and talking about the benefits of having a famous father, which Jeongsu, who has not seen her father for years before this, believes are nonexistent. Both with and without Byungsoo, they discuss the content of his films and the notion that art has nothing to do with making money.
Walk Up joins another Hong film screening at the New York Film Festival, The Novelist’s Film, emphasizing the impressive speed at which the filmmaker works and how his naturalistic approach leads to compelling stories without added flair or production enhancements. The black-and-white cinematography in Walk Up enhances each conversation and allows audiences to focus on the actors they are watching interact, as well as to add to the décor which serves as the primary reason for Jeongsu and Ms. Kim to be introduced in the first place.
The apartment building itself plays a major part in the narrative. Ms. Kim expresses early that people live freely there, and that no one locks doors, even at night. That sentiment of accessibility is immediately felt when Ms. Kim offers her old friend to move in and pay half rent, if any, since she would love to see him use the space as an office. The many functions of each of the floors – a restaurant, a residence, and a studio – make it an ever-changing space that serves to facilitate conversations among the people occupying it.
While the film is not structured in a typical way that might be easily broken up into acts, the series of one-on-one and one-on-two talks that occur back-to-back is genuinely interesting and involving. That minimalist touch forces audiences to pay attention to what the characters are saying, and to get to know them only through the things they reveal to each other. There are no flashbacks, and any context about the nature of the relationships that link these three people comes only from what Jeongsu shares with Ms. Kim as they drink wine or Byungsoo reminisces about when he first introduces his daughter and then reconnects with Ms. Kim on his own.
What Hong subtly and impressively achieves in his film is a merging of time and space, allowing the apartment building to strip away any sense of when its events are occurring. When Byungsoo from his work calls, it feels as if things are very different, and the topics of conversation and the floors on which they take place add to that dizzying and unpinpointable effect. All three performers enhance that feeling with a subdued energy and the ability to deliver Hong’s words in a way that lets nothing else get in the way. Soft and intimate, Walk Up allows its dialogue to guide its entrancing story.
This review is from the 2022 New York Film Festival.