Still, the chemistry between James and Latif is serviceable at best. The politics are shortsighted. The editing is crisp and the cinematography on some of the larger set pieces, specifically Kazim’s eventual wedding, is lush. But “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” utilizes an ending that’s so rushed, that it never really provides any movie magic romance to flutter into your heart.
Add Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s name to the fast-growing pile of filmmakers who spent the pandemic making films about themselves. In “Walk Up,” Byung-soo (Kwon Haehyo), a proxy of Sang-soo, is a middle-aged director left uninspired, in ill-health, and without financial backing to make his next film. With his teenage daughter (Song Sunmi), Byung-soo visit a three-story building belonging to his designer friend Ms. Kim (Lee Hyeyoung) in the hopes that she’ll train his daughter in interior design.
Sang-soo’s “Walk Up,” a self-reflexive, surreal black and white shot dark comedy is often too impressed with itself to excavate the plight of its director. Told in three parts, a guitar melody introduces each section, each taking place on a different floor in the building. In these segments, Byung-soo ages, begins and ends relationships, sees a friend turn hostile toward him, loses his daughter, his health and his creative inspiration.
More than a movie about filmmaking, however, “Walk Up” is a pandemic flick meant to remind viewers of the preciousness of our existence. Still, one wonders why Sang-soo seems incapable of being a humanist. What exactly are we supposed to feel as Byung-soo bemoans the film industry or cracks quips on the pandemic? The result leaves you at arm’s length, emotionally.
Per usual, however, with Sang-soo the precise craft on display holds the power to captivate: Small details in the production design, the narratively unpeeling editing, and the black and white cinematography, whose compositions rely heavily on the latter shade for a dreamlike tone, are unimpeachably tight. But Byung-soo, and by some extension, Sang-soo, can’t fathom a world where he’s not the center of attention. The approach reeks of a self-indulgence that undoes the picture. Even the deft sleight of hand by the Korean filmmaker to end the film, can’t save “Walk Up” from being a well-made, finely calibrated narrative without an emotional throughline.