Subways, Streets, Sang-soo

Environmental psychology, respectful design, and postmodern cinema

Music to play while reading

Subway Exits

You can find them in major cities around the world. They distort reality as you pass through the portals which separate the overground world with the underground world.

I haven’t been to many places in the world. In Japan, at least, many subway stations are connected to many buildings. The boundary between worlds is less clear. Where does one world end and another world begin?

Everything is illusion, realistically speaking. Everything, everything we see, we feel, we imagine, everything is real and at the same time is fake. It’s an illusion. The distinction is not that important.

홍상수 Hong Sang-soo

Subway exits form a path which forms a network that connects two different worlds. For me, a well-marked subway exit/entrance network is very relaxing. Perhaps it’s just the Temple Grandin inside of me though I imagine a well-marked subway tunnel is a much more reassuring pathway compared to the open world.

For Guy Debord maybe these walls are too restrictive—or maybe I’m missing his point in this case. But I do know that Debord sought to make the invisible more visible.

From a dérive point of view, cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

Debord, 1957

An example of mapping of atmospheric unities of a city

For Guy Debord, the city is split up into spaces of ‘ambiance’ which cause different emotions which rise up out of the landscape.


I always have a few scenes of a character alone, walking. I like them because there’s a different light outside, or trees are moving. Even if the scenes are short, they’re very precious.

홍상수 Hong Sang-soo

Streets are a standardized border which separates buildings. They take up 30 to 35 percent of the area in cities. Streets aren’t evil because they give us choice. They help provide a space for flow and movement. Streets are completely liminal. They exist only to move objects into different spaces. The streets which are subverted in this single purpose are eventually turned into covered markets.

There’s an infinite kind of possibility in our perception and our actions, in life, as we respond to what is given to us every moment.

홍상수 Hong Sang-soo

When we are on the street we have usually have complete freedom to move anywhere within, or even off the network of streets. The network of paths stretches nearly as far as computer and information networks. Whole countries are covered by a continuous mesh of streets.

Is there a moral dimension to these possibilities? Is that what the films suggest?

Yes — should one choose to experience the films that way.

홍상수 Hong Sang-soo


I don’t really know why and how any of these films are made. I try always not to start with a clear purpose or objectives. I kind of believe in the creative process itself. I only respond to what is given to me at the time I set out to make one, such as actors, locations, weather, as well as what I see, what I read, what I recall, and what I hear during the pre-production and production period, with what I call “my best innocence.”

홍상수 Hong Sang-soo

Sang-soo’s films feel very consistent and geometric. By relying on ‘innocence’ or ‘grace’ Sang-soo is able to naturally create a consistent style which is connected to reality.

Streets, Subway Exits, and Sang-soo films are not just readable in one direction. They are multivalent. Meaning is up to the reader to discover. Most ‘blockbuster’ films fail here because they lack mystery and there is no way to discover new meaning through analysis. When we are babies life is all about discovery. Life goes by more quickly when it gets repetitive and we stop thinking. Live life slowly and continue to think! You will live a life that has more meaning, even a diversity of meanings. It’s good to thoughtfully change your mind—should you choose to do so.