Inundated by the relentless, breakneck pace of Seoul, a weary woman seeks to anesthetise her misery with alcohol and partying. Longing to break free, she will have to take a leap of faith to find solace and serenity.

Niccolò Montanari: Can you discuss the story of the film and how you approached capturing your protagonist’s journey towards peace and tranquility?

Tim Ro: Whenever I’m in Korea, I can never quite get used to the idea of how insanely hard people work, and with the very little time they have left, play just as hard. They do the exact same thing over again for days on end. There seemed to be no respite or rejuvenation. It was a never-ending cycle of pain and pleasure. The idea of this story took shape when I chose to further explore the pain and suffering behind all the smiles and pleasantries. The protagonist gets sucked into this never-ending loop of working and anesthetising her pain through alcohol and partying. I wanted to show throughout the film that although she engages in all these activities she feels alienated even right in the middle of all this action. At one point she has to just step away from everything and everyone and make a decision to break free from this cycle.

NM: The film explores the struggle of breaking free of the relentless pace of a large city. How specific to Seoul is this experience? Did you encounter any challenges filming the business of Seoul?

TR: This sort of lifestyle and struggle is an all too familiar story of people working in Seoul. This is particularly true of working people in Seoul, but all Koreans throughout the peninsula experience varying levels of this lifestyle. Seoul probably is just the most extreme when it comes to working and playing. Besides the restaurant, which we shot day for night, everything was shot with a guerrilla approach. The city never sleeps and there were constantly people around all the time, so it was a bit of a challenge to shoot. The Karaoke was also operating at the time, so the proprietor of the business wasn’t too thrilled when we shot with an actual crew. Fortunately, we were able to knock things out relatively quickly, while our producer smoothed things over.

NM: The protagonist evolves from significant alcohol consumption and partying to seeking inner peace. How did you approach character development and ensure that her transformation felt genuine and relatable?

TR: I believe that every person stuck in some sort of vicious cycle is aware and conscious of what is happening to them. However, for one reason or another, they either suppress, ignore, or delay confronting what is happening to them. The protagonist had to completely disengage from her current predicament and had to recalibrate herself in solitude. She had to make a conscientious decision to liberate herself and break free. To make things feel genuine and relatable I wanted to show these internal shifts, while still staying in the context of that night out. Somehow, an alleyway could act as her sanctuary and a tunnel could act as a portal that signals an oncoming change in the winds.

NM: You’ve mentioned that the film is a love letter to the Korean people enduring hardship. How did your cultural background and personal experiences shape the writing and making of HŎSA?

TR: Although I was mostly raised in America and partly in South Africa, my parents are Korean and we’ve always experienced Korea through the diasporic lens. Daniel, who is my brother and also the DP for this film really helped set the visual tone for this film. We would look at all the photo books of the 70s and 80s that our parents experienced in Korea and wanted to incorporate that into our film. Every time we shoot with producers and crew in Korea, we are both in awe of how they handle such punishing schedules, but we also get concerned about how little they sleep and how they take care of their health. The grind never stops, because they’re afraid that the moment they do somebody else will usurp them and take their place. It’s such a grueling way to live. I feel many people live in fear and uncertainty and fight through the futility and senselessness of living in this way. This piece is for them and all our other Korean family and friends hustling nonstop every day.

NM: The film incorporates elements of art and experimental filmmaking. Can you discuss your creative process in balancing these experimental aspects with the need to convey a coherent narrative?

TR: I initially intended to fully embrace the poetic approach and completely eschew the narrative aspect of this film. I wanted to see if we could just solely rely on the vibe, the mood, and the energy in a series of non-narrative cuts to heighten the emotions. Kevin, who worked tirelessly with me on this edit was an incredible collaborator. We made about 2 separate cuts that relied heavily on the imagery and less on the narrative. However, eventually, we both agreed that keeping a little bit of the structure and showing a more linear arc of the protagonist’s journey ultimately helped enhance the emotional and tonal aspects of the film.

NM: What do you hope viewers feel while following the protagonist’s journey in HŎSA?

TR: I want people to feel hope, catharsis, tranquility, and optimism. I can see how these words consecutively can seem a bit cheesy and naive. But more than ever, I feel we’re living in a world in dire need of this. I feel hope and positivity are the way to combat this ever-growing toxicity we encounter daily. We don’t have to live in fear, we don’t have to live in captivity. We can be free; sometimes we just need to take one leap of faith to discover that.