Premiering in Europe at the Glasgow Film Festival, HOMMAGE (오마주) is a surprising and heartfelt cinematic mystery about women filmmakers, the collaborative process of filmmaking, and the ghosts of those that came before. It’s got some incredibly striking imagery and is a hidden gem of this year’s GFF.
Ji-wan (Lee Jeung-eun) is a director of arthouse films trapped in a system where audiences would rather see the latest blockbuster disaster movie. Since she needs money to support her demanding husband (Hae-hyo Kwon) and poet son (Tang Joon-sang), she takes a job dubbing a restoration of A WOMAN JUDGE (여판사), the actual first film from one of South Korea’s first female directors, Hong Eun-won. A mystery soon unfolds as Ji-wan tracks down the original script for the film and tries to find missing scenes that were edited out for censorship.
What begins as just another job quickly becomes more personal for Ji-wan as she realises how Hong Eun-won’s struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in the film industry mirrors her own. She’s expected to be a homemaker by male producers and by the men in her own life: her own son tells her that pursuing her dream is selfish when he needs taking care of at home. This theme is no doubt personal for director Su-won Shin who deftly channels her experience in Korean cinema into the film.
What begins as just another job quickly becomes more personal for Ji-wan as she realises how Hong Eun-won’s struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in the film industry mirrors her own.
As Ji-wan uncovers more of A WOMAN JUDGE’s lost past, she meets with women producers and a woman editor who worked on the film. HOMMAGE is keen to emphasise that filmmaking is a collaborative process in contrast to the (often patriarchal) view that a director is a creative owner of a film. HOMMAGE continually shows the work of producers, editors, sound engineers, and actors in crafting a film collaboratively. It takes the efforts of a whole crew to make a film—”our film” as her producer says to Ji-wan—and the film shows this by combining all these elements into its central mystery.
Ji-wan also finds herself haunted not only by the ghosts of Korean cinema history but by literal ghosts. She is haunted by the ghostly shadow of a neighbour who took her own life: a shadow who follows her as she follows the ghosts of female filmmakers. In a letter she discovers from Hong Eun-won, Hong refers to herself as “a ghost in the industry”, drifting through and unable to make the same impact as her men counterparts because of her gender. We get the sense that Ji-wan is striving to piece together A WOMAN JUDGE to restore Hong to the land of the living and to keep herself from becoming another ghost of Korean cinema.