Thursday, July 10, 2014

NYAFF ’14: Korean Short Film Madness

It is not called work because it is easy. Three protagonists will struggle with their vocations, whether they properly chose them or not, in three of the selections programmed for the New York Asian Film Festival’s annual Korean Short Film Madness, which screens this year at the Asia Society.

Being a filmmaker should be a cool job, but Kim is struggling mightily with his thesis film in Han Jun-hee’s Understanding Movies. With his cast and crew growing increasingly annoyed with his dithering, the mysterious arrival of Louis Giannetti, author of the widely adopted cinema textbook Understanding Movies seems to be a godsend to Kim. Unfortunately, the fictionalized version of the real life academic clearly has a very different aesthetic sensibility. In a way, Han’s Understanding Movies is sort of like the Marshall McLuhan gag in Annie Hall, except McLuhan won’t shut up. It is all quite droll and viewers might even pick up some cinema studies insights here and there.

Of the three selected films under consideration, Kim Jin-tae’s Long Inside Angle Shot is by far the least mad. Ne’er-do-well Tae-bong would like to squander his money on his shallow mercenary girl friend, but unfortunately his billiards obsessed mother has drained his savings to buy a billiard hall. It was not her idea. The Buddhist monks who come to her in visions recommended this investment. Not really trying to make a go of it, Tae-bong challenges Mother Felsen to a winner-take-all match. How do you think that turns out? Frankly, Angle is pleasant enough, but it feels under-developed, even for a short.

Kim Hyeon-cheol’s Trunk is also something of a mixed bag, but what it does well, it does really really well. Harried Kyeong-min was supposed to pick her overbearing boss up at the airport, but she is running so late her career is in jeopardy. Nonetheless, she tries to close the trunk of her neighbor’s car when she notices the open hatch. When the darn thing just won’t close, she calls said neighbor, who does not seem very neighborly. She asks if Kyeong-min looked inside, but that does not seem like a very good idea. Marsellus Wallace’s soul might be in there.

Although it only runs an economical thirteen minutes, Trunk’s set-up and general execution are massively creepy. Kim Hyeon-cheol’s lead actress is always believable even and especially as she becomes progressively freaked out. It also features an unusually sinister voice-over performance. However, the pay-off is an over-the-top head scratcher. Still, horror movie endings are often disappointing. An intriguing premise and loads of atmosphere are a good deal more than we usually get.

This year’s Korean Short Film Madness includes four other films that also sound plenty mad. Understanding Movies and Trunk are definitely recommended for those who appreciate neurotic humor and dark, possibly uncanny thrillers, while Long Inside Angle Shot passes the time without taxing anyone terribly. They all screen tomorrow (7/11) at the Asia Society as part of this year’s NYAFF.