Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NYAFF: Action Boys

No animals were harmed in the filming of the Korean documentary Action Boys (or at least not that many). However, the stuntmen took a tremendous beating. Former stuntman turned filmmaker Jung Byung-Gil follows seven of his fellow 2004 stunt school graduates (and himself to an extent) as they are chewed up by the Korean film industry in Action Boys, screening at NYAFF this Friday (6/27) and the following Thursday (7/3).

Byung-Gil and his friends started in a group of thirty-six prospective students. Only sixteen graduated, and by the time Action was filming, just the eight friends were still somewhat active in the business. It is not hard to see why, as their work involves constant physical pain. Time and again the proper safety equipment is mysteriously missing, but the cameras roll anyway.

Action shows behind-the-scenes footage from several Korean films, the best-known of which to American audiences will probably be Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host, in which the acrophobic stuntman Kwon Gui-Duck has to jump off a bridge. For some reason, the stuntmen’s assignments always seem to play to their fears and weaknesses.

The young stuntmen apparently live rootless lives, but it would not be right to call them slackers, as the have the daylights kicked out of them for a mediocre living. Some frankly, appear a little odd. Jeon Sye-jin for instance, is basically a screw-up for whom getting a simple tattoo becomes an epic comedy of errors. Director Byung-Gil himself often looks a little off, particularly in his audition tape, during which he is admonished for looking “spooky” and “dreadful,” (but give him credit for having a sense of humor about it).

Not all the action boys seem so socially underdeveloped. Kwak Jin-Seock appears to have a very healthy relationship with his family, including a mother he can joke about his profession with. You do feel bad for his little niece though, who becomes visibly upset when she sees her uncle getting killed on television, as shown in one scene that feels inappropriately exploitative.

One thing is clear from watching Action. Either the Korea’s version of OSHA is completely defanged, or for some reason their film industry is exempt from the rules. Yet Byung-Gil and his friends still seem to have a perverse affection for it. Action was clearly a shoe-string enterprise, but Byung-Gil and his crew were able to cover an impressive amount of ground. It might be a small film, but it often displays a weird charm. Byung-Gil, Jin-Seock, and producer Lee Ji-Youn are scheduled to attend the 7/3 screening.