Saturday, July 07, 2012

NYAFF ’12: Korean Short Film Madness

People think it’s so great to get back to nature, but it can be dangerous.  Just ask the luckless fisherman of Park Chan-wook’s groundbreaking short film.   Shot by the Oldboy auteur with his brother Park Chan-kyun entirely on an iPhone4, Night Fishing briefly made the world giddy about the possibility of cell phone cinema, before subsequent experiments brought everyone back down to earth.  A notably strange short of considerable length, the Brothers Park’s sinister tale of angling headlines the Korean Short Film Madness programming block, which screens this coming Tuesday as part of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival.

Hard to classify, Night Fishing (trailer here) begins with a trippy musical interlude from the UhUhBoo Project, blending alt rock with traditional imagery.  Eventually settling into the story, a man sets up a camp for a spot of fishing.  According to the radio, there is a storm brewing.  There certainly is, but it turns out to be of a more metaphysical variety.  The man’s night starts to go bad when he pulls in a woman’s dead body that further alarms him when it suddenly reanimates.  Then things start getting really weird.

Considering it was shot with a consumer handhold device, the Parks achieve an impressive array of visual effects.  Stylistically, it is quite distinctive and the cast is definitely professional grade, including Park alumnus Oh Kwang-rok as the unhappy man, but it turns out to be a bit of a downer.  Imagine, a dark film from Park.

Though nowhere near as desperate as Night Fishing, it is still not easy being a kid in Choi Shin-choon’s The Lucky Gumboy.  The sad sack protagonist is definitely on the bottom of his school’s social ladder.  While he does not suffer bullying of a King of Pigs magnitude, he must buy Pikachu stickers for the stronger, more popular kids.  When a boy acting slightly off transfers into his class, he accepts responsibility for showing the newby the ropes.  The kid does not talk much, but he is a wizard with gum, blowing fantastically large bubbles.  Ironically, the drooling kid achieves recognition from their peers the awkward protagonist so craves, but he hardly seems to notice.  While it does not say much for the sensitivity of Korea’s teachers, Gumboy has a good heart and Choi displays a nice touch with the elements of magical realism.

At seven minutes, Moon Byoung-gon’s Operis Finis is definitely more of an ironic mood piece than a full fledged story.  An elderly man appears to be engaged in some rather macabre home renovations.  Actually, it is not headed where you think it is, but you might wish it were, even though it concludes on an unusually upbeat note for the Madness block.  By the way, this would be an appropriate point to note the overall program is not entirely suitable for children (but teens and pre-teens might appreciate Gumboy on its own).

Korean Short Film Madness includes two other shorts that are probably well worth seeing.  NYAFF has a good curatorial eye for film in general and they have a tradition of programming Korean shorts, largely drawn from the Mise en Scène Short Film Festival, founded by filmmakers like Park to foster emerging talent.  Recommended for connoisseurs of Korean cinema and moody short films, the Madness program screens this coming Tuesday afternoon (7/10) at the Walter Reade Theater.