Sunday, September 22, 2013

Let Me Out: Korean Zombie Student Films and the People Who Make Them

In an era when technology allows Jafar Panahi to be about as prolific as Woody Allen, would-be filmmakers are running out of excuses.  After years of snarking from the sidelines, senior year film student Kang Mu-young is suddenly put on the filmmaking spot.  Bedlam will ensue as he tries to shoot his zombie melodrama in Kim Chang-Lae and Jae Soh’s Let Me Out (trailer here), which screens in select cities this Wednesday, via Tugg.

A bit Holden Caulfield-ish, Kang loves to call out directors for being phonies.  However, after a rather tactless Q&A session, Yang Ik-june (the indie director playing himself) turns the tables on the student, offering $5,000 in start up money for Kang’s senior film.  Hurriedly, Kang dusts off his old discarded zombie screenplay (titled Let Me Out, probably because the characters are constantly banging on locked doors) and assembles a cast and crew who are not already attached to other projects.

Yang’s producer buddy Yong-woon recruits a motley but workable group, including Hong Sang-soo’s camera loader for their director of photography.  The casting of Sun-hye, a third rate starlet enrolled in their film school, opens the door for some sponsorship opportunities—mainly from liquor and cigarette companies.  This will definitely be a boozy set.  Ah-young, a vastly more talented fellow classmate, also agrees to be the female co-lead.  She is actually good in her part, even though she lacks confidence in both her abilities and Kang’s script.

Like the zombies it crudely portrays, the film-within-the-film takes hit after hit, but refuses to die.  Cast and crew members will quit, equipment will break, and they will be evicted from their locations, but the film lumbers along erratically, just the same.  Co-directors (and Seoul Institute of the Arts faculty members) Kim and Soh maintain a manic energy level, but they never lose sight of the human element.  Despite all of Kang’s humbling frustrations, LMO remains a big, earnest valentine to scrappy DIY filmmaking.

Kwon Hyun-sang, the son of Cannes award winning director Im Kwon-taek, clearly relates to the wannabe Tarantino, nicely portraying his long deferred maturation process.  K-pop and Korean TV star Park Hee-von provides an appealingly down-to-earth foil as Ah-young, while Jessica Choi relishes creating chaos as Sun-hye, the hot mess.

This is indeed the sort of film that will recharge your cineaste batteries.  There are scores of in-jokes and cinema references, but that is all frosting on the cake.  At its core, LMO is really all about a young filmmaker getting his act and his film together.  It is a story a wide spectrum of viewers should be able to relate to, but it will have special resonance for fans of zombie movies, like the one Kang is trying to complete.  Surprisingly heartfelt at times, Let Me Out is highly recommended for fans of Korean cinema and cult movies.  It screens this Wednesday (9/25) in New York (at the AMC Loews Kips Bay), as well as San Francisco, Dallas, and Atlanta, but since these are Tugg shows, you had better book now to be sure you will have a ticket and the screenings will go forward.