Art in its most shocking motionWhen a film opens with a Korean gay couple making out in a dirty toilet, you know it’s not for average moviegoers. As the couple come to a climax, the whining sound of a woman in the toilet through the wall becomes a frightening shriek. Just when they ask each other “What the hell?” so do the viewers. And more thought-provoking scenes continue for the rest of the 100-minute film, “Very Korean Complex,” currently playing at the Gwanghwamun Cine Cube theater in downtown Seoul.
The film, directed and produced by Yim Seung-yul, a conceptual artist, is the result of a collaboration with seven other professionals engaged in various artistic genres, including aesthetics, photography, fashion, literature and fine art. As an artist, Mr. Yim used to do things considered wacky for his projects. He volunteered to operate a shuttle service with a hand-pulled cart for visitors at the Gwangju Biennale. He turned an art gallery space into an old-fashioned tea house and served tea to visitors.
In January, 2005, shortly after earning his master’s degree in sculpture at Kookmin University, Mr. Yim planned to organize another exhibition, something more unconventional, by gathering artists of various genres. Around that time, he won a cash fund of 15 million won ($15,000) from the Arts Council Korea for a creative project.
“The original idea was that everyone submits one item each and chooses one subject done by another artist and collaborates freely and artistically, a relay in art work,” said Mr. Yim, who currently heads his own production company, Im Production.
When he discussed his idea with Kim Hong-seok, a reputable art director, the plan took on a different path ― a film done by relay. Mr. Yim soon raised 120 million won in funds from corporate sponsorship, and all the co-directors worked separately on their own ideas of Korean things.
“The work is categorized as a movie, but it has thick layers, as it embraces art, cinema, photography and other various elements that make the work complex. It’s an interesting project in terms of form,” Mr. Yim said.
“Very Korean Complex” consists of eight short episodes. The first story, “Sweet Home,” directed by the musician Seong Gi-wan, starts out with a child born in a toilet being abandoned by a high school girl. The gay couple in the toilet adopts the child. Mr. Yim directs the following story in the second episode, “Oh My God,” in which a vagabond named Jesus comes across a six-year orphan in the street; the narrator explains that the girl is in fact the baby the gay couple had abandoned earlier. When the narrator states, “This narrator feels utterly embarrassed to announce such lame stuff,” the audience didn’t crack up, but some chuckled and giggled.
In the third episode, “I’m Going to Shoot a Movie,” the same high school girl who secretly gave birth to a child dates one of the gay guys, who thinks she doesn’t know he’s gay. She tells him in the street, “I’m going to shoot a movie,” which, according to Mr. Yim, implies that the all the episodes are nothing but stories concocted by the moviemakers’ off-beat brains.
The film also includes a mock documentary in the seventh episode, “Wild Korea.” In it, an actor tells a story in the form of a television interview about an imaginary period of time in modern Korean history in which the government legalized the ownership of firearms. The dialogue and action seem to create scenes that mimic reality while still being unreal, but when delivered to an audience looking for fresher films, is one of imaginative storytelling and unpretentious humor, a rare element in Korean entertainment. Overall, the topics are irrelevant and incongruent at times, the digital technology appears to be crude and even the film is left deliberately choppy in connecting scenes, yet it offers an interesting take on Korean films made by Korean artists.
Mr. Yim hopes to have “Very Korean Complex” shown in various small festivals around the world.
For next year, Mr. Yim and his friends are planning to make a genuine omnibus of films collaborating with more wide-ranging professionals in Korea. “We’re going to gather interested people and brainstorm at the end of January, just like what we did last year. I’m sure we might come up with something really wacky, and nobody knows eventually what the work will turn out to be like next,” Mr. Yim said.
by Ines Cho
The film “Very Korean Complex” is showing at 11 a.m., 3:20 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. today and tomorrow. Admission is free. Gwanghwamun Art Cube is located in the Heungguk Saengmyeong building. The nearest subway station is Gwanghwamun, line No. 5, exit 6. A map is in www.cinecube.net (Korean only). For more information, contact Jung Hyun-mi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The complexity of being Korean
The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with Yim Seung-yul, who produced and directed “Very Korean Complex,” for an interview after its premiere in late December.
Q. As with fashion, film and money seem to be inseparable.
A. We cut our ties to money. We didn’t actually think about money. We adopted the concept of fundraising and made sure that the funds existed for the art and not the other way around. Since the theater rental for showing the film was given to us for free, well, why charge viewers? So it’s free admission for all. By never considering money, we were able to work in the purest artistic manner, which we hope sets a precedent in the Korean cultural scene. The whole staff was paid, although just a little, but the eight directors signed a contract in which Kim Hong-seok in charge of planning and production and myself get 20 percent, and the rest get 10 percent of the profit, if ever the film incurs a commercial profit. We haven’t yet received any offers, but that’s just in case. We all sort of doubt how much we’d actually earn out of this movie.
What was the most interesting part for you?
Definitely the first episode, “My Sweet Home,” by Seong Gi-wan. A gay couple making out in the toilet, and next to them a high school girl is giving birth is the most outrageous event, don’t you think? Next is mine, “Oh My God!” The lead’s name is Jesus and his life is left to narration. So Jesus is led by narration, isn’t that funny?
How do you define humor?
Things that are amusing and perplexing, but not unpleasant. You’re amused and perplexed but you feel better afterwards, that’s humor. The film “Very Korean Complex,” is humor itself. All situations are very candid, very Korean, and to conceive such a movie on the spot ― actually over soju ―is a very Korean thing to do. You know how a pack of Koreans get drunk at a drinking joint and they just decide to something crazy and then actually follow it through? Things like that can’t possibly happen in other countries.
How did you find actors?
Most were recommended by friends and acquaintances, which is a very Korean way of organizing an event quickly.
Bang Jin-seok, one of the gay guys in the film, is in real life a music director who worked on the Korean movies, “JSA” and “You’re My Sunshine” and is a member of the band Eoeobu Project. He told me he studied acting for six months and said he wanted to act. So that’s how he got to be in the movie. Lee Young-jun, the guy in the poster, is a professor at Keywon Art University, where he teaches photography. He’s also an art critic and quite a bold actor.
What’s it like being Korean?
Koreans have a complex from feeling inferior, but also they are complex. We are unpredictable because we are so complex, and that’s just the way Koreans are. The true color of each artist in the film is a way to show Korean culture today.
That blue Mini car stood out in the film.
As a producer, I can’t ignore my sponsors. Mini was our last sponsor, who expected good visibility for their product. The car was placed in the story out of the blue, which was possible because using the car wasn’t important. The point was that the guy doesn’t ride the car. Right when Jesus appears, the Mini car commercial comes out. Even if it’s just PR, it’s still cute.
Merging fashion with cinema
The fashion designer Suh Sang-young worked on his nine-minute film episode, “Post.”
Q. What was the hardest thing as a film director?
A. We needed to develop narrative. Fashion relies on the moment ― a strong image or stimulation to show clothes. In film, one stimulation or image isn’t enough, it’s like, so what’s next? In narration, there seemed to be no ending ― it just won’t end. What seemed to work in the script, I thought, wasn’t realized in film. I realized I just don’t have any cinematic sense. I had absolutely no knowledge in filmmaking. So I received a lot of advice from professional staff. Technical advice was vital, like how camera lens worked differently from human eyes.
Any fashionable motif in your film?
I tried not to bring in fashion but follow the storyline. I chose ordinary things we find in everyday life, like Quick Service [a motorcycle delivery service]. The title “Post” suggests e-mail and the Internet environment in Korea. The bear is like Avatar, dealing with an issue of identity in contemporary life ― no one know who’s who because we get spam mail, and we don’t know why we send or get mail. There’s always overflowing information, which is very Korean. It’s familiar, but if you tweak it a little, it’s strange and even frightening. The whole process made me realize that I was indeed none other than a fashion designer. It’s ironic how I tried to do so many things and rediscovered who I was. The desire to make clothes only got stronger, and I decided to focus on it.
You’re making a fashion presentation online this season.
At the stroke of midnight on Jan 15, the Daum Web site and www.suhsangyoung.com will start my fashion show. This show is a kind of film, so fashion will have a cinematic element. The Internet is rarely used as means of fashion presentation, but I wanted to check the possibilities.