During the Korean Film Festival's Sydney leg I was lucky enough to attend a Cinema Forum in the Korean Culture Office. The subject was ‘Thrilling Shorts and Dark Matter’, and was to be attended by the actress Kim Kko-bbi, directors Moon Byoung-gun & Shin Su-won, & producer Lim Chung-geum.
The forum lasted for about an hour, and gave the opportunity for this years special guests at the Korean Film Festival of Australia to provide some valuable insights into what it takes to work within the Korean independent and short movie scene. Special mention has to go to Moon Byoung-gun, who thanks to embracing the spirit of Australian culture during the day through partaking in a few Aussie beers (this was revealed after the forum finished), arrived on stage fashionably late with a healthy glow and a spring in his step.
The directors discussed at length what it takes to really get a short film which doesn’t have the backing of a large studio or a significant amount of funding behind it out there to a larger audience, as they regaled us with their adventures in film festivals such as the prestigious Cannes, and their own experiences closer to home at the Busan Film Festival.
Ironically director Su-won’s short film ‘Circle Line / 순환선’ started out as part of a project initiated by the Department of Welfare, who after fearing that the birth rate is currently relatively low in Korea, asked four directors to make a short film each to promote couples to basically, well, fornicate more. For anyone whose seen ‘Circle Line’, it’ll come as no surprise that the department refused to show the short, and hence director Su-won and producer Chung-geum hit the festival circuit with it instead. This proved to be the right decision, as it walked away with the Canal + Prize at Cannes 2012.
Similarly, director Byoung-gun made his short movie ‘Finis Operis/ 불멸의 사나이’ in 2011 as his graduation project, and it was invited to Cannes Critics Week 2011. Byoung-gun revealed he felt quite confident it could pick up an award there, but it wasn’t to be. This year the opportunity came for him to make another short, which came in the form of ‘Safe / 세이프’, which he also took to Cannes. While he felt fairly certain ‘Safe’ wouldn’t be walking away with any awards, he was happy to just soak up the atmosphere and have his short film shown, however he got a lot more than he bargained for when it walked away with the Palme d’Or award!
It was an entertaining hour of talk, and as things wrapped up people jumped in to get their photos taken with the special guests (myself included of course!) and offer their words of praise and encouragement. Many people there were heading onwards to the showing of ‘Nameless Gangster / 범죄와의 전쟁 : 나쁜놈들 전성시대’ at the cinema close by, so as the office began to empty soon it was just myself, a few other festival staff, and the special guests. After exchanging a few words I said my goodbyes, and after spending over five hours straight in the cinema the previous night, I made my way home to rest my eyes and write up a review of 'Fists of Legend / 전설의 주먹'.
As fate would have it though, a couple of minutes later I realized that the group walking in front of me was in fact Kim Kko-bbi, Moon Byoung-gun, Shin Su-won, & Lim Chung-geum. Joined by the director of one of this years Short Film Competition entries, Richard Kim (‘0.5’), he revealed that the guests wanted to end the night with some food and drink somewhere local. Richard came up with the somewhat genius idea of taking them to the Irish pub, Scruffy Murphy’s, but seemed to be heading in the wrong direction in order to get there. Taking it upon myself to point them the right way, I was surprised when Kim Kko-bbi, after having watched her for the past hour speak through a translator, suddenly engaged me in conversation with fluent English!
I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but skip forward 15 minutes, and suddenly I was sat around a table with all of the KOFFIA special guests – directors, actresses, producers – giving a hearty cheers to each other with pints of Guinness. This wasn’t how I’d planned to spend my Tuesday evening, but I wasn’t complaining. As it happened, Guinness has the fantastic effect of loosening everyone’s tongues, and soon everyone revealed themselves to have a pretty good grasp of English, while I no doubt unintentionally amused with my attempts at Korean, which has remained at a consistently terrible level for 3.0 years and counting.
While Richard got film-making advice from Byoung-gun, I found myself explaining my own beginnings in becoming a fan of Korean cinema back when I was still in my hometown of Liverpool in the UK. As the movie talk dropped away, I was soon shooting the wind with producer Chung-geum over which country is the best to live in – Australia, the UK, or Korea. As there was an unspoken rule of whatever was discussed at the table stayed at the table, I’ll resist offering up everyone’s opinions. As it happened, Kim Kko-bbi had spent some time traveling around Europe, particularly in the UK & Ireland, and was soon excitedly showing me the list of British comedies she has on her I-pod. Wow, she has a lot of British comedies. I was soon receiving an education on my own countries comedy shows, while she revealed her favorite was ‘Little Britain’ of all things!
Here I was thinking how I was going to mumble my way about how good I thought her performance was in the likes of ‘Breathless / 똥파리’, but instead we’re sitting there talking about which ‘Little Britain’ character is the funniest – the ‘Computer says no’ travel agent, or the ‘I’m the only gay in the village’ Welshman. Somehow our conversation segued into K-pop, as I found myself on the end of an interrogation into if I knew who the Wonder Girls are, and if I did, was I aware that Sunmi had just released a solo single called ’24 Hours’. While I passed the first part, sadly my knowledge of Sunmi’s solo single was non-existent. That didn’t last long, as Kko-bbi exclaimed that I simply had to see the music clip because it was “soooo sexy”. A few taps of the Samsung Galaxy later, and the members of the table found themselves huddled around the small screen for a viewing of the clip in question, presented by one of my favourite Korean indie movie actresses. Surreal.
The night carried on in a similar vein, we spoke freely and if memory serves me correctly, everyone had a great time. The thought flashed through my head of what a great photo it would make of us all sitting there in an Irish pub knocking back Guinness and beers together, and my mind wandered to a question I’d directed to Kim Kko-bbi when the floor was opened up to the audience during the forum. I’d asked her that during the making of the project 'My Selves / 나 나 나: 여배우 민낯 프로젝트', in which she filmed her own daily life with a handheld camera over a period of a few weeks, how different did it feel to be filming herself as opposed to having to play a character. She had answered that it was difficult, because often a spontaneous situation would occur with her friends, and she’d realize that she hadn’t filmed it, so she’d switch the camera on and then try and get everyone to reenact what they’d just done. However when she looked at the footage, it seemed unnatural and forced, so she accepted not every moment is meant to be caught on camera. As I thought back to her response, I put my camera back in my pocket, and we said cheers one more time.
By Paul Bramhall