Sunday, September 1, 2013

KOFFIA 2013 Short Film Competition: My Two Cents

As a fan of short films who deplores the fact that they are not exactly the easiest items to discover in mainstream pop culture, I was quite pleased to review the 10 items in the KOFFIA 2013 Short Film Competition. I felt I was able to engage, empathise and most importantly, enjoy the broad spectrum of issues and themes covered by each film. Without further ado, here are my two cents on each short film:

La Croyance - directed by Chase Lee
Chase Lee will take you on a five-minute ride that will give you the urge to overcome any obstacle in your way and achieve all accomplishments you have sought out. The challenge to defy the odds is portrayed by the protagonist wanting to shoot at a basketball court. The usage of a mime works effectively, illustrating the mental challenges and aspirations to be able to shoot freely. Eventually, the mime is able to successfully make a layup, showing that most, if not all obstacles start within one's own head. If we are determined and have the urge to succeed, it will happen. The music provides a fitting touch to have belief – ‘La croyance’ in French no matter what the odds may be. The protagonist's determination can be applied to situations in our everyday lives, and should be done so.

Inevitable Paradox - directed by Hyun Shin
Passing moments, staircase wit, the inexplicable feeling of mutual understanding but being unable to express this sentiment freely: Inevitable Paradox summarises all these themes and images succinctly and effectively in three minutes, while leaving the viewer with food for thought that lasts much longer than the film itself. As the single green leaf flows downstream, so does time and all the various stages of the human condition: childhood, adolescence, university or working life, eventually followed by retirement and death. Days blur into one another and eventually your entire existence passes by you. The usage of both Korean and English dialogue and photographs instead of frames adds a nice touch and reinforces the theme of discrete days agglomerating to become a continuous flux. Perhaps the next time you go out for some fresh air or a cigarette to take a break from work, you too will realise the contradictory intricacies of this existence we call life.

Double Truth - directed by Julius Lee
'Double Truth' is a rapid burst of experimental cinema, with a succession of images and sentiments ranging from sheer joy to sadness. Given the non-conventional nature of the film, I found it initially hard to comprehend, but perhaps its open-ended aspect is its beauty. Changing moods, situations and sentiments occur at a rapid rate; the viewer's information overload has parallels with the protagonist's feelings. The music grows and adds to the tension and anguish, providing a nice touch.

0.5 - directed by Daniel Lee
This 16-minute exposé on the life of a “1.5/0.5 Generation” member resonated with me the most out of the Short Film collection as a New Zealander with Korean origins. Taking place in a typical dinner gathering involving pork belly and soju between friends, Daniel Lee illustrates various perspectives ranging from an integrated Korean-Australian to a Korean living in Australia. The unpretentious, direct delivery of concerns regarding jobs, settling in Australia or Korea and the clash between self- and other-definition of oneself is hard-hitting and struck a chord with me. 

“We are neither Australian nor Korean; we are the 0.5 Generation” is a slogan that succinctly summarises the sentiments of many longtime Korean residents in any country, especially for those who grew up outside of Korea. A typical night out to relax and forget about one's identity clash only amplifies it by posing additional concerns regarding the future as transient people. In an age of uncertainty, this film speaks volumes on the transnational lives of various diaspora members.

Human Meat Factory - directed by Anna Han
News announcer narration voice, a switch of perspectives and Barbie dolls... make no mistake, 'Human Meat Factory' is out to make a point about the ethics of raising animals for food. It would not surprise me if all the facts specified throughout the film are about cows instead of humans and the graphic, visceral nature of the film will make anyone think twice the next time they consume any meat product. The simplified images ranging from plastic dolls to a gummy burger create a juxtaposition of being distant from such cruelty committed in everyday situations towards animals and the events happening before your very eyes on the screen.

Next Stop Seoulywood - directed by Matthew Rooke
Matthew Rooke's vision of the entertainment industry is similar to that shown in the documentary "9 Muses of Star Empire," and is a sobering one at that. From the condescending attitude of the agency recruiter and the mismatch of expectations between him and the interviewee, the film makes explicit the negative aspects of cultural commoditisation and how fickle culture is treated and understood by stakeholders in the entertainment sector. Given Hollywood's attempts in the past to incorporate Asian culture - two examples being 'Crash' and 'Ninja Assassin' - and the endless amounts of stereotyping and generalisations involved, here's hoping they will change their minds. At the very least, it seems this director is aware of the tired clichés used to summarise a continent full of cultural intrigue

Asian Australian Gentleman Parody - directed by Ezra Myint Aung
Too little, too late? Psy's "Gentleman" did not have the universal attention and acclaim that "Gangnam Style" managed to acquire. But for what it's worth, the song is catchy and is accompanied by a dance borrowed from Brown Eyed Girls' "Abracadabra." The Asian-Australian context parody music video captures all the archetypal things Asians use and encounter on a daily basis: noodles, frozen yoghurt (in green tea flavour, of course), bubble tea, Dance Dance Revolution and for students: the library. Various Australian landmarks such as the Opera House, Luna Park and the Sydney Chinatown and the diverse origins of aforementioned items show how Asian culture has integrated into Australian society and is here to stay.

The Worst Best Friend  - directed by Benny Lee
Irrational, demanding, annoying, a walking contradiction; I am fairly certain we all know someone like this in our respective lives. Despite all of these traits, we still care and want to keep in touch with them and that makes them the "Worst" best friend. Clocking in at just under four minutes, all the scenes recollected and recited by the narrator will be quite familiar for those of us with our own worst best friend. The feel-good, easy-going vibe (bar one incident involving a golf club and strange noises) resonates throughout from start to finish and so do the laughs. The sincere mutual bond and affinity between the protagonist and his best friend is clear throughout the film, which was a great pleasure to watch.

Vincents Guilt II: Bullet Blues - directed by Dee Choi
The kitchen. Wardrobe. Cupboard. Pantry. Cupboard again. Microwave. Is it drugs? A secret stash of money from relatives accumulated over several Lunar New Year celebrations? The monochrome setting provides a serious, brooding undertone offset by the sardonic ending. With no dialogue and accompanied by the protagonist's thoughts in text form, Dee Choi successfully walks the fine line between half-baked suspense and a grim comedy. Five minutes of sly wit accompanied by mystery and intrigue, though one must ask: how and why on earth would you place your most treasured item in such an inaccessible area?

The Korean Butterfly - directed by Angela Lee
This seven-minute account of two Korean popular culture addicts' metamorphosis begins with a venture into Korean dramas and the endless rows of impeccably dressed and groomed men dancing and singing K-Pop numbers. Motivated by a desire to dance and look like their idols, our protagonists take dance classes. After much practice and perseverance, their dance instructor suggests entering in the Korean Cultural Office's 2013 K-Pop Contest in Sydney. Not only do they look like their favourite stars, they also dance like them! I hope the girls' exposure to Korean culture has been a positive experience and that they continue to enjoy and discover what Korea has to offer. Similar to the other entries such as "The Worst Best Friend" and "La Croyance," the feel-good theme of the short film sticks around in a non-trite fashion and it feels sincere.

Overall, all the entries have something significant and substantial to share with their audience. Each entry should be taken seriously and enjoyed as they will give you something to consider on your way home from the movies. If this is a harbinger of things to come in the future, I look forward to the future of Australian-Korean cinema.

By Ben Lee

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