The Busan Cinema Center located in Centum City, Busan opened its door on 29th September 2011; since then it has hosted both the Busan International Film Festival and the Busan International Short Film Festival. The building itself is a unique, eclectic, architectural marvel, housing a myriad of escalators that take you to the numerous indoor screening rooms, as well as a covered outdoor theatre, where you can not only sit and enjoy whatever is currently being shown on the screen but also appreciate the impressive LED light display clad in to the cantilever roof (approved as the largest by the Guinness Book of Records in 2013).
I ventured over to the Cinema Center for the first time to experience the BISFF (Busan International Short Film Festival) at the end of last month; a friend and I purchased tickets to catch three short Korean films (Korean Competition 6 – with English subtitles) for only 6,000 won (roughly 4 quid) each, which in comparison to the tenner you’re charged back home just for one feature length film is quite the steal! Before the shorts kicked off, we sniffed around the various food vans (burgers, shrimp, noodles, there was everything!) before settling on some Belgian fries (Belgian Frittes) smothered in a garlicky mayo with mango yoghurt smoothies to wash those carbs down!
Now anyone who knows me may not fully understand my obsession with the Korean film industry but they damn well know that obsession started back in 2012 and has been unwavering ever since! Oldboy, Memories of Murder, I saw the Devil, The Chaser… I have seen all of the weirdest, goriest Korean thrillers and loved each and every one of them. My viewership expands furthermore in to the rom-com realm where Jeon Ji-Hyun is undoubtedly Queen of Comedy in my eyes after her performances in both My Sassy Girl and Windstruck… But enough about the feature lengths, lets delve in to the shorts…
A Border Line
This short focused on Namhee, a young, struggling actress who moves to Cheorwon, in Gangwon-do to teach an art class; we first see her dragging a suitcase along a residential street before entering a building to request a room for the night. She stays alone and practices building the mirrored toy she will be teaching to the young children. The next couple of days aren’t so great for Namhee; neither finding permanent accommodation nor working with the children goes well and she seems to be at a loss until she receives a call from an acquaintance in Busan informing her of an acting class she can enroll on. Namhee is excited and commits to the acting class verbally on the phone, making plans to leave on the next bus to Busan. Unfortunately her intentions are thwarted by a dodgy bus schedule whereby buses do not hang around until their departure time but instead ‘leave either five minutes before or five minutes after’ meaning Namhee has missed the bus to Busan. She was so close to, some may say on the border line of getting to Busan however her plans came tumbling down around her. Understandably distraught and frustrated, Namhee sits at the bus station for some time before once again dragging her suitcase around Cheorwon looking for a place to stay. The next day comes and so does a fresh start for Namhee… she explores the local area, embarking on a boat ride that had been previously recommended by a work colleague, seemingly accepting and coming to terms with where she is and what she is doing.
Pros: beautifully shot, great acting
Cons: whilst I appreciated the simplicity of the storyline, it seemed a little bland in comparison to the eccentricities I am now so accustomed to seeing in Korean cinema
Overall rating: 4/5
The First Day
My favourite out of the three shorts, this film deals with an issue I believe to be far too prevalent amongst the 20-30 year olds of the world today. The idea that you could always make your life better, always achieve more, leading you to compare your situation to those around you only to admire the supposed greatness of your peers compared to the evident flaws present in every aspect of your life. I blame the vast part of this issue on social media; the filtered lives people are exposed to each and every day, the perfect holiday snaps that took roughly 50 photographs to achieve, the delicious looking meal you fawn over but at the same time leave to get cold just to capture it and let some randomers on the internet know what you ate for brunch. Ironically, no matter how much I criticize these practices, it does not change the fact that I too have wasted a fair amount of my time trying to flaunt a heavily edited picture on Instagram just for the likes.
But anyway… back to the film! The First Day starts as it ends; a shot of a young woman staring out of a window. Her name is Jooyeon and on that first day she wakes up with stomach pain whilst her landlady pounds on her apartment door, demanding the late payment of rent. We follow Jooyeon as she goes about her day, we see her on a bicycle, at work, delivering drinks around a neighbourhood. Her last stop is the important one: she parks up her bike, she steps off with a drink in hand ready to deliver when she becomes distracted by footsteps. Jooyeon peeks around the corner and sees a young woman, her very own doppelganger with a twist. Her doppelganger is dressed beautifully, her hair is perfectly styled; she is speaking to her boyfriend on the phone, flirting away, twirling a strand of hair before entering a nearby gate. Despite their appearances, she is everything Jooyeon is not and everything Jooyeon aspires to be. Over the course of the next few days, Jooyeon does the same routine; wakes up, goes to work and admires her glamorous doppelganger from afar before trying to emulate her later at home either by fishing out similar yet shabby clothes or by dabbling with new make-up techniques. One day, in a state of desperation, Jooyeon even steals clothing from a local store, running full pelt whilst a sales assistant chases her down the road. She does all of this because she admires her doppelganger so much, she wants to be her, feel how she supposedly feels, live her life. Sadly for Jooyeon, all is not as it seems; she finally plucks up the courage to face her doppelganger only to realise the same woman she so greatly admires is the same woman who bangs on her door demanding payment. They engage in a brief stand off before the landlady freaks and runs away from Jooyeon, who closely follows, chasing her doppelganger to the end of the street. The landlady turns and confronts Jooyeon, asking her what she wants, and we are left with Jooyeon simply staring at her doppelganger, knowing full well what it is she desires. The next morning Jooyeon awakens, her stomach pain seemingly gone, her room looking tidier, she stands and walks over to the open window and at that moment the truth behind her stomach ache is revealed by the patch of red left on her mattress.
Pros: Fantastic acting: Ki Do-young superbly flaunted her ability to portray two completely different characters in one short. Also I liked the parallel drawn between the emotional suffering of our protagonist and the physical discomfort caused by the menstruation cycle. It was an interesting connection; the emotional instability of females in the days leading up to their ‘time of the month’ and how they become a lot more emotional and hyper aware of everything that is wrong with their lives.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Tender & Witch
This short involves the lives of many people who all work within the same company however it specifically focuses on Haehwa, and her relationship with her colleague, Sungjoon. The pair frequently engage in some seriously rough sexual encounters, meetings that occur after work hours and are maintained a secret until it is revealed Sungjoon is engaged to be married to a different work colleague. Haehwa is understandably distraught; she cannot fathom why Sungjoon has not chosen her to be his bride and to make matters worse, she now regularly sees Sungjoon and his fiancée together around the office. The upset Haehwa feels leads her down an unstable path where she starts to self-destruct; her emotions running so high that she ends up stealing a pregnant colleague’s ultrasound photograph, before faking it as her own in a confrontation with Sungjoon, only to be labelled a liar and a thief. Initially, as a viewer, you cannot help but sympathise with Haehwa; she has been used and abused by Sungjoon however the latter half of the film unravels spectacularly to reveal Haehwa’s obsessive secret. Indeed, she is a thief, regularly stealing prized possessions, normally a piece of jewelry, from her colleagues at work. There is a nail-biting scene depicting Haehwa almost caught in the act of stealing a unique, Italian bracelet out of her co-workers drawer whilst they are all out at lunch. Your heart pumps along with Haehwa’s during the initial confrontation and the events that unravel afterwards only to share her sense of relief when she manages to slip away from the situation remarkably unscathed aside from the patch of red left on her trousers. Haehwa later visits Sungjoon’s office; she rifles through his desk drawers, happening across a picture of him cozying up to a different girl, picturing herself in the same love-fueled circumstance. Ultimately however, despite her imagination running away from her, Haehwa has come to Sungjoon’s office for one reason and one reason only: good, old-fashioned revenge. She violently vomits in to his desk drawer, but what we see coming from her lips is not what you would expect, instead it is copious amount of jewelry, the very items Haehwa has been coveting from her colleagues for quite some time. On and on, she vomits, disposing of her secretive habit of taking that which is not hers and her love for Sungjoon all in one go.
Pros: loved, loved, loved the revenge element! Revenge is a topic Korean cinema handles and portrays so well and Tender & Witch did not disappoint in that aspect. Furthermore, in the same way as The First Day, Tender & Witch draws a comparison between feminine suffering and the menstrual cycle; an interesting theme for a male director such as Jeon Dook-wan to focus on and made even more fascinating given his later statement to delve in to such emotions in his future work.
Cons: some scenes were a little confusing… at one point we saw Haehwa strangling Sungjoon in his car, eventually killing him, but then a few minutes later we saw Sungjoon alive and well walking around their shared workplace whilst Haehwa looks on from a distance. It turns out she dreamt their interaction where she murdered him; I cannot help but feel the difference between dream and reality could have been handled a little better, just to make it a little more obvious that Sungjoon has not been strangled and left for dead in a parking lot.
Overall rating: 4/5
So there goes my not so very brief synopses of the three shorts I saw at the BISFF! I went in to the festival with expectations and they were certainly met. My time spent there has only made me even more excited to attend the Busan International Film Festival later this year!
Have you ever been to the BISFF? Or the Busan International Film Festival? Do you enjoy Korean cinema too? What is your favourite Korean film?