Two nights ago, at the 4th annual Women in Film International's Annual Shorts Program, people from many different nationalities and backgrounds gathered together at the Korean Cultural Center in LA to enjoy an evening devoted to Korean art and culture. The annual program highlights short films from a particular country each year, and chose Korea as its focus this year. “A Night To Celebrate: Short Films by Korean Filmmakers
“ was sponsored by Dramafever. WIFI also partnered with the Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles (KCCLA
), the Korean Film Council (KOFIC
) and NYX
Cosmetics to present this unique event, which included art, performances, music, and culinary delights in an evening that celebrated Korea's 5,000 year-long history and culture.
Let's talk food first. It included a buffet of traditional Korean cuisine - kimchi, bulgogi, bbibimbab - as well as an array of edible creations from fruit decoration specialist Jennifer Park
Art included works from John Park, Youngmi Kim, Lorraine Nam, and Yoonjae Kwon (for more info on each artist see the Artist Line-Up).
Prior to the film program The Freedom Sounds Korean Poongmul Drumming Collective gave a rousing outdoor performance, before drawing people indoors to the theater area afterwards. Ko's Korean Dance Group (who have performed with Shakira and toured Europe) then took the stage for an evocative, lovely dance performance utilizing traditional Korean costume (the hanbok).
The film program consisted of eight short films chosen from over 50 submissions, and the films were appropriately varied and high-quality as far as production goes. The line-up, split evenly between animated and live-action shorts, included everything from an animated documentary of an AI
DS victim to a cross-cultural romance set in Korea to a domestic drama about a 7-year-old Korean-American girl. The titles were as follows: The Mission to Watch TV
, Jeon Byeong Deock; Communicate
(two separate short films), Erick Oh; Kai's Place
, Albert Shin; Speed Grieving
, Jessica Daniels, Thembi's Diary
, Jisoo Kim; My Room
, Han Sung Kim.
Of all the films shown, Erick Oh's works, two animated shorts lasting a minute and 8 minutes long, respectively, were the most striking. The first, Communicate
, suffers from an overly fast pace and a lack of exposition, but is visually gorgeous as it tells the story of the history of communication and media at lightning speed. The film never explicitly states what it's about and the images, especially at first, flash by so fast that they're hide to identify, so I suspect that if one watched this having no idea what it's about, one would end up intrigued but confused at the end. Heart
, on the other hand, equally striking with its black-and-white world, is much more thematically clear, with its oddly existentialist portrayal of a world torn apart by the discovery of a single red heart lying on the ground. As the world's inhabitants viciously battle possess the heart, the film takes on the dimensions of a bleak morality tale. Gripping, beautiful, and fiercely imagined, Heart
, and to a lesser extent Communicate
, reveal a unique aesthetic imagination at work. Erick Oh (already an award-winning artist) will probably be termed "a visionary" in years to come. Check him out at Erickoh.com
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="414" caption="Ceramics by Yoonjae Kwon"]
Ki-wan Park's Birth
and Jessica Daniels' Speed Grieving
were competently made shorts, but perhaps the least memorable of the evening's offerings. Birth
, a story of the inter-connectivity of life and how one small action can have huge repercussions, is well-crafted with stunning visuals, but its eco-political theme is presented so overtly that it dilutes the subtlety of the rest of the story. Speed Grieving
has a creative concept, but a weak beginning and ending, and oddly, the production values were lower than the other films; many scenes were too dark to see all the details of color and action (though it's possible this was specific to the Korean Cultural Center's copy, or to the KCC screen for this particular short).
, an animated documentary based on the audio diary of a South African AIDS victim, is rather brilliant. Utilizing clips from an actual audio diary by a 17 year old African girl, broadcast on NPR, it's a poignant work with lush visuals. Creative visuals represent Thembi's situation - one in particular stood out, a scene in which water quietly seeps into the room where Thembi is talking to her doctor and rises and rises until it appears to drown her - a disturbing bud oddly beautiful reflection of her emotional state.
If Oh's works were the most unique, it was the domestic dramas that began and ended the evening (or rather, were intended to: technical difficulties led to The Mission to Watch TV
being screened later in the program) that were the most effective. Jeon Byeong Deock's The Mission to Watch TV
is a surprisingly delightful, well-acted, very funny little film about two brothers who will do anything to watch TV, even at risk of their mother's wrath. As they're driven to ever more elaborate machinations to gain access to the magic box that lights up their long hours alone at home, and to hide this forbidden past-time from their parent, the film builds to a pitch-perfect conclusion that adds anunexpected but luminous depth to an already successful narrative. The filming has a natural ease to it, and this, combined with the great acting and a precision with small details, lifted this small story into an entertaining and thoughtful human drama.
Han Sung Kim's My Room
was even more satisfying however; a playful, luminous portrayal of a young girl's desire for a private space. Sophie, a 7-year-old Korean American, is trapped in a small apartment with two boisterous brothers who leave her out of their games and a stressed-out, unemployed mother bent on getting a job. Desperate for a space of her own where she can escape from her family and create a world of her own, Sophie attempts many different ways of creating that space, each space that she finds allowing her imagination to take off. Filmmaker Han Sung Kim brings a delightful sense of whimsy to her inner life, depicting it with brilliant, fairy-tale like sequences full of magic and color. He deftly suspends this inner fantasy life beside her outer life of harsh indifference to her needs and desires, and her red goldfish becomes a symbol of both her imagination and her need for a home. The ending is a little open-ended, but fits in well with the film's emphasis on reality as something just as necessary and real as fantasy, if not always as joyful.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="346" caption="Ceramics by Yoonjae Kwon"]
Albert Shin's Kai's Place
felt in some ways the most relevant, tracing a brief period in the life of an American teaching English in Korea (a phenomenon becoming ever more popular). It begins with a particularly evocative opening scene; a lovely Korean girl, city lights a flare of color behind her, walks along the road, the camera focused in on her face, while a phone call followed by a voicemail left by Kai (the American of the title) plays in the background. From there it's a rather lucid film, a bit Lost-in-Translation
as it ably captures the disassociation and physical/mental/emotional distance a young American feels living in a foreign place. The story disappointingly takes an abrupt dip toward the melodramatic in the middle (with a scene I've seen in at least three other Korean films) but fortunately resurfaces to light romance, and ends on a note of hope. It's assisted by a soundtrack which is absolutely stellar (wistful instrumental pieces and gorgeous indie songs) and by stunning cinematography that beautifully utilizes Korean filming locations.
The program ended with a brief Q&A session with filmmakers Jisoo Kim, Han Sung Kim, and Albert Shin. Jisoo Kim (an animation grad student at Cal Arts) spoke of hearing the audio diary that was the inspiration for Thembi's Diary
for the first time. Riding the bus in Valencia, she felt sorry for herself because it was a hot day, and then she heard Thembi's diary come on NPR. "I was feeling sorry for myself and I heard her voice", she says. (Check out her website here
Han Sung Kim discussed the difficulties of making a film ("there are three things that make me crazy", he said - "time, money, and people") and the delights of crafting a film about a child and trying to capture a child's imagination. Albert Shin, who hails from Canada, testified that the inspiration for Kai's Place
came from his observations of mixed-race couples while on a trip to Korea. He said that he planned the film as a "love letter to Korea" as far as visuals go.
The evening wrapped with a brief discussion of Korean film in the U.S. as a whole, and Albert Shin spoke of his appreciation of events such as these, saying that "Korean film-making and Korean films are quite new...maybe not in its infancy but in its teenage years".
With that, the diverse audience of people from all national and racial backgrounds (Korean, Korean-American, American, Canadian, white, black, Asian) who had come out to see this buoyant night of Korean art and cinema, dispersed...picking up gift bags from NYX Cosmetics, a sponsor of the event, along the way.