Behind The Camera (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 85 minutes approx.
Despite being hailed one of the all-time classic films Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard wasn’t particularly well received by his industry peers back in 1950, with some furiously calling for his head, so upset were they at his supposedly savage mocking of their profession! One wonders what these po-faced puritans would make of Korean director E J-Yong’s meta offering which satirises the movie industry and then some!
Part documentary, part drama, part comedy, part whatever you want to call it, the central conceit revolves around an idea E J-Yong had to make a film while communicating through modern technology connections rather than being present on set. Apparently in Los Angeles with the desire to break Hollywood, J-Yong devises a script for a 10 minute short film entitled How To Fall In Love In Ten Minutes, which will be used to promote a new smartphone. With the help of an all star cast, J-Yong decides to make the “making of” this promo film in which a director is doing exactly as J-Yong is doing, helming a film from Hawaii!
Confused? Well it’s actually straightforward although J-Yong does like to take the film-within-a-film-within-a-film-within-a-film concept to such an extreme the lines of reality are blurred beyond distinction. With three productions going on at the same time the viewer is quite often left wondering as to which one we are watching, with the result often being a surprise.
It’s a wonderfully audacious concept which not only looks forward to future possibilities of filmmaking but also takes a loving poke in the ribs at the business itself when the whole film starts to go wrong. J-Yong may be able to recruit some of Korea’s finest to work on this project but they view his long distance directing idea askance; in fact one actress Jeong Eun-Chae (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) wants to quit when learning there will be no on-set director but is talked into staying. Elsewhere veteran Yun Yuh-Jung (who was legitimately working on The Taste Of Money at the time) thinks the idea ridiculous and doesn’t mind saying so, her senior status affording her the luxury of such candour.
To make matters more confusing the all star cast also play the crew for the making of film – including Kim Ok-Vin (Thirst) – while genuine film crew members play themselves. A sub plot involves the production starting to fall apart when the Skype connections and internet links keep failing and with J-Yong unable to respond directly tensions rises among the crew. A retired director (Lee Joon-Ik) tries to take over in J-Yong’s absence but that doesn’t help either, instead added to the already fraught situation and with actors unable to deliver for both directors the two day deadline isn’t likely to be met.
E J-Yong isn’t a stranger to this “mockumentary” style of filmmaking with his last film Actresses being a fly-on-the wall look at a group of Korea’s top female thespians – some also appearing in this film – playing themselves during a Vogue photo shoot. However he takes it a step further here while lifting the curtain on the actual production side of film making which is rarely seen without being heavily dramatised or homogenised for the sake of us mere mortals.
Here we see the warts and all side of the business, from the problems with the actors’ egos and temperaments to the technical and practical issues, the standing around, the running around, the hoards of people all vying for room to get on with their assigned tasks and so on. To that end this is quite an educational film as well as an affectionate if wry look at the absurdities of this industry, although much of the satire might be lost on some taking into account how far the lines of reality are blurred due to the elliptical nature of the concept.
The question I suppose J-Yong is asking here is whether the ever expanding and developing world of modern technology mean that every traditional method of film making is likely to be usurped in its wake. Realistically the idea of distance stopping a man from directing a film can be overcome thanks to the likes of Skype, e-mail or text. But is it really practical? To show the industry’s reluctance to this radical practice when J-Yong suggests “This is film making circa 2020” he is greeted with the reply “You should have waited until then!”!
Being such a good sport, J-Yong is open to mocking himself, making a point of mentioning that his comedy musical Dasepo Naughty Girls was a critical and commercial flop. Whether his contemporaries Park Chan-Wook, Kim Ji-Woon and Bong Joon-Ho are as charitable as their attempts to break Hollywood are ripe for lampooning remains to be seen, but we can see that J-Yong’s tongue is firmly in his cheek.
To pull off such a daring ruse requires a willing and competent cast and J-Yong has just that, each one from top to bottom is utterly convincing, never once given anything away to the audience as which direction the film is heading. Stealing the show is Yun Yuh-Jung, delighting everyone with her frank opinions and tales from her career, her acerbic wit lifting the mood on and off set. Of the younger cast the versatile Kim Ok-Vin shows off her chameleon like prowess while Kim Min-Hee (Helpless), Kang Hye-Jung (Oldboy) and Park Hee-Soon (The Suspect) all revel in the immersive world within a world and take the knocks in their stride.
If there is a problem with Behind The Camera it is probably a bit too smart for its own good, in that some of the in-jokes and the quotidian downside of filmmaking might not provide the same entertainment value for less interested viewers. For the rest of us this is an incisive, clever and above all affectionate love letter to one of the craziest and demanding of the entertainment industries.
Director E J-Yong Interview
Korean Film Festival 2013 Q&A
Third Window Trailers
Rating – *** ½
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