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[HanCinema Report] JIFF: Day Eight

2013/05/02 | 202 views | Permalink

"December" by Park Jeong-hoon-I

Today I viewed the final set of short films in competition. The first two shorts were overly artistic pieces which I can only barely remember. They were followed by the only two short animated films in competition- which were much more to my liking. Highs and Lows is a rather unsettling story of struggle, where Two Gentleman is the delightful story of a couple of well-to-do gentlemen who are thrust into an unexpected situation while discussing a surrealist piece of artwork. The last two short films were all right, but nothing special. Similar themes had been done better in earlier showcased short films.

This rather average beginning took a turn for the expressly disappointing, as my next film was "To Be Reborn", by director Hwang Kyoo-deok. The entirity of this piece is Hwang Kyoo-deok building a house. That is not an exaggeration. He decides he wants to build a house, calls some friends up, and the rest of the running time we just watch them build a house. I noticed that the theater was very sparsely populated upon entering. It would seem that the film's reputation had preceded it.

Having just undergone one pointless film about a director, I wasn't particularly thrilled about my next piece, "Cheer Up Mr. Lee". I had known, generally speaking, that this film was also about a director- but it couldn't be anymore different. A documentary crew covers Mr. Lee, a struggling writer/director trying to make it in the industry, and his friends, who are also trying to break into the industry. Satirizing the film industry itself is an easy task, since it doesn't hurt anyone's feelings. But director Lee Byung-hun-I takes the much bolder approach of lampooning the very people we'd expect to complain about how cruel and unforgiving it is. The characters have little understanding either of how the real world or film operates. This cluelessness makes it all too glorious when they start acting like they have any profound knowledge of, well, anything. An excellently funny movie- I actually hurt my cheeks grinning too much during the final uproariously absurd parody sequence.

"Cheer Up Mr. Lee" was so unreasonably good I had little hope that "December" could follow up on it. I was very, very wrong. "December" is, mind you, a completely different kind of film- definite humor is at play, but its message is much more deliberate and powerful. It's a story about shyness and the power of self-delusion. Even though the main characters are all fairly young, there's a reflective air about "December" that reminds the audience that yeah, we used to be really dumb. And not the quirky kind of dumb we like to tell in stories to make other people think we're cool and deep. Rather, it's the harsh reminder that we're not as smart as we think we are, and that the people we gossip about are a lot closer to us mentally than we want to admit. Director Park Jeong-hoon-I has frankly built something brilliant here, and this film definitely deserves a wider audience.

As happy as I am to have seen two films of such high-quality in a single day, I'm also a little disappointed. Because I scheduled these toward the end of my visit, I did not attend the Guest Visit for either film. I suppose it's just bad luck- but I'll be sure to keep both of these directors names in mind for the future.

Report by William Schwartz

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