[Hancinema's Film Review] "Ruby"
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
Handling pretentiousness as a director is a very difficult task, which very few have managed to complete adequately (Naomi Kawase's "Radiance" and a number of Leos Carax's films come to mind), and even those, not all the time. In that regard, Park Han-jin had a quite difficult task in his hands for his first feature effort, directing a film about a filming, which also functions much like a stage play and is shot in black-and-white. Let us see how he fared.
Seo-yeon is the director of a TV show titled "Today's Science", which, as the film begins, has a scientist talking about the benefits of eating crickets, as the world population is increasing and food shortage is bound to happen. The ratings of the show are low and the director is getting a hard time from her producer. Furthermore, the assistant director and the writer have their own opinion about the show and their roles, and this agreement eventually results in them becoming a couple. As tension mounts, Seo-yeon decides to make a radical move by hiring a magician as presenter of the show, which results in even more fights with the writer, the assistant director, and the producer. At some point, the magician's dove disappears.
Park Han-jin's purpose seems to be to comment on the circumstances of shooting on TV, a subject that he analyzes quite thoroughly. The pressure a director has to face from all sides in order for the show to have commercial success is the central one, with Park making a point of highlighting how ridiculous the taste of the TV audience is, and how difficult it is for a show to be successful if it is serious and actually has a purpose, apart from entertainment. The "power games" between the members of the crew also get their share, as does the concept of education and how much a higher education matters on the TV setting (it does not, at all).
These comments are very interesting, but the presentation of the film in general, is faulty, particularly because the director does not seem sure about what he wants to do. Combining stage play elements with surrealism and the blurring between fantasy and reality was quite a difficult task to begin with, and Park made it even worse by adding the magician arc and shooting in black-and-white, which resulted in a movie that looks more like an exercise in filmmaking than a concise film. Furthermore, the general aesthetics, as dictated by Jun Hey-jin's very ambitious cinematography, are occasionally impressive, but do not avoid the reef of the misplaced (mishandled if you wish) pretentiousness and a general sense that the movie aimed at impression rather than substance.
The aforementioned, however, do not mean that "Ruby" is without merits. A number of images will definitely stay on mind, while the way Park implements humor in the narrative is quite entertaining and carries the film for a large part of its duration. Likewise, the work done in the editing is quite good, with the different elements mentioned before being engagingly connected, while at 71 minutes, the film does not overextend its welcome in any way. Park Ji-yeon-II as Seo-yeon gives a very fitting performance, with the sequences she lashes out being her highlights.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.