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Six degrees of discrimination in one film

2003/11/12 | 287 views | Permalink | Source

When the new film "If You Were Me - 2003" debuted at the Jeonju International Film Festival in April, some strange noises could be heard from the theater. First came the laughs. Was it a comedy? Then came the sighs. Was it a melodrama? Then came the shrieks. Was it a horror?

Strictly speaking, the answer was none of the above. To be a comedy, it was too serious. To be a melodrama, it was too ordinary. To be a horror, it was too real. "If You Were Me - 2003" was an omnibus film that brought together six short films by six local directors to tackle the issue of human rights in Korea.

The project, funded by the Human Rights Commission of Korea, asked each filmmaker to contribute an episode dealing with the issue of human rights through his or her unique perspective and style.

The six local directors who rose to accept the challenge were a motley crew of four men and two women; a hodgepodge of old masters like Park Kwang-soo ("A Single Spark") and newcomers like Park Jin-pyo ("Too Young To Die"), commercial powerhouses like Park Chan-wook ("JSA - Joint Security Area") and cult favorites like Yim Soon-rye ("Waikiki Brothers").

The result is an uneven and sometimes jarring experience that reflects the cacophony of personalities behind it. Nevertheless, "If You Were Me - 2003", opening this Friday for the general public, is a rare piece of work with a message for everyone.

"The Weight of Her", directed by Yim Soon-rye, sneaks into a girls' high school to expose how the pressure to look thin and beautiful distresses the students. The truly disturbing part is that the teachers and parents are actually the ones telling the girls that appearance equals success. The short film features a sardonic humor that does not blunt its hard-hitting point.

Jeong Jae-eun's "The Man with an Affair" takes a highly stylized approach in depicting how a child who wets her bed is forced by her mother to beg her neighbors for salt in the traditional Korean way of punishment through shame. Meanwhile, a registered sex offender lives in the same apartment complex. Apparently, the short film is targeting the practice of humiliating others, but the unorthodox visual narrative dominates whatever meaning lies behind it.

"The Crossing", directed by Yeo Kyun-dong, is a series of 11 scenes from the life of a person who lives with cerebral palsy. Small moments, such as listening to ridiculous music as he takes the handicapped lift up the subway station stairs as if he were a child on an amusement park ride, show the daily indignities he must endure.

Lasting just 12 minutes that feel like an eternity, Park Jin-pyo's "Tongue Tie" may be the most riveting short film of the bunch. Well-intentioned parents force their child to get a tongue surgery for improved English pronunciation that was the topic of news a while back. Set to the background of a colorful office with a television monitor playing animation and a nurse dressed up as a bunny, the short film mixes graphic footage of the tongue being snipped and tied.

The director who made waves last year with his unflinching look at septuagenarian sex in "Too Young To Die", once again refuses to take the camera away at the crucial moment, producing a tour de force with his inimitable style stamped clearly on it.

"Face Value", directed by Park Kwang-soo, portrays an argument between a male driver and a female parking garage employee. The spat begins when the man remarks that the woman's occupation does not suit her good looks. Perhaps the short film is dealing with a form of discrimination that often gets ignored: the pain of being thin and beautiful and the misery of people thinking that you are too good for your job. The connection to the issue of human rights is fuzzy, and the eerie ending is more perplexing than instructive.

Park Chan-wook's "Never Ending Peace and Love" is based on the incredible true story of Chandra, a Nepalese factory worker in Korea who languished for over six years in a mental institution after getting lost without proof of identification. Shot almost entirely from Chandra's perspective, the short film is a scathing indictment of how someone who was different was considered to be insane in Korea.

Despite the disparate perspectives and styles, the six short films in "If You Were Me - 2003" ultimately combine to deliver one message loud and clear: Human rights are not an issue limited to faraway countries or the faraway past but are the small moments we see around us every day.

By Kim Jin

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