Saturday, February 9, 2013

Berlinale 2013: Behind the Camera (뒷담화, 감독이 미쳤어요, Dwitdamhwa, Gamdokyi Micheotseoyo) 2012

One of the ten Korean films screening at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

E J-yong’s new feature Behind the Camera is a follow-up to his popular mockumentary Actresses (2009), which featured famous stars playing themselves as they took part in a Vogue shoot. That film poked fun at Korea’s entertainment industry and its willing participants were not scared to send themselves up on screen. Many of the same stars return here and are joined by numerous others, but this time E takes his game one step further as he includes himself as the main protagonist.

The conceit is simple: E J-yong is making a short film but there’s a catch, he’s directing it from Los Angeles via Skype. Things get more complicated as the film he is shooting concerns a filmmaker directing a film from overseas via skype.

There’s really no better word to describe this film than ‘meta,’ a term that frequently made me cast my eyes up to the heavens back in my film studies days. Behind the Camera features a narrative that is consciously seeking to replicate itself. However, while the A plotline (featuring E as the director) is presented as a documentary it is almost impossible to trust the filmmaker. His intentions are very playful and most of the protagonists in the film don’t trust him, so why should we? Fact and fiction become blurred to the point where we are prompted to ask ourselves what we find acceptable as a narrative. E’s point (if he is indeed trying to make any) may be that very little justification is required when seeking to tell a story.

Though an enormously enjoyable feature that zips by in a flash it is true that some of the fun comes down to how intimate your knowledge of Korean film is. Numerous big stars (Ha Jung-woo, Kim Min-hee, Park Hee-soon and more) and directors (Lee Joon-ik, Im Pil-sung, Kim Jee-woon) show up and it’s a hoot to see them poke fun at themselves. Then again, it’s not as though E is trying to reach a very big audience. It is an experimental feature, a parody of itself that almost comes off as a hoax. Perhaps it could best be described as an act of stunt filmmaking.

E’s recent forays into mockumentary and his sly, off-the-cuff exposés of the Korean entertainment scene have been a breath of fresh air within a large commercial industry that is sometimes in danger of becoming too streamlined. Behind the Camera can seem light and frothy on the surface, but its playful nature belies a more complex series of themes and ideas that ebb underneath. However, as much as I’ve enjoyed both this and Actresses, I do hope that E will return to fiction filmmaking for his next offering.

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