Release Date: February 28th, 2013 (South Korea)
UK Release: July 28th, 2014
Distributor: Third Window Films
Running Time: 90 mins.
Director: E J-Yong
Writer: E J-Yong
Starring: E J-Yong, Youn Yuh-Jung, Kim Ok-Vin, Jung Eun-Chae, Kim Nam-Jin, Kim Jee-Woon, Kang Hye-Jung
E J-Yong is a daring director but his reputation is mixed having directed a big hit with the pretty and pretty vacuous historical drama Untold Scandal (2003) and the more contemporary Dasepo Naughty Girls (2006), a colourful musical school comedy based on a lurid webcomic whichavoided being too raunchy, something which may have led to it flopping at the Korean box-office. In 2009 he tried his hand at mockumentaries with the title Actresses where he gathered a six of Korea’s great actresses and filmed them playing themselves at a Vogue photo shoot and having outrageous conversations in a satire of the world of Korean film.
It is this last film which Behind the Camera follows closely, as E J-Yong turns the camera on to the world of Korean movies once again and reveals what goes on behind-the-scenes of a film shoot which lacks a director on set. The results of Behind the Camera is not total carnage, more an interesting and warm-hearted look at filmmaking and what use a director on set may be.
“I’m shooting a short film and I had a shocking idea.”
Director E J-Yong is hired to shoot a short film for an electronics company. While toying with some concepts and browsing the internet he suddenly finds himself inspired by the idea that the director does not have be on the set, that he can direct the film using the internet and various communication tools available like Skype and smartphones. This becomes the premise of his film, a director absenting himself from the set so he can pursue his lover.
It is a premise that E J-Yong extends to the actual shoot he will oversee when he decides to jet off to Hollywood. From a hotel in Los Angeles, E J-Yong directs a cast of Korean stars with helpers on set relaying his orders, filming the results and keeping him in contact with the set while his presence hovers over everyone thanks to laptops and televisions that show his broadcast via Skype.
The film rapidly turns into a meta-comedy as reality and fiction soon begin to merge and the actors and crew mirror the script they are working from.
“This is filmmaking circa 2020.”
“You should have waited until then!”
It starts off promisingly enough with the A-list cast assembling for E J-Yong’s advert, mostly as a favour to the director and producer who some have worked with before, but when they get to a cold and dark set at 7:35 in the morning they are surprised to discover that there is no director to be found and are told that he will not be present on the set. Instead, while the actors are freezing ad working hard, in a nice bit of salt being rubbed into the wound, E J-Yong pops up on a television screen from his hotel room in sunny LA via the power of Skype with a butler feeding him.
The comedy begins as the personalities react differently to the unique situation they are presented with, a world first which will see the director give orders to his cast and crew but over the internet and not in person. The helpers with handheld camera catch the sort of candid moments that make a great mockumentary as everybody takes in the news with faces registering disbelief and bemusement and for some of the big stars, a degree of irritation that they have been stood up by the director, while from the younger actors and actresses there is some horror and nervous laughter as they find themselves pushed outside of their comfort zone.
“I’ll be here the whole time,” E J-Yong claims but before he can explain his vision for the film his video call cuts out because Skype loses its wireless connection.
The actors are stunned and know that they only have two days to get the film in the can. Some sense a disaster brewing but get on with things.
Everything that can go wrong with the internet does as connections fail and the actors, director and crew find it hard to communicate their visions. It is evident that working together over smartphones and through grainy video calls is hard and pretty soon tension mounts due to the inconveniences. The value of having a director give precise directions on set is seen in something simple like a costume designer put through her paces by the online visage of E J-Yong to get coat looking just right but the job is made harder without the director physically there to explain what he means exactly. Clashes soon emerge as E J-Yong gives someone a dressing down for not giving him adequate communication and the actors are not impressed by the sense of the loss of control.
Adding flames to the bonfire of egos that the director has initiated, he has a habit of demanding that actors and actresses redo their lines dozens of takes more than is sane in what seem like minor changes that would best be explained in person. It is absurd and ensures that the actors are pushed to boiling point so they react in a way calculated to garner comedy moments with people taking things badly and storing up vitriol for a series of off-the-set complaints.
With the director in America, a fed up bunch start to ignore him as cast and crew focus on the personnel on set and the film looks set to turn out much more differently than intended as egos vie for control of the directors chair. Funnier still are the moments when the cast and crew dodge E-Yong’s presence and secretly share frustrated conversations about working with the director.
There are even more delicious scenes of conflict when actors have open arguments with his image on a laptop screen as he sits in his hotel in LA, his bored-looking face removed from the drama on set.
It sounds like a disaster is brewing but what occurs is a testament to the skill and dedication of Korean filmmakers as Behind the Camera then charts everybody working together to make sure that the show gets finished regardless of the absurdities of the shoot and bruised egos.
There is a cavalcade of genuine top talent gamely playing themselves and everybody is unique.
Venerable veteran actress Youn Yuh-Jung (The Taste of Money, The Housemaid) is quick with the rather playful and good-natured vituperative and verbally bashes E J-Yong and anybody else who stands in her way but provides her whole-hearted support. She works up a good double-act with the earnest and broad-faced musician Kim C who is a little sensitive about his looks and seems to be emotionally tone-deaf. Experienced leading man Park Hee-Soon (Hansel and Gretel) proves to be a good sport and goes with the jokes while younger actresses Kang Hye-Jeong (Old Boy) and Kim Ok-Vin (Thirst) show their versatility and professionalism by getting on with things while other actors moan about the problems or ferment rebellions.
Indeed, the adorable Kim Ok-Vin in her red coat recaptured my heart with her presence as she is seen either quietly munching on sweets between scenes or acting her socks off and playfully teasing the director.
While not laugh out loud hilarious, the film is funny, warm-hearted and a brave title that maintains a fast pace. A lot of the comedy translates beyond the culture but works even better if you are familiar with the cast. More interestingly, it forces the viewer to acknowledge that while it is possible to direct a film in such a manner, it is better for it to be done in person. Something as simple as making appearances and greeting people to establish relationships to working with people to get precise performances and looks require the director’s personal touch. There is also something sad seeing director E J-Yong isolated from others emotions in his hotel room, a grainy portrait on a Skype call, entirely alone unable to experience the anger, irritation and joy of the filming and collaborating with a group of talented and good-natured people. Film is a collaborative process so to miss out on it is to miss an important part of the job. It’s a strange feeling for a comedy to evoke but one with experiencing.
More Kim Ok-Vin pictures…