Yi Ok-seop and Koo Kyo-hwan: three short films first published by the London Korean Cultural Centre
Capsule reviews of: Where Is My DVD?, A Dangerous Woman, Girls On Top
Yi Ok-seop is the writer/director of a number of short films (starting with her 2010 debut Please Find My Mum), and of the feature Maggie (2019), which screened at the BFI London Film Festival. Koo Kyo-hwan is an actor who in 2013 debuted as writer/director on the short films Where Is My DVD? and Welcome To My Home – in which he also starred. In 2014, Koo would take a lead role in Yi’s short film A Dangerous Woman, and so began a long and fertile creative collaboration which lasts to this day. Koo has headlined as an actor in nearly all Yi’s subsequent work, as well as co-writing and co-directing her short films Love Docu (2015), Fly To The Sky (2015) and Girls On Top (2017), and co-writing Maggie. Much of their work is collected on a shared YouTube channel, from which we have selected three of their short films that come with good English subtitles.
Where Is My DVD? (2013)
They say ‘Write what you know’, and in Koo’s directorial debut Where Is My DVD? there would appear to be an obvious element of the autobiographical, even if that is constantly subverted by a strong streak of the absurd. Here the quest of actor Gi-hwan (Koo) to retrieve disk copies of all his previous films is all at once a nostalgic trip down memory lane, a methodical confrontation with past colleagues and formative experiences, a wry metacinematic odyssey through the ambitions, pretensions and disappointments of Korea’s indie filmmaking scene, and preparation for his latest rôle. Along the way, there is a recurring fixation with oral hygiene – and it all culminates in a coda (presented as a DVD’s ‘special feature’) in which the (semi-)fictive Gi-hwan receives unwitting encouragement from none other than Korea’s most successful writer/director, Bong Joon-ho.
A Dangerous Woman (2014)
Yi’s A Dangerous Woman is a love triangle. Fine arts student Bo-kyung (Kim Kkot Bi) has been going out for four years with Duk-woo (Koo), but while their relationship is comfortable, she feels it has long since lost its heat and become suffocating (a metaphor that in one sequence will become literalised) – so she has strayed to fellow artist Soo Jang (Baek Soo Jang), and now finds herself caught between them, leaving her life as dysfunctional as the second-hand fan that she has recently acquired. It is a funny, breezy portrait of a compromised woman, plus a cabbie who rejects his assigned part as an incidental character, and some very smart intermixing of diegetic and non-diegetic music to underscore Bo-kyung’s heartbreak.
Girls On Top (2017)
The much shorter, much more surreal Girls On Top concerns a circus performer (Lee Joo-young) who has recently quit aerial acrobatics for unicycling, her friend (Chun Woo-hee) who has had to abandon a beloved cactus that has outgrown her apartment, and the gravity-defying solidarity that these two women show each other as they face change together.
© Anton Bitel