New for me
While omnibus films are not particularly popular here in the United States, Korea seems to have embraced the form for many of its independent releases, some gathering talented filmmakers for a theme, like the human rights oriented If You Were Me series, and indie production house Indiestory's Short! Short! Short! project follows this trend with a collection of shorts in 2010, gathering three younger directors for a trio of shorts centered around fantastic happenings at the theater. Loosely strung together by each short being a movie within the following short, the widely divergent pieces all are a bit lacking in story, and the whole omnibus feels like it's rather underwhelming as a result.
In the opening piece, 허기 (The Famished), director Lee Gyuman puts together a story of ghosts who hunger for their own memories, set against a play about... ghosts who hunger for their own memories, while the ghost protagonist (Kwak Minsuk) tries to remember who he is.
While I admit that there is something interesting about the interplay of the stories presented by play within the film and the story of the ghost, there's ultimately not very much to the story at all as there's little agency and half of the running time is devoted to the play. Despite the attempt at poignancy with the reveal, the lack of dramatic tension or conflict or even a strong alternate means of use of the medium results in short that's as impenetrable as its protagonist.
The following short, 소고기를 좋아하세요? (The Loneliness of Butcher Boy), follows a series of murders happening at a movie theater involving a minotaur. Meanwhile, the son of the local butcher (Lee Hyunwoo), a vegetarian, is called upon by an attractive woman (Deanna Kim), who tells him that unless he kills the minotaur, he'll be the next to die. While director Han Jihye's film contains some kind of story, complete with a twist, it doesn't fully draw out the character's conflict to be convincing and the post-twist ending is a headscratcher. There is an interesting aesthetic element going on with the film, like the first, especially with the somewhat kooky sense of humor underlying the presence of the Greek-speaking woman and minotaur, but it simply doesn't come together in the end to make sense.
Director Kim Taegon takes the final film, 1000만 (10 Million), into near meta-textual territory as it opens with the murder of a director of an art film, with Kim playing a cameo role as himself, a friend of another art film director (Kim Taehoon), who soon discovers that art film directors who make money-losing ventures are being murdered by a strange kid and her large male companion and that he's next. So he runs off with his film with the hopes of altering it so that it can make a profit.
The meta-narrative that comments upon the three shorts in Fantastic Theater is pretty interesting and Kim adds a number of connections to other films into the story. That said, while there is a definite conflict and thriller element here, the problem with 1000만 lies with the fact that we are never exposed to the problem inherent to the director's film and consequently, there is no suspense nor drama in his attempt to alter it as it's all hearsay to us. I also think Kim doesn't fully utilize his meta-narrative to its potential as the commentary about struggling art film directors seems to run too obvious.
And so, while each of the directors' work in Fantastic Theater has some interesting elements to it, each of the works suffers from flaws too great to fully overcome. That's not to say that the directors don't display some real creative potential here, they do, it's merely that the storytelling is just too muddled or decisions are made that aren't followed through enough to be convincing. Fantastic Theater still has just enough interesting elements for supporters of indie cinema to check the film out, especially those who have appreciated the directors' other works, but otherwise, I can't really recommend it to most other audiences. 5/10.
- Available at YesAsia