” Love is communication. If you don’t communicate in a relationship, it will break down” (Kim Han-Min’s summary of Handphone)
The 2011 London Korean Film Festival provided many rare opportunities.Watching Handphone (2009) in the company of its director (and one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met) Kim Han-Min has to be one of the highlights.
With long hair, a leather jacket, and laid back attitude, Kim looked the part and was instantly likable. After saying how happy he was to be there (his 6th visit to a LKFF), he confirmed that his main reason for attending the fest was to promote his box office hit Arrow (2011), and that it had been two years since he’d seen Handphone.
The film itself was highly entertaining. A true ‘thriller’ genre movie, this was a fun ride with engaging characters, an edge-of-the-seat storyline and moments of both violence and humour.
Throughout all this plot and action was a consistent commentary on Korean society, from family issues to business pressures, from making a respectable living to the Korean underworld of DVD bangs and PC bangs.
Watching it made me question so much about what (I thought) I knew about how Korea, its people, processes and day-to-day life. How important is success? How long can one ‘save face’? What lies beneath the smiles and bows that greet you at E-Mart? And is it possible to live “happily ever after?”
It was the film’s most obvious comment that amused me most, though, as it was inescapably close to home: our ‘handphones’ are our lives- we are constantly musing what we would do without them and how we ever survived before they were around. Yet Handphone gives us a friendly yet sinister warning that letting a small electronic device rule our lives can have dangerous consequences…
So that’s what I took away from Handphone, but more importantly, what did Director Kim make of the film after revisiting it? His initial reaction was to “realise why it wasn’t a commercial success!” In his eyes, it was “too hard and exaggerated”, the music was “wrong”, and he felt somewhat “embarrassed”. For a film so enjoyed by myself and the rest of the audience, this seemed like harsh criticism indeed. In the context of highly polished and perfectly edited Arrow, his attitude made a bit more sense, though. Handphone was obviously not a huge-budget movie, and some of the effects, editing and sound reflected this.
The Q&A with Kim that followed was even more insightful. This revealed that he was attracted to Handphone for its mystery thriller quality, however had always been interested in making historical dramas. It seems that the latter is where he has found his film-making ‘feet’, but I feel it would be a shame if he never returned to thrillers, as he has a real flair for making them come to life.
Some random and interesting facts also emerged during the Q&A:
- The central branch of E-Mart refused to be the location for the movie, so it was set in the Incheon branch instead.
- It was the female Managing Director at E-Mart, Incheon that agreed to this, which informed the decision to make the Managing Director character in the movie female.
- Kim used stock characters to emphasise polar opposites. The two male leads are based on the hare and the tortoise.
- The protagonist’s blue suit is influenced by a similar costume in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love (2002).
- Changes in the suit’s colour reflect the character’s situation and relationship with society (i.e. bright blue=immature and crude vs. dark blue= conformed and settled).
Pretty cool, hey? Well even cooler was the announcement that it was, in fact, Director Kim’s birthday. We sang him ‘생일축하합니다’ (‘Happy Birthday’, of course!) and shared his birthday cake before having the opportunity to meet the dude himself. As I had been pleasantly surprised and impressed by his movie, I felt honoured to do so.
All in all, I saw a really enjoyable movie, gained priceless insights from its director, met him (on his birthday no less), and shared this experience with like-minded peeps at the KCC… can’t wait for LKFF 2012!
If you haven’t seen it already, I hope Director Kim’s words of wisdom have inspired you to take a peek at Handphone as an example of his earlier work. Here’s the trailer as a taster:
- Many thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre for letting us use the two pics of Kim Han-Min (from their Flickr page)!