Metamorphoses (South Korea, 2011)

Several months ago, I received a Facebook message from Korea National University of Arts (aka K’Arts) graduate and fledgling director Oh In-chun that essentially read, “Hey, want to check out my short film?”  Pleased to have an actual filmmaker reach out to a small outlet such as VCinema (for better or worse, it’s usually the PR people who do that), I replied with an exuberant “yes” along with my address where the DVD screener could be sent.  However, instead of waiting up to two weeks for that disc to travel from South Korea into my hands, I was watching Metamorphoses from a file that Oh had uploaded from a shared server within a mere hour.

I know that the subject of technology, especially emerging ones, is not new in the film world.  After all, the moving picture camera is the most important technology of the medium, one whose presence dictates the existence of film as we know it.  However, among cinephiles and fans alike, much of the discourse surrounding technology in film seemingly focuses on its perceived (and real) drawbacks – i.e. the death of celluloid at the hands of digital projection and streaming, digital rights management issues, and the classic bugaboo, piracy.  While these topics are certainly germane for discussion about the present and future of the medium and many of their points valid in helping us preserve what makes film, well, film, it’s easy to forget about how technology crafts the medium.  For example, it’s only been recently that the advent of the DSL-R (digital single lens reflex) “prosumer” cameras have given amateur filmmakers the chance for their films to look highly budgeted at the sacrifice of only a single paycheck (0r tw0).  Download and streaming services also offer a new and wider avenue of distribution that allow independent and/or beginning directors the chance to get their work into the hands of their audience in situations much in the way I was able to get Metamorphoses.

But, I digress.  Let me now talk about the film.

Metamorphoses is a classic “bad gets worse” scenario, but not before getting weird along the way. Sung-gil (Yoo Jeong-ho) is a manga/cartoon artist who is seemingly stuck with writer’s block while arguing with his girlfriend over the phone (at one point, his vanity and frustration converge when he explains to her that “comics [are] the pure essence of art”).  To blow off a little steam, he decides to suit up for a jon, An ulterior motive of which  becomes a chance to strike up conversation with a beautiful jogger whom Sung-gil has had his eye on.  However, before Sung-gil can work up the nerve to start a conversation, she runs away, accidentally dropping her MP3 player.  This sends Sung-gil on a chase after her, one in which he meets up with some baseball-loving thugs, a bad-ass (and extremely violent) security guard, and some denizens of the night.

By reading the synopsis, the first criticism that you might lodge against Metamorphoses is that there appear to be too many plot elements to fit into the film’s just over 28 minute runtime.  And, certainly that is the case in parts of the film.  The baseball-loving thugs attempt to extort money from Sung-gil by charging him a “batting fee” for allowing him to pitch baseballs to them, but why don’t they just mug him outright?  However, Oh, who also wrote the script, does a pretty good job juggling these elements in the film and, more importantly, refers to them when the story dictates.  In an early scene, for example, Sung-gil has bought a garlic-based energy drink as a conversational ice-breaker for the eye of his affection, the beautiful jogger.  As the story kicks into gear, the drink is forgotten, but resurfaces for a far different purpose later in the film.  Oh also does a good job of injecting visual gags in the short film and he even makes a cameo that adds, let’s say, in part to the on-screen laughs. 

Metamorphoses is not solely a comedy.  In fact, the short’s centerpiece is an extended action scene which is well shot, utilizing some solid handheld camera work.  However, it has to be said, that the gore, which is plentiful, is only passably rendered in CGI which takes some of the punch (no pun intended) out of the violence.  One splashy eye-gouging, in particular, should look brutal but instead comes off a little too fake to evoke the sort of “ewww” reaction that you’d want from such gore.  Another technical demerit is the sound design.  I liked that the sound work seemed natural and unfoleyed, but the mix between the music and on-screen sound effects could have been mixed better.  The music, primarily instrumental rap-metal, sort of just buzzes around in the background and only occasionally punctuates what’s happening on screen.

While watching Metamorphoses, I couldn’t help but feel that the short film would have made a solid entry in the Masters of Horror (2005 – 2007) TV show with its twisty story, violence, and horror stylings.  Of course, Oh In-chun is no master of horror and I’m sure the very thought of such a statement would embarrass him, but this short nonetheless is a solid genre film start from a promising up-and-comer.