Review: Korean Shorts at TKFF

Are you ready?
Are you ready?

I love shorts, I really do because trust me, sitting through eight full-length films would be killer. I’ve watched four films in a row (in a theatre which is my record to date) and that was a long day. But with shorts, you can see different genres, different films… laugh, cry, be moved and get angry… all in the space of time it would take one full-length movie. How fabulous is that? And a night of good shorts… I was prepared to be in heaven.

Thankfully, seven of the eight shorts at the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF) delivered. I was entertained. I laughed, I cried (oh yeah, the sap that I am cried at two of the shorts), I was moved and I thoroughly enjoyed the night. And since nothing is perfect, one of the shorts bored me to tears with an ugly, seemingly without purpose or story film. Still seven out of eight great shorts made for a fun night.

Legendary Korean actor Moon Sung Keun spoke to kick off the night.
Legendary Korean actor Moon Sung Keun spoke to kick off the night.

The welcoming speech before the screenings was done by Korean actor, Moon Sung Keun, which was quite interesting and I would suspect, quite the coup for the festival. And like all of the screenings, there were great door prizes and giveaways. One of the best parts – other than the shorts themselves – was the Q & A with five of the shorts directors.

Want to know more?

One of the directors, , gave out chocolates with a cute note before the screening.
One of the directors, , gave out chocolates with a cute note before the screening.

The Flight

  • Year: 2013
  • Length: 3 minutes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Eric Junghwan Park

It was a story about a man who had given up hope, written a suicide letter and was about to jump to his death from a roof when he’s stopped by a young boy who wants to throw a paper airplane.

This film was sad – suicide is a problem in Korea – and tugged at the heartstrings but it also had a couple of surprisingly cute, almost funny moments – the man shooing away the kid and the kid repeating back the sound/expression (which I’ve only heard in Korea) was one of them. I loved the symbolism of the door slowly opening just as the man is seeing new hope in his life through the innocence of the young boy and his request of help making a paper airplane. A surprisingly touching short about what is normally a depressing topic.

Unfamiliar Dreams

  • Year: 2008
  • Length: 18 minutes
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Jigon kim

A documentary about an old theatre. 

Slow start, artsy yet ugly shots. It was a very odd, noisy but basically non-speaking film about an old man in the projection booth of a porn theatre in Korea with random shots of the outside of the building from time to time. The final scene showed a time-lapse shot of the outside as the building disappears and turns into an empty lot to the sound of a woman’s heavy breathing. I’m sorry but all I thought at the end was “what the hell was the point?” Apparently it was a documentary but not under any definition I’m aware of. For me, and the couple of people I talked to, it was the one bad short of the night. I simply found it boring but it made one of my friends uncomfortable.

At each screening, TKFF gave away  three 1-year premium subscriptions to DramaFever.
At each screening, TKFF gave away three 1-year premium subscriptions to DramaFever.

Just Once More

  • Year: 2013
  • Length: 5 minutes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Jay Lee

A guy follows a girl in a dream sequence, wakes up and sees the same girl and follows her again. Turns out the whole thing is just the memory of a dying old man.

It’s an interesting premise – remembering the first meeting of your love as a dream just before you die. A short that is sad & happy all at the same time. The short keeps you wondering why he’s following the girl – and wondering why she doesn’t appear to notice at all – right up until the end.

Sexking

  • Year: 2013
  • Length: 34 minutes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Juhwan Shin

A guy is known as the “sex king” has a rather extensive black book of crossed off names of conquests is admired by his guy friends. But when the tables of changed, he’s not happy.

Okay, I’ll admit the title had me intrigued before I even arrived. It just seemed so unlikely a title. And the music at the start, “Sex king is coming” was funny. But then the short takes an entirely different direction than I had expected. The “sexking” treats women as objects and once he has sex with them, they are no longer on his radar but then he meets his first love whom he idolizes and finds out she is no different from any other girl and his illusions are shattered. He ends up turning to the one girl – a friend even – who’s been there for him despite his icky treatment of other women. It was a deeper, and a little darker, film about an unhealthy relationship with sex. Despite the desire to see it written “sex king” rather than “sexking”, I got caught up in the story and cried with him at the end.

Staff & volunteers of TKFF with Moon Sung Keun
Staff & volunteers of TKFF with Moon Sung Keun

Should’ve Smiled

  • Year: 2013
  • Length: 10 minutes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Bansuk Lee

A guy & girl break up and the guy is forced to look at his emotions about the relationship and break-up.

An interesting take on the break-up of a relationship from the guy’s perspective. I liked the lighting at the start of the short; and the use of Korean by the guy and French by the girl to show how guys and girls don’t always speak the same language (even when they really are). For a subject matter – break-ups – that should have been sad, it had quite a few light moments from the tackle and goodbye kiss (by the girl) to the silly smile after drinking “the moon” in the bowl of water.

A Bad Case of the Genre Fusion: “Don’t Fall in Love with My Son SangWoo”

  • Year: 2013
  • Length: 5 minutes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Maeil Kim

Sangwoo’s mom tries to bribe his girlfriend to break up with him. She refuses. Comedy & action ensue.

Loved this short, it was light-hearted and funny – just what I expected from the preview. The flashbacks by the different characters affected by the ‘fight’ between the mother and girlfriend were cute, funny and definitely elevated the short from pure comedy to something with a soul.

Five of the shorts directors were in attendance and answered questions afterwards
Five of the shorts directors were in attendance and answered questions afterwards

Traces of Joy

  • Year: 2012
  • Length: 7 minutes
  • Genre: Drama, Animation
  • Director: Louis Yeum and Jeff Tran

In an inner city playground, a young girl draws on the sidewalk with chalk. A younger boy plays with the chalk drawing that comes to life briefly.

My first thought during the first couple of seconds of the short was “cool graphics, different,” and then I got sucked into the story. And it was the second short of the night that I teared up at the end of. Such an amazingly subtle way of showing both pure happiness and sorrow. You smile with the little boy as he plays with the chalk drawing of an older boy, wonder at the more serious girl drawing the chalk boy, and then as realization dawns when the chalk drawing turns into a chalk outline… sadness looms. Loved this short!

The Old Man and the Camera

  • Year: 2012
  • Length: 20 minutes
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Taekyue Kim

An older man retires from a career in photography and finds an old camera. He sets out to take a picture of himself.

So the first note I wrote in my trusty little book was “wow, surprised to see a fan in their bedroom while they’re sleeping,” which has nothing to do with the short itself but simply an interesting observation on Korean culture.

But on with the review of the short. It was a sweet and poignant film. I loved how the old man keeps trying, without ever truly getting angry, to take a picture of himself with the old camera. The ending was a sad twist to the story even if it also seemed to fit into the bad luck he was having.

Moon Sung Keun with TKFF executive director, Kitaek Hong
Moon Sung Keun with TKFF executive director, Kitaek Hong

What about you? Did you attend the Korean shorts at the Toronto Korean Film Festival? What did you think?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival. Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher.

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