TIFF Review: Collective Invention (돌연변이)

Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

The premise of Collective Invention (돌연변이) intrigued me – a satire about a fishman who gets his 15 minutes of fame – so I was excited for its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). And it didn’t disappoint as it was an interesting film that made me think afterwards. Although interestingly, it wasn’t quite what I expected and I think I liked it more for that.


Gu, a young man, participates in a drug trial/experiment that goes horribly wrong and leaves him half-man, half-fish. His tale comes to light after an idealistic and incredibly naïve aspiring reporter stumbles onto his story online and pursues it in the hopes of getting a full-time job. Gu becomes an overnight sensation and it seems that everyone wants a piece of him – from his ex-girlfriend to a human rights lawyer who tries to take on the pharmaceutical company – but fame is fickle and Gu must make a choice.

Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

My Thoughts

The satire is quite interesting at times, if also quite obvious. In fact, the film is quite the indictment on big pharma companies, the media, government, and society in general; with the key word being “in general.” But by doing so in such a non-specific, almost sci-fi manner, it takes quite a bit of the sting out of the satire. There are times that the film – and the laughs – are a bit too obvious, like when the ‘miracle’ drug looks like shit (yeah, it looked literally like shit). But nonetheless, it’s an emotional film that makes you think afterwards which I suspect was the point.

The story is engaging and despite the craziness of one of the main characters being transformed into a half-man, half-fish, it was easy to get sucked into it. A lot of that was because of Lee Kwang Soo (이광수). I was amazed at how well he was able to portray emotion as Gu (the fishman). Between his voice and body language, he made it easy to empathise with Gu, as both (voice and body language) were just so sad, so hopeless and full of despair – understandably so – throughout the entire film but especially near the end. One quickly feels bad for Gu as the melancholy that permeates his character throughout the film is hard to miss but at the same time, one wishes that he would step up and stop letting the others to lead him around and make decisions for him.

Speaking of the characters (and actors), I found them to be interesting as it seemed that they were almost parodies or stereotypes. However, I had a hard time with Ju-jin, the ex-girlfriend of Gu, played by Park Bo Young (박보영) who you might remember from A Werewolf Boy (늑대소년). I could never quite figure her out – was she the cruel, opportunistic girl who sold Gu out or did she truly care about him? At times it would seem that she was one just to turn around and do something different. Her character certainly kept things interesting. Actually none of the characters seemed to be truly good or bad. All seem to be both trying to help Gu but also doing so for their own gain, which is an interesting take on society. It was fun to see Lee Chun Hee (이천희) in such a hapless role as the ineffectual wannabe reporter, and not just because I loved him in the drama, Dating Agency: Cyrano (연애조작단: 시라노).

But I think of all the elements in the film, it was director Kwon Oh Kwang’s (권오광) portrayal of the media and modern society’s fixation on celebrity and fame that was the most biting for me. How quickly one can rise into the limelight, often without even wishing to, just to fall even faster; and the crazy standards (pedestal anyone?) society puts on those who garner such attention. Gu’s rise and fall – along with his subsequent decision to finally find his own path – are great examples of such.

Speaking of the satire and social commentary, the film didn’t seem to be commenting on anything in particular, not any specific event or issue, but rather on several general ones from the hopelessness of youth to big pharma’s control on the economy (and society) to the government. Collective Invention was a solid example of satire and I dare you to watch it without it making you question something.

Courtesy of TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

Final Thoughts

Collective Invention is a film that makes you think. And the topics that it will make you think about are ones that are relevant no matter where you are, not simply to Korean society. Is it a film for everyone? Probably not but it’s a poignant film that the poli-sci major in me can’t help but like.

TIFF Screenings

  • Mon Sep 14 @ 6:00 pm – Scotiabank Theatre (World Premiere)
  • Tue Sep 15 @11:45 am – The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
  • Sat Sep 19 @ 9:30 am – Scotiabank Theatre

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 the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). 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. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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