A fascinating debut feature from Park Hong-min with stunningly stylised 3D, but is it quite Lynch quality yet?…
Park Hong-min’s A Fish begins with a fantastic opening shot. In highly stylised 3D, he plays with reflective surfaces to subvert our vision of what is, and what is not, real: a detailed reflection on a car window rolls down to reveal sky. According Tony Ryan’s LFF catalogue description, the 3D is ‘homemade’, and it seems director Park Hong-min – still a student at the school of Digital Image and Contents, Dongguk University – has innovated his own DIY version of 3D technology on a minuscule budget (the equivalent of about US $61k).
Unlike most filmmakers, Park doesn’t pretend to be using 3D to bring us into his world, to make it more real to us, but instead he’s pulling us back from reality. Rather deliberately, his 3D has more the feel of a child’s pop-up book, not a blockbuster. And the theme of perceived reality constantly reoccurs during the film.
Jeon-hyuk (Lee Jang-hoon) is a professor who has hired a ragged private detective to track down his wife Ji-yeon. As they head down towards the small village where she has become a Shaman, their relations progressively strained, Jeon-hyuk’s experiences become increasingly odd. Elsewhere, seemingly (and, in fact, actually) unconnected, two friends fish on a foggy river at night.
Driven by a playful mysticism that has brought (many many) comparisons with the work of David Lynch, there’s power in the early part of the film. We really don’t know just what is going on, rather like our lead. He follows his detective into a restaurant, only to find him gone and the owner asking him why he’s returned, when he doesn’t remember meeting her before.
Yet from the talking fish on (in a bizarre and audibly unpleasant scene, especially when ramped up on the cinema speakers) the film turns towards the absurd. I rather wondered if this could have been saved up for the latter part of the film.
For those of us who’ve seen Park Chan-wook’s iPhone marvel Paranmanjang (or Night Fishing), it’s not hard to see where this is going. (And if you haven’t, then you’d best look away now!) Indeed, some of the story plotlines are so similar that you wonder at the sense in replacing one technical innovation with another – shooting on an iPhone with shooting in 3D – as comparisons are bound to be made.
It rather overplays its revelations, slowing to a stall as the film delivers them – but leaving us without a satisfactory conclusion, rather like the lost souls themselves, lost in this netherworld between life and death.
The spirituality is an interesting motif, giving a more Korean voice than many contemporary films. Director Park Hong-min has said witnessing a shaman ceremony where they pulled a drowned man out of the sea influenced him on the story. But I can’t help feeling Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong did much the same, more evocatively, and in rather less time. (And they had a jaunty opening song too.)
It’s a shame, as technically this is a beautifully made film, with strong performances from the cast. And for that alone I’d recommend this to anyone interested in the more ‘offbeat’. An incredible feat for a debut feature-length, graduate student Park Hong-min might not quite hit the twisted delights of Lynch, but it may not be long till he does…