12:00 - 27th August 2014, by Calum Waddell

Behind the Camera

Behind the Camera is a heartfelt experimental oddity from Korea which has garnered considerable film festival acclaim over the past year. Therefore, this DVD release from Third Window will be highly anticipated among art house followers – although the unique stylistic approach, and obscure storytelling techniques, of director Lee Je-yong (who also helmed 2006’s Dasepo Naughty Girls and 2009’s Actresses) won’t be for everyone.

Behind the Camera focuses on Je-yong himself – playing a filmmaker based in Hollywood who calls the shots on a low budget short feature which is to be completed in Seoul. The venture in question – dubbed How to Fall in Love in 10 Minutes – is actually based on a genuine real life challenge. Je-yong was part of an ensemble of Korean directors who chose to participate in a project that would bring together some adventurous pint-sized stories. In the case of How to Fall in Love in 10 Minutes the story evolved around the making of a movie that crossed national boundaries of participation – with the director overseeing things via Skype, whilst located in the United States. Behind the Camera takes this already postmodern idea further by devising another, feature-length flick around the concept of this amalgamation of creative minds.

In academic terms this is what might be called a ‘meta-movie’ – a motion picture about a motion picture. Or in this case, a motion picture about a motion picture about a motion picture. It is quite a mouthful, right? Well, things don’t get easier from here…

Je-yong was, surely, onto something of a cinematic car crash from the start with this idea – and, as such, it is admirable how much of his proposition actually hangs together. Although the comedy asides rarely work, there is certainly atmosphere and likeability about this harebrained concept. The cast – headlined by such familiar faces as the always excellent screen vet Yoon Yeo-jeong (from The Housemaid and A Taste of Money) and Thirst’s glamour-puss Kim Ok-bin – are uniformly exceptional. Yeo-jeong, who portrays herself, is a revelation – and brings the biggest chuckles –especially when she indicates that she does not comprehend what is even going on. Her dry mannerisms and nonchalant personality traits are priceless – so much so that one does begin to wonder quite how ‘rehearsed’ any of this is (Je-yong insists very little of it was – but then why would he affirm otherwise?).

The whole ‘found footage’ genre is – it has to be said – becoming a little tired (and make no mistake, this is another variation on the trend). Where Behind the Camera exceeds expectations is in generally not aping the often artless approach that previous faux-mockumentaries aim towards. As such, in the place of shaky-cam footage and ‘calamitous’ travelogue documents of real streets and locations is a more refined attempt at grounding the events of a by-the-teeth indie shoot. Perhaps surprisingly, this includes the use of some attractive visuals – such as purposely dreamy sets, glitzy night shots of the neon vibrancy of Hollywood Boulevard, and a concluding sequence that is beautifully realised and decidedly creative. In addition, Behind the Camera may just have NEO’s favourite end credits scroll of 2014.

Using quotations from famous filmmakers throughout its running time (including Mike Figgis and Alfred Hitchcock) and also boasting the occasional cameo from other ‘in character’ Korean directors, there is a lot to like about Behind the Camera. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, director Je-yong was onto a difficult proposition from the start of this vanity endeavour. For instance, whilst the actual pitch behind the project is nothing less than endearing – the realisation is never quite as calamitous as it should be. In an accompanying Q and A from the London Film Festival, included on this DVD as an extra feature, Je-yong insists that the casual, improvised nature of Behind the Camera is reflected in the final edit. If this is the case, and you need to forgive our scepticism, then the end result is not nearly as haywire or shambolic as it should be. The feeling of a filmmaker losing his cool at the other end of a laptop is never evoked – and the cast are far more patient than a ‘real life’ scenario, involving an absent auteur, would likely provoke.

Indeed, at all times during Behind the Camera it feels very much like Je-yong is there – wherein it should appear that, yes, he really is absent outside a pixel-heavy face on a laptop. The situations that arise in Behind the Camera appear controlled and the parody itself is, understandably, difficult to keep going over a 90 minute running time. However, with this said, perhaps the intention of Je-yong’s ‘reality’ jaunt is to trick the spectator into questioning the very nature of mise-en-scène: the concept that we, as an audience and / or armchair critic, can ever really comprehend or comment upon the nature of a film’s production. Given that this facet of filmmaking can only, really, be written by the people who were there – Behind the Camera’s greatest achievement might just be an illusion of everything: casting, shooting, directing, completion... What is real? With his latest venture Je-yong indicates that a true artist never reveals anything.

A mind-muddling experience that never quite works – Behind the Camera is perhaps best described as a daring curiosity with pretensions of grandeur that will either annoy or entertain.
SCORE: 3/5
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