Director Shim Chan-yang creates an entertaining and novel approach to the documentary form.
Low-budget, semi-autobiographical indies about young men trying to make their feature film debuts have been done to death in Korea (Cheer Up Mr. Lee, We Will Be OK and Director's Cut come to mind), so expectations were muted for Behind the Dark Night, a new Korean competition film in BiFan this year. However, any negative assumptions were quickly dashed as this mockumentary of student filmmakers proved itself to be the most endearing debut to be seen in BiFan since Baek Sung-gi's riotous Super Virgin in 2012.
A group of university students in a film-watching club decide to make their very own feature in order to emulate their cinematic heroes, especially Christopher Nolan and his seminal comic book film The Dark Knight. The students take on various roles, depending on their age, and tussle about who will be the lead actor. This whole process is captured by another colleague who is making an in depth making-of video.
Unlike the morose protagonists of most Korean indies about filmmaking, the would-be cineastes here are bursting with energy and rather than stare down the end of a soju bottle, they wax lyrical about superhero films as they play with Lego. The director believes he has written a masterpiece that is guaranteed to launch them to Hollywood stardom but his arrogance is so benignly naive that his behavior, and that of the cohorts who get swept up in his ego, can't help but be likable.
The production, when it eventually gets underway, is immediately plagued with problems, including members being called up for military service. Yet this doesn't stop others from carrying on the torch as the production (and the behind the scenes doc that captures everything) drags on for several years. People change majors, egos are bruised and most progress is immediately stalled by bickering or simple lack of experience. Yet, despite all the odds, the film gets made.
It may qualify as a slight spoiler to reveal that the students do eventually make something, but I would be remiss not to mention the real highlight of Behind the Dark Night. At the end of the film, we finally bear witness to the fruits of their labor as the team takes their seats and watch 'The Dark Knight Returns' in all of its 25-minute sweded glory. Surprisingly good production values draw us into a tongue-in-cheek story that borrows from several popular superhero titles, giving us the Marvel vs DC ultimate showdown we never thought we needed.
Full of love for its source and featuring an impressive Heath Ledger Joker impersonation, the short is the perfect culmination to a documentary chronicling the ups and downs, as well as charms and idiosyncrasies, of a bunch of kids who could be any of us. Placed side-by-side, Behind the Dark Night is an entertaining and novel approach to the documentary. The question now is, where does director Shim Chan-yang go from here?