(Antarctic Journal, KOREA 2005)
Namgeuk Ilgi (lit. South Pole Diary)
114 Minutes - 35mm Cinemascope 2.35:1 - Colour
Rating: 15 and over
Released in Korea on 5/19/2005
Total National Admissions (Approx.): 1,054,634
Produced by: 싸이더스 (Sidus)
Distributed by: 쇼박스(Showbox)
Note: The review contains spoilers
Director 임필성 (Im Pil-Sung)
[생강 (A Bit Bitter, 1996 SHORT), 소년기 (Brushing, 1997 SHORT), 기념품 (Souvenir, 1998 SHORT), , 베이비 (Baby, 1999 SHORT), 모빌 (Mobil, 2003 SHORT), 쇼 미 (Show Me, 2004 OMNIBUS)]
Writer 임필성 (Im Pil-Sung), 봉준호 (Bong Joon-Ho), 이해준 (Lee Hae-Joon)
Director of Photography 정정훈 (Jung Jung-Hoon)
Music 川井憲次 (Kawai Kenji)
Editor 김성민 (Kim Song-Min)
송강호 (Song Kang-Ho), 유지태 (Yoo Ji-Tae), 김경익 (Kim Kyung-Ik), 박희순 (Park Hee-Soon), 윤제문 (Yoon Je-Moon), 최덕문 (Choi Deok-Moon)
CAMEO: 강혜정 (Kang Hye-Jung)
8/8/2005 - Monday
It must be the first time I write you in over 15 years, I hope you'll forgive me for my negligence all this time. Back then, I probably wrote about trying to finish homework as soon as possible, so I could go out and play football with my friends. Was it maybe about a film I watched the day before? I'm not sure. It might feel like I looked for you again only because I needed your help, but please bear with me. I promise It'll just be this week, then I won't bother you anymore. I'm preparing a review of Im Pil-Sung's 남극일기 (Antarctic Journal) for this Sunday, so you'll help me organize my thoughts. Yes, organize, because after watching the film twice I feel as if I woke up in the middle of the night, images and sounds floating in my mind; images that have a scent, and sounds that have colour, even if that's only shades of white. Was it a dream, pure hallucination? Did I really watch a film, or had a nightmare, making me feel so close to that foreign, alien place? So close and claustrophobic, so stuffy. But you know what? I miss it, I miss being there, surrounded by snow, the sun shining on my face all day, the suffocating cold breeze, that sense of being alone in the world. It was like a long rollercoaster ride, with bursts of excitement followed by slower moments of anticipation.
Antarctica is like Science-Fiction right in front of our eyes. We seem to know everything about every single inch of this planet nowadays, with all the satellites and hyper sophisticated maps, yet there's a lot of mysteries surrounding the South Pole. A lot of people like to throw that nasty term, "No Man's Land," around ... but it really applies there. It's like walking on the moon, beautiful from a distance, strikingly quiet, but deadly if you underestimate it. The sense of surprise on the members of the expedition led by Choi Do-Hyung (Song Kang-Ho), when taking off their socks and seeing what frostbite has done to their poor, dark feet, is akin to an astronaut on the Moon, jumping around happy like a child, until the small rope tieing him to reality breaks. And he's alone, nothing can help him. You'd think the largest playground on Earth would be perfect for someone looking for quiet and solitude, but all you find is a claustrophobic hold on your neck and head. You walk in clear light for hours, days, weeks, and you might not know where you're going. Whiteouts might make things look different than they really are. Desperation might just do that as well. And then you begin to see things that never made sense back in your comfortable world. And you're afraid, afraid of your surroundings, afraid of your partners ... afraid of yourself.
What were they doing there? Strictly scientific reasons? National pride? Because no one else was able to do that, except a Soviet team in an era long gone? Some see this as their last expedition before finally going home to their families, a reward for their hard work. Some as a chance to make history, experience greatness for the first time. Finally, some see the expedition as an answer to all their questions, enough to give them a reason to go on. What begins as little more than a group of people sharing similar goals, trying to work as a team, becomes a nightmare. A place where fear, pain and selfish madness crush all the good intentions. Some team members fall before the others, maybe because they're weaker. Maybe because they realize before everyone else that the task is hopeless. The more the road to the Pole of Inaccessibility shortens, the more it becomes a point of no return.
Do-Hyung knows that all too well. Pain? He can bear it. The death of a fellow member? It's never an obstacle. His Machiavellian modus operandi is only exacerbated by his failure to build something out of his early promising days. What did reaching the top of the Everest do for him? A failed marriage and some money in the bank? 15 Minutes a year on the evening news? All that's left for him is that rage, that anticipation to reach the point. That will for something big to happen after that, for something that will finally change his life. He's not even prepared for what will come after that, all he thinks about is the between, getting to point B, since point A has been his entire life. Find a meaning, or at least find something to stop him. Even if that means death. More than anything else, this is a film about that uncontrollable rage inside men, setting up the moment you find a new desire to achieve something that will end your suffering. What if that resolution, that grand finale never comes, and you keep wanting for more, destroying yourself and everyone else in the process? It's not about the mysteries hidden under centuries old snow, but the monster buried inside men. The primal, brutal feelings that come out only in extreme situations.
8/9/2005 - Tuesday
I feel bad for Director Im Pil-Sung. All his career working as hard as he could, preparing for his big splash on the big screen. You spend 6 years on a project, change 3 production teams and 7 producers, shoot for months in freezing New Zealand under terrible conditions, all for that dream. To make a special film, one that will be remembered. It's your little child, precious and adorable when things are going well, painful to see and almost unbearable to tolerate when it's the other way around. The pressure on your shoulders to not "waste" those 8 Billion Won on something that won't attract viewers, the burden of a big film with a big cast and an even bigger budget. Anyone could crumble under those conditions. But one thing that distances Antarctic Journal from the rest is that it takes its chances and never looks back, like a mysterious woman with a charm of her own, distant yet strangely appealing.
Im had been the darling of many critics for his creative and interesting short films, winning him awards, invitations to major film festivals, and the respect of his peers. That must have been a huge burden, especially when you set the goal of writing a big budget blockbuster which, really, has nothing in common with the idea of blockbuster. As parts of the script and then the whole thing were circulated around the industry, a lot of people were buzzing this could turn into an exceptional film. Securing Song Kang-Ho for the role, one of the most dedicated, talented, and popular actors in the country. Yoo Ji-Tae, in spite of his popularity and image always choosing challenging roles. A team of largely unknown theater trained actors, extremely talented, perfect for those situations where ensemble acting takes center stage, even if magnificent special effects are waiting for you the moment you step out of your tent. It sounded like everything would go well: you have the budget, a great cast, people in and out of the circle are buzzing about it, all you needed to do was work hard and the result would repay all your years of suffering.
But it's never that easy. Im had to suffer through the life and death of many trends before he got a chance to work on his film. Finding funds was getting harder and harder every day, even those who usually champion diverse films refused Antarctic Journal because it was too bleak. And even when he finally got that deserved chance, it wasn't the end of his struggling. You could tell Im was incredibly stressed at the press screening. That he was trying to defend his baby no matter what, but the road to get there hit him strongly, possibly even changing him. Taking a page from the book he wrote, he was like his Do-Hyung, trying to reach his goal in spite of all the problems, only focusing on one thing; forgetting producers' warnings of spin doctoring, problems with funds and shooting, fickle audience expectations, the comfortable safety of cliches, conventional narrative and expensive special effects taking center stage. If only his film could communicate exactly what he wanted, he would have been happy. But getting to that pole of inaccessibility called audience satisfaction was harder than he thought. Reaching the end of his long, agonizing journey, he found out it was only the beginning of a new one.
8/10/2005 - Wednesday
What do the names Jang Jin, Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook and Ryu Seung-Wan make you think about? All talented and acclaimed directors, who tend to focus their attention on stage actors to fill the names "after the title," instead of employing some pretty star from a TV Drama. This large focus on stage actors has created some of the most memorable characters in Korean Cinema, some becoming a cult. But other than good acting, what's the real benefit of casting people who have theater running through their veins? Think about the setting of the film. A tent: oppressive, small, claustrophobic and isolating; and outside the tent it's the same thing. You have all the space in the world but you're confined by your imagination, your fears. You can see for miles, but you can't follow the right path without the use of machines. This self-contained habitat asks actors to convey emotions and states of mind that are difficult to portray. And theater is the perfect way to bring out that ensemble work that uses real interaction, communication and acting skills instead of funky camera tricks or multiple takes. In a film which spends surprisingly little talking about its characters, their chemistry and delivery teaches us more about them than any flashback could.
Song Kang-Ho knows that feeling best. When he popped up out of nowhere (in reality years of theater work), in Hong Sang-Soo's debut film, I would have challenged anyone to predict he would become part of his generation's 'troika' of most popular and talented actors (the other two are Choi Min-Shik and Seol Kyung-Gu, obviously). Supporting roles that became legendary, like the gangster in No. 3, dispensing life affirming 'lessons' to his 불사파 (아닐 불, 죽을 사...the gang that never dies) apostles about that Hungry Spirit. Never transforming his image significantly, yet constantly changing roles like a chameleon. A North Korean soldier, part fabricated machismo, part human warmth ready to explode out of that skeleton of propaganda (JSA). The epitome of the everyday man, Peterpan meets Robot Taekwon V having to face the real world, when growing up means giving up all your youth for a paycheck (The Foul King). A ruthless and cold man, exploding inside and lusting for vengeance (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance). All those roles solidified Song as an icon of acting prowess, able to penetrate the screen like few others, creating memorable moments out of a few pages of dialogue. In Antarctic Journal he has a very important burden on his shoulders: he's the bad guy here. He has to convey all the intensity and egotistical nature of his character, but I can't help but feel fascinated about Do-Hyung. He's like a wandering spirit waiting for an opening, allowing him to come back to life. His face's depth evoking decades of pain. Song, simply put, is magnificent here. Not a false step, not an unnecessary word, an excessive movement. The look on his face at the end of the film explains in one instant what that Pole of Inaccessibility really was.
Even though the film ably moves from first to third person, all things considered, Yoo Ji-Tae is the real center, the focus of the story. The film moves along like a diary, an old journal. Some pages are torn off, hard to comprehend. Some are completely omitted. Some full of life and hope, but most showing fear, apprehension and anticipation. While his characterization as the 'rookie' is little more than ordinary and this is not a huge stretch for Yoo, his performance improves tenfold whenever he's close to Song. Yoo has become a really smart actor, choosing the right roles, with good people in front and behind the camera. And while some might overlook his weaknesses behind the strength of the projects he chooses, he smartly irons out those weak points by himself. He's constantly improving, and although we don't know yet how deep his acting range really is, he has finally built his own unique screen presence and charisma.
8/11/2005 - Thursday
Japan is blessed with so many great music directors: Kanno Yoko, Sakamoto Ryuichi, Hisaishi Jo. And Kawai Kenji. His scores don't have that incredible diversity like Kanno, that magical and involving feeling like Hisaishi, or that majestic tone like Sakamoto. But they are still a treat. The first sound that pops to mind at the mention of Kawai's name is that Bulgarian chorus in 攻殻機動隊 (Ghost in The Shell), or the spine chilling soprano in Avalon. God, I could watch the entire film with my eyes closed, for it's so invigorating, so drenched in ethnic nuances yet so unique. His work in Antarctic Journal is top notch: simple but effective, balancing the different genres on display, carrying dialogue-less scenes like a supporting actor, quietly helping the film move along in the background. The score in the final scenes brings new meaning to spine chilling. He conveys the desolation, desperation and loneliness of the team with one simple melody, and combined with the actors' expressions it makes for one of the film's most memorable scenes.
8/12/2005 - Friday
So what is Antarctic Journal at the end? Is it a character study, a glacially brutal horror film, a psychological thriller about the monsters inside men's personalities? Perhaps all of them, and then again maybe none. That last look in Do-Hyung's face reminds me of 살인의 추억 (Memories of Murder). That look that shines in your face when you realize there's no end to ambition, that just working hard, putting everything into a desire sometimes is not enough, when you let that raw emotion cloud your judgment. When you let personal factors, prejudices, weaknesses influence decisions that do not only concern yourself. That look might have been the same Im Pil-Sung had after that maligned press screening, after reading the first reviews. All that ambition, all that hard work, all those promising signs. Were they all in vain? Was the pressure too hard, the conditions too harsh, the payoff impossible?
How can I judge a film like this is something I still haven't come to terms with. For people who truly love films, who see them as something more than filler for dates, experiencing a great film is like entering the relationship of your life: you see no faults in that person at first, no matter what other people say, you continue head on, trusting your instincts. Then, as life goes on, you learn to understand and accept that person's faults and weaknesses. To other people's eyes, all there is to see is faults, they can't find positive aspects to something they think they don't like. But I can't really say I'm at either of those stages. Is Antarctic Journal merely a great film marred by some problems inherent with the system? Just like Kim Jee-woon's delicious 장화, 홍련 (A Tale Of Two Sisters) shooting on its own feet, trying to explain what it beautifully concealed through its characters' mind for two hours? Too bleak and dark to appeal to the average masses, too fragmented and intelligent to sit comfortably within the conventions of one single genre, too in love with its atmosphere to trust characterization on the audience's ability to extrapolate it from the actors' performances? The judgment is up to you, to what kind of things you look for in a film, to how much those flashy moving pictures involve you on a personal level. I might fail my job as a reviewer today not passing yet that judgment on this film, but I'm not ready. I'm still looking for answers to the myriad of questions the movie creates, questions it never answers because it respects the viewer enough to let him or her find them themselves. I might never reach those conclusions after all, be it my or the film's fault. Call it my very own Pole of Inaccessibility, but the only thing I want to do right now is watch it again. And again.
8/13/2005 - Saturday
... PLAY ...
VIDEO, AUDIO & SUBTITLES
A top notch presentation. Considering how many different styles of shooting the film uses, how many lenses, different ranges, the amount of wide shots, and more, the picture quality fares really well. There's some minor digital noise, but it's really not significant enough to be noticed. Skin tones are natural whenever the scenes allow it (inside the tent the lighting is set up in a way that makes it difficult to comment about any flaws). Whites look magnificent, especially during the whiteout scenes, and there's no sign of compression artifacts or motion blur. Sound is excellent: a lot of people complained that they couldn't hear the dialogue clearly in theaters, but they clearly solved everything here, as all the lines are clean and crisp. The great score by Kawai Kenji erupts, especially at the end, involving the surround channels in a nice way.
Subtitles are quite good, with a few problems. A nice, clear font; no timing problems, and no syntax or spelling mistakes. Translation is generally good to very good, but I feel it betrays the different "tones" (and I'm not talking about deferential/polite, etc.) and styles of speech the different team members use, from dialect to concise phrases, and the like. It's nothing that will take away anything from the film, if not a little more colour to the characters' personalities. It also lacks style in dealing with the characters' confrontations, every single curse or sarcastic word ending up as a collection of F words.
Commentary with Director Im Pil-Sung, Song Kang-Ho, Yoo Ji-Tae, Kim Byung-Ik, Choi Deok-Moon, Yoon Je-Moon, Park Hee-Soon
If there's a great thing about DVDs, all the technological improvements set aside, that is certainly commentaries. And especially as far as Korean DVDs go, a special commentary can elevate releases from obscurity. Listening to people like Song Kang-Ho, Ryu Seung-Wan, Park Chan-Wook, Park Joong-Hoon talk for 2 hours about their work is always one of the things I look forward to when a DVD is released. This is another example, no surprise considering Song Kang-Ho is in it. Forget you're listening to a commentary, sitting on your sofa or bed. Imagine you're at a restaurant, eavesdropping these people, while they're having a drink and discussing about the film. This should be an example to many other DVD companies (Western or not) that slap dry separate tracks together thinking that'll make for good listening. The fact so many people join in on the discussion, sometimes joking, sometimes showing their affection for the work they just finished, sometimes seemingly angry about the reactions it created. Those are all the hallmarks of a great commentary. Amongst the many, many interesting arguments discussed:
- The CG on the Sidus logo. At first they thought about doing it from the Showbox logo on, but it was too wild and complicated to do. Even if it's shorter and they had a hard time doing it, the end result looks quite good.
- They talk about how the New Zealand locations they shot at could only be reached via helicopter, so everything and everyone became even more nervous. The cinematographer took running shots with the helicopter for two days, so the end results in the opening credits was achieved after intensive editing.
- A lot of the scenes in the tent, at the beginning, had to be reshot because they didn't have the right rhythm to set the film on the right footing from the beginning. It was May, in the set in Yangsuri, the first few scenes after cranking in. They discuss how the early scenes in the tent had a very natural feeling, showing the connection between team members.
- The (in)famous "eye in the can" scene. People mistook it for an alien eye, maybe tied to all that "virus" conspiracy theories that popped up in various scientific magazines (like Nexus). He just thought it could have been the eye of someone from the English expedition.
- A lot more scenes in the tent, with dialogue better establishing the characters' personalities, were shot but later removed for pacing issues.
- About the scene where Choi Deok-Moon and Song Kang-Ho have that meeting shot Spaghetti-Western style, Im worried about the shooting style (cinemascope) and how that would reflect on Video, which is still Letterbox-dependent.
- They commented how a lot of the walking scenes had CG add-ons and higher shots because there was very little snow in some parts of the New Zealand locations.
- The lighting, make up and props of the tent were all set up to match the emotional content of the scenes, with more closeups to increase the impact.
- Im and Song emphasized that the horror seen in the film is not the kind you find in genre films, but more a psychological horror about human nature. They commented how a lot of viewers and even critics misunderstood the film and its code. They say instead of following the genre's formulas, if they want to understand the film they should instead look at the character's mental state and personalities.
- Something a lot of people were confused about, the photos Young-Min takes connect to the images in the diary. That's the feeling Im wanted to evoke.
- Yoo says something really important, that he sees the film as similar to David Lynch's work. Director Im says he'd like people to accept its diversity with an open mind, especially critics.
- A lot of people were surprised about the scene where Young-Min falls into the water, and later is safe walking again. How can that happen? Im thought it was quite obvious with all the atmosphere and the music giving hints to it being a dream, but they didn't have time to shoot something more explanatory and just assumed people would understand.
- The cabin Do-Hyung and Min-Jae find later in the film wasn't that Norwegian emergency refuge they talk about in the film, but Scott's base camp from the original expedition to the South Pole, when Amundsen reached it for first. They actually found about this in a museum when staying near Wellington.
- Song comments how people who watch a lot of film and TV Dramas, and absorb their conventions and formulas as if they were the only way to go, will have a hard time understand the film.
- Im hopes the film will be re-evaluated in the future as something that shook the table, changing some conventions.
- They talked about the music at the end having already featured in another film (Oshii Mamoru's Avalon), but Im thought it fit perfectly with the final emotions of the end.
- In conclusion, Im felt that while there were some weird happenings and he does have some regrets, this is a film he can be proud about. Song joins in saying it's something he will never forget, and it's a film that will live in people's imagination for a long time.
Commentary with Director Im Pil-Sung, Director of Photography Jung Jung-Hoon, Art Director Hwang In-Joon, CG Director Jung Sung-Jin
Although many people participated in this, it still is not that different from similar commentaries. A lot of technical insight (about Digital Intermediate and colouring techniques, different shooting styles, lighting and CG), some scene specific commentary, and that's about it. I really don't see the point of commentaries like this when all those arguments can be discussed in a 15-20 Minutes featurette effectively. Unless you're in this line of work or love detailed explanation and discussion about Dolly and Steady Cams, focus and range, CG and similar things, I doubt you'll last two hours listening to this.
1. 그곳이 모든 것의 시작이었다 - 메이킹필름, CG효과
(It All Started There - Making Film, CG Effects)
메이킹 필름 (Making Film) [42'45"]
Another really excellent Making Of featurette. Although it's not as good as the ones in The President's Last Bang or Bittersweet Life DVD, it's still way above average. I think most people will enjoy this even without subtitles. The documentary opens with the actors training at the Ski Resort in Korea, where the supervisor is training them. It seems as if it's an easy thing to carry, but those pods weighed in excess of 100Kg. In fact, Director Im sat on the pod while the actors were carrying it to become accustomed to the weight. Supervisor Park explains the 'lifestyle' inside the tent: how to sleep, how to eat and control the weight of their bags, discussing it with the actors. He also gives a final briefing, explaining the various equipment the cast will use during the shoot.
The rehearsal is shown, with the actors reading their lines. Pretty intense moments, but of course Song Kang-Ho always finds the time to fool around. They then show the opening ceremony (with the pig head et all, you should know by now what that is if you're familiar with Korean DVDs). I'm still fascinated by the tradition of letting the announcement paper burn completely. The shoot moves to New Zealand, and it's obvious things were a complete hell there. The actors are shown gasping for air as they reach the top of a small hill. The NZ crew arrives, and the two groups introduce each other. They used an interpreter, but the atmosphere seemed nice. The rest of the clip shows basically different shooting situation, on the set in Yangsuri and New Zealand, up to the crank up.
CG 효과 (CG Effects) [16'07"]
EON's Jung Sung-Jin explains the CG in the film. They've been working since 97, and the company is made of 12 members. People know about CG, but a lot of people ignore to what extent their work helps the film, sometimes in ways that are difficult to see in the finished product. The first scene he talks about is the opening, showing what they added in the background with before/after versions (and how they erased the helicopter's shadow). Second scene involves the first time they find the diary. It was shot in Yangsuri with a blue matte, and he explains how they made the final shot with the help of chroma key. The Cabin House destroyed by a blizzard is next, which was very difficult to create. The blizzard scene is shown, which took seven months of testing to get right. They show the initial NZ shoot and it looks nothing like the end result, a lot of work went into this scene. Jung explain the various changes that happen to wind and snow in a blizzard. Several layers were made to make the scene more realistic. The long panning shot at the end, which was completely CG, is explained. They shot a normal field in Winter with the diary and tied it to the tracking shot from the last scene. It took 4 months of tests to get the clouds in the sky to be as realistic as possible.
2. 남극일기 80년의 침목 - 삭제장면, 예고, 티저예고, 포토갤러리, 시사회, 포스터 촬영
(Antarctic Journal 80 Years' Tie - Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Teaser Trailer, Photo Gallery, Premiere, Poster Shooting)
삭제 장면 (Deleted Scenes) [6'56"]
Only three scenes involved. The first sees the members prepare to go out, wearing socks, putting food inside the bags, some reading (Yoo reads a scrap from a journal). Then the scene moves out with the entire expedition team walking. Im wanted to show how repetitive their life in the Antarctic was, but took this scene out because it would have slowed down the tempo of the first part of the film.
Second scene sees Yoon Je-Moon and Park Hee-Soon talking outside, intercutting with Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ji-Tae talking inside the tent. Im actually liked the scene as it was in the script, but didn't like the final result.
Final scene is a dream sequence at the end. Min-Jae is out in the summer, in what seems like a paradise. He asks about the Captain to the other members, they say he must be "still there having fun." Then Min-Jae wakes up near the P.O.I. with the E.L.T. flashing. It was really a shame Im couldn't use this, but because there were some problems with editing, they deleted it.
예고 (Theatrical Trailer) [1'58]
Really stylish, using Kawai's main theme with voiceovers and lines from the film. Too many spoilers, and the end is nothing special. Could have been better.
티저예고 (Teaser Traier) [1'41"]
Uses perhaps the most important line of the film (won't tell you which one, obviously!), with some cool shots. Much better than the theatrical trailer.
포토갤러리 (Photo Gallery) [2'59"]
Great photos (no silly graphics, just the stills) with the final theme of the film playing in the background, then moving to the main theme. Good stuff.
시사회 (Preview) [6'16"]
A quick clip showing the outside of the theater, the various posters and people outside waiting. The cast talks to the media (music only with some soundbites). Some of the other actors who came to see the film are shown, amongst them Ryu Seung-Beom, On Ju-Hwan, Shin Ha-Gyun, Kim Sang-Kyung and Im Soo-Jung. They show a few of the introductory interviews (including people from the NZ crew), and some of the reactions, including Kim Young-Cheol and Park Yong-Woo.
포스터 촬영 (Poster Shooting) [2'53"]
Clips of the poster shoot, probably in the same set they shot at in Yangsuri. They show make up for the actors, how they set up the shots, and more. The usual poster shoot featurette.
3. 그레바스 백색의 심연 - 탐험대원, 감독, 탐험가, 등 인터뷰
(The Abyss of The White Crevasse - Interviews With Cast and Crew)
탐험대원 (Team Members) [18'17"]
All the actors and director Im sit in a roundtable discussion about their personal reactions.
- First Feeling
Song Kang-Ho talks about the first press screening after working so hard. They could feel the nervousness of the director, something they could understand having worked so long for this project with him. The first reaction might not have been anything to write home about, but he feels they all did their best. Yoon Je-Moon commented how he was looking at every scene, spotting where the location was, and liked it a lot. Yoo Ji-Tae watched the film for the first time on 5-8 at the Jeonju International Film Festival. Of course people's reactions might differ, but he feels this is a film he can be proud about, and that feeling still remains the same after a few months. Park Hee-Soon couldn't really connect with the film on an emotional level, the way people could approach the film, because he worked on it, and suffered through hard times with his colleagues for so long. He could criticize his performance, but couldn't get rid of that nervous feeling, that burden about the film's reaction enough to relax. Kim Kyung-Ik obviously knew the content of the film, so he wondered more about his character, if people would accept it. Choi Deok-Moon joked he died quite fast. He felt it was a really powerful film, and liked it a lot.
- Special Training
Song talks about this film needing a different level of preparation, compared to other films. Having such a small cast, the rehearsals were really important to find each other's rhythm and give the right intensity to the scenes. Since this is not a film full of humanism, and is instead about people's psychological state and desires, they worked hard focusing on something that would intensify those feelings. Kim Kyung-Ik talked about the brief training they got for walking in the snow with weight on their shoulders.
- NG Scenes
Yoon Je-Moon jokes how when he was fighting with Park Hee-Soon in one of the scenes, they kept calling NG because he wouldn't hit him convincingly. Then he proposed to hit him for real, and at the first try it was approved by the director. Park Hee-Soon joked about how he was always the last person to leave the set. Even after the first screening they asked him back in the recording studio to do some ADR for the scene where he takes off the frostbite from his hand, in the tent.
Song thanks the people who went so far to buy the DVD of this film. That as time goes on there will be a chance to re-evaluate this work. Kim Kyung-Ik smartly comments that they reached their point of inaccessibility completing all the hard work to finish this film. Now what happens after that is up to the viewers.
임필성 감독 (Director Im Pil-Sung) [14'30"]
- First Script
Im told this many times before on various interviews, but the inspiration came from a 1999 TV Documentary about a Korean expedition team. In the middle of their expedition, one of the members fell sick and they had to give up. From there, he thought about the theme of the team, the weight on the captain's shoulders in making decisions that involved the group, the madness that can creep into people's minds.
More than giving importance to the real South Pole, the focus of the film is the idea of Antarctica in our minds, and the sentiments it evokes. He chose this setting because it was the freshest, and easiest to work with. He wanted to take the South Pole as a measuring stick for the pulse of the Earth. When things go badly all over the world, it's even worse there. He wanted to show a place where extremes took precedence over everything else, a place people know very little about.
His biggest influence was probably Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick.' The pursuit of the whale akin to the desire to reach that point of inaccessibility. He also loved Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining,' one of those films you can't explain with a simple sentence or two. There are a lot of similarities between Jack Nicholson and Song Kang-Ho's characters, whose lives become disrupted by madness.
- New Zealand
In preparing the film, they had three choices: Canada, Greenland and New Zealand. Canada was too expensive, and he knew the crew of 빙우 (Ice Rain) had a really hard time there. Greenland was too far, and too difficult to shoot. Conditions in New Zealand looked perfect. There were a lot of problems after 9/11, but it was a nice experience nonetheless.
Lots of people found genre-specific facets to the film, and looked for elements usually associated to blockbusters. But his film is different, it has a more classic feel, and heavy tone. You can't define it within the boundaries of any genre. And, if you look at it merely focusing on the plot and the spectacle, it might feel boring and give you a headache. Watching it with an open mind and heart might convey the emotional state of the characters, a certain classical beauty.
Two scenes in particular: the one where the team members are hallucinating and Young-Min falls into the water, then magically turns up safe the scene after that. A lot of people thought it was real, but it was in fact a nightmare. Because of time constraints they couldn't shoot additional scenes that would explain that moment, so the fact people misunderstood the scene, even though the atmosphere and sound effects were all creating the sense that it wasn't real, was regretful. Another was the climax. They worked hard on the CG, and there were no faults with the acting, but he thought they could have shot more, and make it even more dramatic.
- Cabin House
A lot of expeditions built base camps and refuges over the years, so it was perfectly plausible to have something like that survive, in the middle of nowhere. And even then, since this is a film, they didn't need to stick to reality all the time.
As an avid DVD collector, Im feels this media can be very important to get across the work that went into making a film. That the technical achievements of DVDs are fine, but we should also look for interesting, diverse content on DVD. To consider the film, and not only the packaging. The film could maybe not reach everybody's expectations, but he thinks they all worked tremendously hard, and the result shows it.
탐험 슈퍼바이저 박영석대장 (Expedition Supervisor, Captain Park Young-Seok) [5'57"]
Introduction about how he was able to work in this film.
- Key Point
It might be a film, but they did their best to make it as realistic as possible, getting across the right atmosphere, with realistic equipment.
He did a lot of research about the South Pole, how it feels, the weather, living inside a tent.
- Difficult Aspects
He didn't know the system, so it was hard to get what he wanted through, when he had to communicate via different layers of the hierarchy. More than difficult, it was uncomfortable.
- Press Screening Feeling
He got the feeling it was a difficult film to make, and that they worked hard. He worried about two things: whether the audience would accept the theme of the film, and if they could relate to Do-Hyung's character.
It was all used equipment, to give a more realistic feeling.
정정훈 촬영감독 - 황인준 미술감독 (Director of Photography Jung Jung-Hoon, Art Director Hwang In-Joon) [8'30"]
The two talk about how they were approached for the project, and their reactions after reading the script.
- Hardest Moments
For Jung, it was finding the right tone in New Zealand. With all those splendid landscapes, he worried about getting the right atmosphere. Hwang's first concern was communication, since it was his first time working overseas. He, like Jung, also worried about getting the right props and atmosphere in New Zealand.
They had a technical set team, and a set team helping them with the building of the sets, and finding the right tones. They designed everything in Korea in preproduction, then looked at the locations and adapted the rest to fit that atmosphere.
- Relationship with Foreign Staff
They had no significant differences in working styles, and communication wasn't that big a barrier. Hwang feels it's not important where you come from, but whether you love films or not. Then everything becomes easier. He's also thankful to the actors, who always helped the staff doing hard work.
4. 하얀 암흑으로 사라지다 ('남극일기' 보는 4가지 시선)
(Disappearing into the 'White Darkness' - 4 ways to interpret Antarctic Journal)
An excellent featurette asking four famous directors (and friends of Director Im, above all else) offering their views about the film.
Director Kim Jee-woon [9'20"]
Kim looked at the reaction the film created at the press screening, and thought people misunderstood the film. Since it was a film about the South Pole (at least on the surface), people looked too much at the spectacle. Instead, he thought the director's intention, before all that, was to show human nature. If more people approached the film that way, they probably would have reacted in a different way.
Of course it's impossible to have no regrets. There's good and bad points to every film. But one thing in particular should have been emphasized in his opinion. If Im put more focus on the father-son relationship about Do-Hyung, right from the beginning instead of emerging in the middle, the theme would have been stronger, and the end more powerful.
Kim gives great praise to Song Kang-Ho, for his almost magical ability to carry a monster inside his character, ready to explode. Those looks, expression and atmosphere is something only Song could convey so perfectly.
About Yoo Ji-Tae, he was surprised at how much he improved in such a short time. Especially his role in Oldboy was an eye opener.
Kim thinks about critics' and the public's reactions about the film. Are this year's film worse than last year? He doesn't think so. But the biggest problem is that you can't figure out why people aren't coming to theaters as much as they used to. It could be because of the bad economy, but it's a big burden and source of stress not knowing why your film fails, and that you can't really do anything about it. He just hopes the film will be re-evaluated in the future.
Director Ryu Seung-Wan [13'48"]
- Press Screening Feeling
Ryu, and other people involved in some way or form with the film, emotionally or not, had huge expectations for the film. Perhaps too big, becoming something more important than the film itself. He personally talked a lot with Im about the project, but was really nervous and curious to see the final result. He felt it was a really interesting experience, above all other feelings.
Again huge praise for Song Kang-Ho, who Ryu calls a 'monster actor.' Possessing a kind of acting tone hard to find in other Korean films. Particular scenes, like the one where he eats the battery, or at the end, highlight that feeling perfectly. Although, at the beginning, he got a feeling of this being more like an action film - because of the way it was cut - as the film went on the character of Choi Do-Hyung and the monster inside him took center stage.
Although the performances were all good, Ryu felt the characters outside the two leads had too much of an uniform tone to their personality, even though thy had good chemistry.
- Public Reviews and Criticism
Ryu understands how many other people might sometimes feel to lazy to rent a video or DVD, and go the DivX way. But he feels the more you go that way, the worse your tolerance level for films gets. And that unique 'film experience' suffers as a result. Looking at reactions on the Internet, he feels people are too quick to judge a film. They use the same meter for films and TV Dramas (like those people who ask to change how a Drama ends on some message boards), certainly two different things, and often point their fingers at the film's content even when they're the ones who don't understand it. Too quick to judge, to throw away years of hard work, sometimes throwing silly rumours in the mix, like that ridiculous rumour popping up on some message boards saying Yoo Ji-Tae was the killer. Of course people have the right to express their opinions about a film, but too many people do that without considering how the film was made, without looking at the content with an open mind. If they don't understand the film, it always ends up being the filmmakers' fault, not their own. He finds that very regretful.
- Director Im Pil-Sung
He thinks of him as someone like Peter Jackson, working his way up from the bottom. He talks about their friendship, the fact they share a lot in common, from the way they approach films, to the way they were 'brought up,' not going to film school, having to work part time jobs to pay for their short films. He emphasized the anger and energy that transpires from Im's films, that enthusiasm to continue making films. He thinks they have similar personalities regarding film, and will be friends for a long time.
Director Bong Joon-Ho [7'50"]
On top of Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ji-Tae, two of the best actors in the country, Bong was impressed about the other actors. The other supporting characters were played by what's basically the best of Daehak-Ro's (the Korean Broadway, so to speak) lineup. If you add Kang Hye-Jung to the mix, that made the film's cast even more impressive, and perhaps added to the burden of making the film.
Bong talked about how he shared the burden of writing the script with Im for two months. Since he already shot a film and went through that experience, before going into the shooting for Memories of Murder, he helped Im add more colour to the film.
Bong feels a little embarrassed sharing the "written by" title with Im and his collaborator. He just helped with a few details for a couple of months, like what happens after one of the characters falls into the crevasse. He also drew that figure seen from behind for the Antarctic Journal, and the end result was very similar to his original writing. He helped with some of Kang Hye-Jung's dialogue, and what happens at the end, after sunset. Doing so little and being rewarded like that, he feels kind of sorry because the other two worked so hard.
- Audience Reaction
While the film wasn't well received by the masses, he feels the Video and DVD releases are a good chance to re-evaluate the film in a different light. That the film is not about the horror of the South Pole, or genre convention, but instead about the point of inaccessibility buried inside our human nature.
Of course people might like the film or not, but it's a very challenging and brave film, for taking so many risks. People complain Korean films are all the same, that they all follow the current trend with no regards for creativity. This is a good film for those people to see not all Korean films are like that. A film that should be approached with an open mind, a film we can be proud of, because it didn't follow the same conventions those people complained about.
Director Jung Yoon-Cheol [9'08"]
- Press Screening Feeling
In every debut film, the strongest feeling emphasized is your personal view of the world. Im's film could have become a normal adventure film, but instead became like a great greek tragedy, showing people's inability to realize their desires. He was very surprised at the end result.
- Im Pil-Sung
Even though they worked together as a junior/senior in the past, they were close and saw each other often, they have different outlooks about filmmaking. He couldn't explain it in such a short time, but while Im is very honest in making his films, he can't really be. He's always been envious about that aspect of Im's style. With those two top talents, it certainly wasn't up to some people's expectations, but it's still nonetheless an important film in 2005.
More than straight fantasy, there's elements deviating from realism in this film. Showing different faces and sides to a way of living is an important quality to be found in a director.
Making commercial films is hard, you always wonder what to do next. Some people talk about the dreams they want to have, other people want to have. Some others, like in Mulholland Drive, talk about weird and unique dreams. That's a fascinating thing, but he would rather focus on something that can involve everybody, something anyone can dream. That's always a kind of struggle for a director. He hopes Im will continue to show that beautiful side to the scary, sad dreams we make.
5. 하늘엔 태양이 보이질 않는다 - 콘티
(You can't see the Sun in the Sky - Storyboards/Continuity Book)
Pretty self-explanatory. The Continuity is shown an the bottom, the real scene on top. The storyboards have a nice 'classic comics' feeling to them. Here's a list of the scenes covered with length and explanation.
The team finds the Antarctic Journal, Kim Min-Jae takes it.
The team fights about who should lead.
The team walks and starts to hallucinate.
6. 도달불능점 (P.O.I.) 세계의 끝 - 임필성 감독님의 단편영화 '소년기'
(End of The World of P.O.I. - Im Pil-Sung's Short Film 'Brushing')
Intro by Im Pil-Sung [1'38"]
Director Im introduces his short film, saying that while it's not his favorite (that'd be 모빌 - Mobil, the short he made in 2003), this will be the perfect introduction to his filmmaking style. Those who liked Antarctic Journal will certainly like the short as well, whereas those who didn't will have another chance to understand Im's cinematic world.
소년기 (Brushing, 1997)
No Subs - 4:3 OAR - [22:16]
Starring 정승원 (Jung Seung-Won), 장우성 (Jang Woo-Sung), 양지혜 (Yang Ji-Hye), 장인환 (Jang In-Hwan), 박용수 (Park Yong-Soo)
A lot of shorts you find as special features on DVD are of the ordinary type. Just works that the director made as a student (be it locally or abroad), that hopefully say something about the style we'd later see in his feature films. I can only remember a few really memorable: Park Chan-Wook's 신판 (Judgment), part of the amazing Oldboy UE; Jung Jae-Eun's two shorts on the second disc of the 공양이를 부탁해 (Take Care of My Cat) DVD, and little else. But this takes the cake, it's worth the price of the DVD alone.
Imagine if back when 'Home Alone' was shooting, David Lynch abducted director Chris Columbus, tied his hands and stuck him inside a cage, then continued directing the film his own way. A plump teenager begins the film with a voiceover: "I want to run away, go to that place where nobody hates me." What follows is a very personal, abstract and ingeniously creative "Bizarro World" rendition of the Macaulay Culkin film.
Two parents in the living room, discussing projects for their upcoming trip. Will the boy be fine alone? Should she stay home with him? She is peeling some apples, it's like your average 80s TV Drama, Jesus Christ in the middle, TV as background noise. But wait! She cuts her finger, blood on the apple. You'd think the husband would rush to get some ointment, but no, he just stares at her and eats the apple like nothing happened. Is he a monster, or what?
Dinner table, moments before the trip. The older brother worries about Grandfather, how can they leave him alone with Young-Min, for two days? He also warns him to not dare touch his things while they're away. Young-Min leaves the table before everyone else, he screams he doesn't want to stay with Dad anymore. All he gets is a beating, they all hate him. He's alone in the world.
But finally they leave, and then it's freedom for him. Freedom to go and do whatever he wants. But there's always Grandfather to care take of. He never liked him anyway, always spitting, throwing stuff, being mean. He wants to kill him, before he does the same to him.
Since nobody is there, he ventures into his brother's room. Looking at his stuff was always fun, you could find cool things in his closets, like money, weird toys, comics....and something he was not supposed to find. Brother told him, not to touch his things, but the curiosity is too strong, he wants to see what's inside that locked closet. At all costs.
This might be the best Korean short film I've ever seen, although I admit I still haven't been able to find Song Il-Gon's acclaimed 소풍 (Picnic), which won at Cannes. It's weird, masterfully shot with extreme closeups, brutally frank with things other films don't bother to show. It has that magical charm of youthful curiosity mixed with dark deadpan humour. But it's the details that make this a joy to watch, the inventive creativity of the different shots. Like in Park Chan-Wook's films, Im is able to showcase his style even in the simplest situation. From the first second to the ending credits, writing the family's patriarchal roles in Hanja (父, 母 and so on) maybe to emphasize the gap between the kid's way of thinking and the adult world, to the bizarre rendition of 'White Christmas,' with only harmonica improvising and a bassoon carrying the rhythm (think EoEoBu Project, that kind of style). A must see, and the absence of Subtitles will not be of any significance, except that first voiceover.
Included in the package is a booklet with the entire script of the film. It begins introducing Cast & Crew, a quick glossary, and then the script. Really high quality, and a good read if you like the film.
Opinions, personal preferences put aside, I think this is an important film for Korean Cinema. It shows if you have a good idea and enough perseverance, you can make a great film. Of course there's many ways to approach films, and even more ways to judge them. But films like these teach us that we should respect this profession a little more, given how much work goes into it. The only thing I can hope is that my personal interpretation and the way I approached the film after watching it a few times will be of help to other people in making up their own view. Because that's really what reviewing films is all about (in my book, anyway): give enough food for thought to allow other people to approach films with an open mind. Of course, whether that interpretation is right or wrong, that's ultimately up to you to decide. This is a very challenging film in many ways, but if you open your eyes to the kind of filmmaking that isn't just content staying within genre conventions, you might appreciate Antarctic Journal a little more. What's for sure though is that you need to watch this film, if you care about Korean Cinema and its development; because we need more films like this, challenging the idea that when a lot of money is at risk you have to play safe; that creativity can only exist in the realm of independent and short films. You should watch it, and while you're at it watch it again, for it's not an easy film to understand with only one viewing.
Then of course there's the quality of the DVD, which is exceptional. Extra features go in depth about what's really important, like how the actors and directors approached the film, the ideas and concepts they wanted to convey. And, even better, they actually help you understand the film in ways a normal review cannot do. And then there's that wacky, incredible little short film. Love it or hate it, I promise you. You will not forget this film.
Audio: Korean Dolby Digital 6.1 EX
English and Korean Subtitles
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, NTSC, Dual Layer, Region 3
Released By enterOne on 7/21/2005
달콤한 인생 (A Bittersweet Life) Director's Cut DVD
그때 그사람들 (The President's Last Bang) DVD
Next Weekend's Review:
주먹이 운다 (Crying Fist)