BiFan 2023 Review: INVISIBLE MAN, 80s Korean Genre Curio Delights with Its Sincere Heart and Cheesy Effects

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
BiFan 2023 Review: INVISIBLE MAN, 80s Korean Genre Curio Delights with Its Sincere Heart and Cheesy Effects

Mix one part H.G. Wells, one part John Carpenter (Memoirs of an Invisible Man) and about a dozen parts 80s Korean cheese and you'll probably wind up with something resembling the charming Invisible Man, an endearingly lo-fi and utterly forgotten Korean genre curio that was yanked out of the Korean Film Archive for a rare screening at this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan).

The story, such as it is, concerns a man whose avarice brings him to a laboratory where he is doused in chemicals that turn him invisible. Without an antidote, a Wellsian invisible man briefly wells up in him. So, with the help of his girlfriend and a flying car, he enters a life of crime. He soon abandons this, however, in favour of more altruistic efforts, which involve helping conned family members and, naturally, the cute orphaned charges of his dance teacher lover.

Invisible Man isn't the earliest Korean screen appearance of a transparent man -- they date back to the early 1960s -- but it's the earliest surviving one. In this debut film by Kim Ki-chung (he would only go on to make one other, 1989's Forest Fire), invisibility effects amount to props dangling around on strings which are often visible on screen. The spooked players yuk it up on screen -- the film was surely intended for children -- and the result is rather delightful. Pickpockets are tricked into thinking the've punched each other and drunk criminals hallucinate until they're scared out of their wits.

Speaking of pickpockets, the invisible man and his girlfriend are mugged several times in the story, with the perpetrators brought to justice each time; who knew that Seoul was such a dangerous place for invisible people?

Yet it's the flying car effects that prove the most memorable. Utilizing outrageously cheap technology, the image of a car is superimposed on very low resolution 2D panes of 80s Seoul. The film is so earnest and the cast so game for the silliness they've signed on for that it actually works in the film's favor.

There are also some loopy non-sequiturs featuring footage that may not even have been shot for the film. Chief among them is the extended dream sequence of one of the girlfriend's orphanaged charges, until now (and subsequently) a glorified extra.

For no reason at all, he explains his dream about an elephant shaving a man, and that's exactly what the film shows us, only it's actually a slapstick performance from a real circus. We get a greatest hits reel of the circus' top acts until we return to the story. The little boy is none the wiser, and neither are we. But no matter, for we've all been entertained.

Invisible Man is no masterpiece, but its charm offensive and can-do attitude are hard to resist, particularly if watched with a receptive audience.

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1980s KoreaInvisible ManKOFAKorean Film ArchiveKorean genre film

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