Just thinking back to the movie makes me feel a bit nauseous. More about that later but first: as part of a “The Year of the 12 Directors” organised by the Korean Culture Centre, director E J-Yong came to answer a few questions about his 2009 movie. E J-Yong is the 2nd director of this series and you can read about the first director here. As part of the E J-Yong month, the KCC screened his earlier movies such as Dasepo Naughty Girls and Untold Scandal. Having seen Dasepo Naughty girls before I somehow expected something very bizarre, colourful and quirky. Before the movie started, the director came to greet us and say a few words about the movie. He explained that the actresses in this movie are very well known in Korea and people know a lot about their personal lives. So the effect it would have on us would be different. I imagine it would be like if Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez and Judy Dench were in a room together, actresses who are very present in the public eye and whom we feel we know personally.
The Actresses is advertised on the concept that it is a docudrama. The program states that E J-yong “mixes reality with fiction by bringing together top actresses to play themselves on screen.” It played on the idea that it was mostly improvisation and what we are about to witness is a kind of documentary on the gossips and tales told during a delayed photoshoot. We expect up front and very intimate feelings to be revealed, to see a very different side to all these well known actresses.
The movie started off like a quick paced photoshoot/high fashion catwalk show video montage. People were running around preparing, make up artists, rails of clothes flying around, storyboards, hipsters thinking. It is all filmed in the “shaky hand cam” style to emphasis how “real” this is, a style of filming that is very frequent in documentaries. The camera is constantly moving around with rapid edits, it kind of feels like you are actually physically there looking around, looking here and there. This complemented the energy of the scene very well and you feel part of the action, almost voyeuristic as the camera peeks over clothes rails and from behind curtains. This was a great way to start the movie. My only problem was that it never stops. 30 minutes into the movie I felt like I had been on a boat during a rapid storm and was dangerously close to throwing up on the poor people sat in front of me. From this point I had to close my eyes and although I am a Korean student, I was no where near advanced enough to understand what they were talking about without the help of subtitles, which probably added to the motion sickness. Even now, just thinking back to the movie makes me turn pale. But I will be strong for you guys.
Luckily (or unluckily?), this movie is very much dialogue based so even when I was not looking I was not missing much of the action and had a general idea of what was happening. But lets talk about what I did see. The entrance of the actresses felt really well thought out, from their style of entrances you really get a sense of their character, so as a foreign audience, we still enter the movie with a preconception of these actresses. But, it does not feel real at all, yes the actresses are bare faced and in slightly embarrassing situations, but it feels a bit too planned out and staged. We see the actresses in their “private lives” and how they are when they arrive, the camera purposely reveals certain little quirks of each actresses to you. So far I do not feel like any part of this movie feels like a documentary, but being a girl, I loved it, its a glamorous photoshoot with beautiful actresses. At this point, the camera work and editing become very jumpy and rapid and I had to close my eyes. I opened them again every now and then and I remember seeing alcohol flowing and the camera getting shakier, perhaps a clever way to portray drunkenness, either way it did not sit well with me. As I was quietly meditating to myself, I also remember hearing a fight between the two more successful actresses, otherwise I don’t really remember much…
I was able to return to the movie when it started to snow and the girls all gathered; it was a beautiful and calm scene. It is set in Christmas time and the actresses (who all seem like they have suddenly become best friends) gather around a table and have a chitchat. From what I saw, the conversation did seem quite interesting, but it was not anything ground-breaking. Infact it was what you expect actresses to talk about, their rivals, their love lives, in a way things we wanted them to talk about so it was a win win situation really. But as the champagne flowed, so did the camera, so it was back to darkness for me. But as I listened to the actresses chat away, it felt really nice and warming. I felt like a child again, sleeping on my mothers lap as she gossiped away with female friends. Even though I didn’t understand the language, I felt that the actresses mimicked the intimacy of gossiping ladies very well. The conversation flowed and there were ups and downs, at one point I opened my eyes to a table of crying ladies, typical…
During question time, the director explained that there was no script and actresses were only given key words to prompt conversation. This was so we can hear “real” chats from the actresses. But at the end of the day how much can an actress open up? Even today E J-Yong states that even he doesn’t know how much of it was real. I personally felt that the conversations flowed a little too well, and they said what they wanted us to hear. It felt very much like some of these actresses had something to prove, a image to fight or confirm. The actress who was portrayed to be a little bit double sided at the beginning state how she felt the need to go against how people expected her to be, hence this “happy go lucky” personality she had developed. It felt like a perfect hammer on nail moment and too staged.
The one documentary style it lacked was talking to camera, this is the one thing that stopped us from feeling that we were seeing a real and honest side of the actresses. It kind of felt like they relied too heavily on the shakey hand cam for the documentary effect, sometimes you feel that the camera does a sudden sway just to remind you that “this is a documentary” which was complete overkill. At the end of the movie all the actresses leave together like a movie happy ending. But, this was quickly followed by a quick interview where the actresses seemed more like themselves and real, but they say certain things that seem to oppose what happened earlier. It was kind of like the director was saying “in image conscious Korea, can we really trust actresses to be upfront and honest”?
I feel like I have rambled on for too long about a movie I only really watched about 40% of. To summarise, I feel that this is a complete movie. Maybe its because I’m not too familiar with the actresses or maybe its because I spent a majority of the movie with my eyes closed. But I feel like everything went to smoothly, too Hollywood perfect. There were no awkward moments, no silences, nothing you would expect in a natural social situation. The logic of the story line also seemed a bit flawed. As close as Japan is, I don’t think its close enough to have gems shipped over and be ready for a shoot in an hour… It was held up by a snow storm in Japan and it did not snow in Korea where the movie was set until the later half of the movie… And from what I watched, by the end, the gems were still stuck in Japan… How did they ever think it was possible in the first place?!?!
Overall, I give this movie a GOOD because it is a nice movie. Its probably just me being over sensitive to camera movement so I can’t really blame them for that. I would actually love to watch this movie properly one day and see all the gossiping, but I would view it as a movie about actresses playing actresses. Just like Sex and the City, a movie about amazing woman talking about woman dramas whilst dressed fabulously. I would recommend people check it out but not to expect too much of documentary element and maybe watch it on a smaller screen if you are prone to motion sickness.
FUN FACT. The movie was filmed in June which is when the Winter Spring collection of clothing came out so the photoshoot was a perfect and FABULOUS chance to showcase the new clothes. The movie was also filmed in 10 days over a period of 2 weeks!!!