The second screening in this year’s documentary strand, this movie left you wondering what the director’s intentions were. Indeed, it made you wonder whether there was another guiding spirit which took over the film-making process, editing and shaping the unfinished work of the director. And then you looked at the credits, and discovered that there were two directors: Mun Jeong-hyun and Lee Won-woo. Mun seems to be the man behind the camera, and maybe Lee is the narrator.
The movie starts conventionally enough, documenting the work of a Seoul charity club which provides social facilities and summer camps for people with Downs Syndrome. We see how working with the young people not only benefits the club members as they grow and become more confident in themselves but also is incredibly rewarding work for the volunteers and indeed the film-makers.
Gradually events outside of the core focus of the documentary intrude: the Yongsan tragedy, the extreme rains which caused landslides in Seoul in (2010), themes of urban regeneration, the candlelight protests against Lee Myung-bak, the funeral of Roh Moo-hyun, and even the Sewol disaster. We are left in no doubt that director Mun Jeong-hyun is not a supporter of the Saenuri party. But as well as this political element to the film, it also takes a more self-reflexive dimension. The urban regeneration impacts the director, as the demolition of an overpass and associated building works threatens Mun’s neighbourhood. More poignantly, we learn that his soon-to-be born son is likely to have Downs Syndrome himself.
It is sad that the message of this film was let down by poor subtitling, to the extent that you couldn’t be certain that some of the more startling statements were actually what the makers intended. Twice, the subtitles talked about what the director would be like in the year 2200. Given that he seemed to be a heavy drinker, drinking until 7 or 8am in the morning and then surviving the rest of the day on a severe hangover, it seemed plausible that he wouldn’t even survive until 2020.
And this is where the question arises about who “made” the film. The narrator, who is unnamed but presumably co-director Lee Won-woo, first starts talking about the work of the club and then imperceptibly starts talking about director Mun, as if she has taken over the making of the film from him – it’s almost as if she has posthumously edited the director’s footage into a tribute to the man who has perhaps drunk himself into an early grave, driven to drink by the inequalities of contemporary Korea.
This is an intriguing multi-layered creation, even though in the end you are left wondering what it is you have just watched.
Mun Jeong-hyun and Lee Won-woo: Collapse (2014)