Starring: Yun Yeo-jeong, Kim Ok-vin
Director: EJ Yong
In Seoul, EJ Yong, a director known for his fondness for innovation, is asked by an electronics company to make a short promo celebrating the power of mobile technology. He agrees, and then he has another idea – why not go one step further and direct the movie via Skype rather than in person? What better celebration of mobile technology could there be than that? So the actors, shivering in a bitter Korean winter, are assembled for an intensive two-day shoot, only to be presented with the director’s face on a TV screen and to learn that he’s miles away, in sunny Los Angeles. The movie we see is a documentary about what happens next.
Or is it? Whether E (as he’s known to his friends) is actually in Hollywood, as he claims, and not hidden away in an office somewhere nearby is a matter of fierce debate among the cast and crew, and the audience is likely to have a nagging question of their own – namely, how much of this is a genuine documentary and how much of it is a scripted (or perhaps semi-improvised) drama in disguise?
In a way it doesn’t matter. Whatever the truth, most people will simply take Behind the Camera as a clever new entry in the trusty old genre of films about the making of a film. Rather like Truffaut’s contribution to that genre, Day for Night, it’s so in love with the romance of filmmaking it doesn’t question whether what it is doing is worthwhile. Nor, probably, will members of the audience who share E’s enthusiasm, even if the scenes of actors, crew and rival directors amiably gossiping backstage are presumably much more fun and pointed for Korean filmgoers who know who these people are.
Then again, you don’t have to be an expert in Korean cinema to warm to a character like Yun Yeo-jeong, the veteran actress who dominates every scene she’s in with her pithy putdowns, her revealing anecdotes and her innate sense of timing. Queen bee on and off set, she inspires a reverence that E can only aspire to. Not that the other performers aren’t very engaging and nice to be around as well (they politely call the director “sir”, something that probably hasn’t happened in Hollywood since the days of Cecil B. DeMille).
Is it something of an ego trip for E, placing himself at the centre of his own film? Perhaps. Yet Behind the Camera occasionally feels like a dig at the auteurist theory, in that it raises the question of whether a film really needs a director at all, apart from to occasionally sooth an actor’s nerves. As the sceptical crew get on with the thankless task of attempting to get the film (which, frankly, is no masterpiece) shot in time, E becomes a rather sad figure trapped on a screen in a corner of the soundstage, increasingly ignored. But it’s hard to draw any definite conclusions because, apart from when another director tries to take over, there’s very little drama. The high energy, the confusion, the sense of being behind the scenes are all exhilarating. But a bit like actually being on a film set, you become exhausted from waiting around for something to happen.
As a technical exercise, Behind the Camera is seamless in that it’s impossible to tell where fact ends and fiction begins, but it also feels sealed inside its own bubble of in-jokes and teasing coyness. (Although there’s one clear inconsistency, surely. If Behind the Camera really is a proper “making of” documentary, then it must have had a separate director, but that credit goes to E himself.) The extras, although interesting, aren’t much help in getting to the bottom of the riddle. There’s an 11-minute interview with E, which is a bit painful because it’s done through a translator, so by the time the answer comes you’ve forgotten what the question was. You also get a 27-minute Film Festival Q&A. Here the moderator does his best to pin down the facts, and E insists, not entirely convincingly, that the whole thing is true and shows people just being themselves.