Friday night at the Downtown Independent Theaters in Los Angeles, a group of photographers await the arrival of the creators and the cast of ‘Let Me Out‘, the first Korean movie to be released in America straight after the release in South Korea. Directed by Kim Chang-Rae and Soh Jae-Yeoung, this film incorporates the Seoul Institute of the Arts and BaekDu-DaeGan Films Co., Ltd. with Funimation, Big Ape, and Group 1200. As the A-Listers trickle in, the by standing crowds thicken with curious on-lookers. Inside the more private theater, the seated filled up with old colleagues of Director Soh, friends, family friends, the press, and, of course, the star of the film, Kwon Hyun-Sang. Most of the theater was filled up, everyone buzzed with anticipation and afterwards, there was a shorter Q&A session featuring director Soh and lead actor Kwon.
The story tells of a young man named Mu-Young who shoots a film his senior year of film school. Confident, arrogant, and very obnoxious, quoting the best directors, famous filmmakers, and more, his inexperience in the physical act of filmmaking causes most of his problems. The rest of his problems come to be due to his terrible personality. But he gets through it with his team, at times making the audience really hate him, but his speech at the end in front of his class and professor reflects on the significant change in his views on filmmaking. It was later revealed that many of the issues and stories within this film were actual experiences of director Soh and his colleagues’. The love story is very muted and springs up on you in the end, and there is a constant dialogue of friendship in this film that holds true until the end.
The editing in the beginning of the film, like Mu-Young, is short, curt, and very annoying. From close up to wide out to mediums to wide, again and again, it keeps changing. The editing in the middle stabilizes as Mu-Young understands what he must do to get the film done, and the cutting at the end, the longer shots and angles help with the pacing and communicate the state of mind of our changed protagonist. Lighting and production design were well done, though a bit sparse. Lighting helped shift the mood and move the story along, but the production design was simply alright. In some scenes, there was too much to look at and too much to take in, and in other shots, where the audience wanted to see more, the lack of production design seemed to resonate in the indie aspect of the film. However, as the film does time and time again, there is a middle ground where nothing more is needed and everything is in place, and that seemed to happen when Mu-Young’s head was filled with cluttered thoughts.
There was a clever lead in and lead out that consisted of an animation that covered some traveling time and the end of the film, closing everything nicely. The jumpiness of Mu-Young’s thoughts really was spot-on with the emotions and processes of a writer, though some of his reactions just seemed too ignorant. Some moments, like the casting for his film, were very real and fun to watch. Other moments, like the attempt to define relationships within array of characters to Mu-Young felt bland and a lot of information was not communicated in those moments, which led to some confusion in the middle of the film. As a filmmaker, I wanted to slap Mu-Young quite a number of times, however, it was a learning process for his character that helped pull the film to a graceful end.
Perhaps it was the placement of the speakers, but the sound design worked very well with the film, however, some of the score was over the top and not quiet as enjoyable as it could have been; the sweeter moments became sappy and the thrilling moments became predictable. There is a heavy Hollywood-esque hand on this film, from the color design to the editing, not to mention the general content of the film itself which brings together the simplicity of the right choice mixed with the complexity of a human experience. There were several key moments where the film is definitely attempting to mimic the Hollywood style of romantic comedies in a ‘coming-of-age’ fashion, but there were more moments in the film where the fact that it’s an Asian drama hits the viewer hard through basic story-telling elements.
Some truly touching characters that the audience embraces is the Producer who works to have everything work out, played by Han Geun-Sup, and the Assistant Director (AD) whose main goal is to keep the Director on budget and time, whose name I am still hunting down. Through the relationships with these two people, Mu-Young can see his shortcomings and properly take actions so as to keep the flow and protect the people he ought to. From the beginning, Han’s character is caring, encouraging, and very persistent, and though Mu-Young isn’t quite mature enough to handle everything, he realizes quickly just how terrible things would be without his Producer. On the other hand, the one who gets blasted by crew members, cast, and the middleman between the Director and the rest of the crew, the AD is very admirable for what she has to put up with. Still, she grins and bears it well, and gains a certain pride and pleasure from getting to know herself better.
The issue I had with the romantic story was there was only one clear indication he was interested in her in the beginning and then nothing for a very long time. The character Ah-Young, played by Park Hee-Von, started out with long hair, and then, somehow, in the film, she had short hair. There was no covering the fact she would cut her hair and to the untrained Korean star-recognizing eye, for much of the movie, I mistook Ah-Young as the character played byJessica Choi, the sunbae of Mu-Young who had long hair. In fact, it wasn’t until later when he tries to win her favor that the confusion is put to rest. Park, however, gave a good performance, as did Choi, which did help the feeling of the film, but they weren’t strong enough to truly carry the overall lacking sense in Mu-Young’s personality.
For the first time while reviewing an indie feature foreign film, a difficult choice had to be made when it came to rating this film. To be fair, ‘Let Me Out‘ told a story without too much of the frazzle and frizz that most Asian dramas have adapted. If this review were for an Asian audience, the score would be a whole star more, however, because this film is released in the U.S., all aspects considered, from performance to camera angles and lighting, in the eyes of Hollywood 2 stars felt right. Amusing, entertaining, and quite real, ‘Let Me Out‘ is a great film for date nights, family nights, and hang-outs. Check with your local theaters to see where the film is playing near you!