The world of DV filmmaking is a tantalising concept. Anyone can pick up a cheap camera, get a bunch of friends together arguing over a map and make their own Blair Witch Project. It’s affordable and offers complete control to the budding filmmaker, such that DV is sometimes also described as a “liberating” format by established big gun directors. Despite this dangling carrot of auteur-ship, the DV format seems to be something that these established film directors dabble in rather than dive into as a career. While it offers many enticing technical advantages, these don’t appear to be the reasons that draw film directors to the video format. It’s more that the “home video” format is in the realm of the familiar and the ordinary. It’s in your face and very personal – you could have held the camera just like that yourself and those people on the screen could be your friends. It’s this cognitive familiarity that might lead the DV format to be a chosen as a storytelling medium rather than as an affordable filmmaking venture.
My Generation may be such a DV film and, as such, is about ordinary people. The characters may be unremarkable and it may be yet another Korean film with a title beginning with “My …”, but this film is far from ordinary. It’s largely presented in black and white with occasional moments of colour and centres around a guy and a girl — Byeong-seok and Jae-kyoung, respectively. Their exact relationship is never spelled out to the audience and, like other elements in the film, is merely implied through the visuals. As an audience, you have stepped into their lives and the lives of the people around them — the document of their world slowly evolves around you. Neither of them have much money, they work in dead-end jobs and, with scant references to other family members, seem to be largely alone in the world. Byeong-seok uses his camera to explore the people around him (and hopefully make some cash on the side) but seems to find his own reflection in their sadness. Finding a notebook on the ground at the beginning of the film he quotes a phrase from its pages “There’s nothing I can’t see. I’m blind.” This self-contradiction potentially indicates how he feels aware but trapped in his own situation. When this dispossessed couple seems to get ahead in the world, they then fall behind — whether it be through their own mistakes or the mistakes of people around them. Their world is presented as a pathetic and cyclic portrait, but strangely not a hopeless one.
Noh Dong-seok’s script is well-crafted. It provides sincere dialogue and wit that doesn’t ever become overbearing on the film’s realism. The exposition of its world, like real life, comes unlabelled, unpackaged and without footnotes. From this, expect some cultural aspects to remain unexplained, such as the cryptic loan scheme to get money from your credit card (this scheme really does exist in Korea). While portraiture is still a main focus of this story, much like Park Ki-yong’s exercise in minimalist DV storytelling Camel(s), there is a lot going on in this film which also leads to some comparisons to the urban struggles in Take Care Of My Cat. The cinematography is usually fairly static but is filled with thoughtful compositions. The choice of using isotropic microphones is certainly an interesting one and seems to work well with the subject matter and intended feel.
My Generation is a film about life on the bottom rung, but beneath it all simmers a film about communication. In a world of mobile phones and video cameras, does such technology bring people together or serve to remove intimacy? Noh’s idea appears to ultimately be a positive one. The world can be colourful, as long as we remember to stop looking at the window and start looking through it.