[Korean Movie Night NY continues tonight, March 12, at 7 PM with Oh Young-Doo’s Young Gun in the Time. Tickets are free (but first-come, first-serve) at the Tribeca Cinemas. More information can be found here.]
There’s something about seeing a director get to work with a larger budget that is kind of exciting. Director Oh Young-Doo made his first feature film, Invasion of Alien Bikini (which we will have an official review of before too long), for less than $5,000. That is all kinds of incredible, but the budget limitations show. You can call in favors and convince people to work for free, but eventually you’ll need to break some windows or buy some fancy-looking props and the budget will have to accomodate that.
So for Young Gun in the Time, Oh Young-Doo had a much larger budget (the Korea Society says around $45,000). While South Korean film budgets rarely approach even the lower end of Hollywood budgets, that is still a pretty paltry sum and means that
Apparently, nobody told that to Oh Young-Doo.
Young Gun in the Time (Young Gun Indeo Taim | 영건 인더 타임)
Director: Oh Young-Doo
Country: South Korea
Right from the name, you just know that Young Gun in the Time is going to be really, really weird. This is from the guy who made Invasion of Alien Bikini, so broken English is somewhat expected, but that gives some sense of what that film could be about. Young Gun in the Time… not so much. The film follows Detective Young-Gun (played by Hong Young-Geun), a detective who promises that no job is too small; he will go out and find a missing stag beetle if that’s what he’s hired for. Then a girl comes in and asks him to kill somebody, and he has to refuse, for obvious reasons. But after his boss (who he refers to as his secretary for what are probably cultural reasons) kicks her out, Young-Gun goes out to find and help her. As he chases after her, he sees her get kidnapped and subsequently killed in a car crash. Soon afterwards, he meets her again at her workplace, and she is totally fine. How’s that possible? Time travel, of course.
Young Gun in the Time gives vague explanations of its rules of time travel, but for the most part they are incomprehensible. If someone does a thing, it will mean that they break a hole in something and if you die in the past then you disappear in the present, but only at certain times (but what those times are isn’t really clear). It’s all very strange, but if you don’t think about it too hard, you’ll just accept that things are kind of dumb and get on with it. And really, there’s so much going on at any given moment that if you stop to think about it you’ll miss some other bizarre thing that will also break down under scrutiny. It’s like series of puzzles, and even in those rare cases where the puzzles are solved, the process of solving them is hidden from view. Just accept it for what it is and move on; you will enjoy yourself so much more.
From a technical standpoint, it seems like director Oh Young-Doo is like a little kid in a candy shop. He’s just gotten his allowance (a full order of magnitude larger than the last one) and he is free to get whatever he wants. It’s a given that, for the most part, independent films are a bit more experimental than large scale productions, but Young Gun in the Time takes that to an extreme. Liberal use of split screen (which uses weird techniques like cutting a single frame in half, pushing those halves to either side, and then putting a different frame in between them) mixes with all kinds of other strange editing and other technical choices to make something truly unique. Fortunately, the strange stylistic stuff isn’t overused, and there is enough traditional camerawork and whatnot to keep it from feeling like a straight-up experimental film. I hate experimental films, but I like experimentation in films. Young Gun scratches that itch.
But it’s not just the camerawork or editing that show what Oh Young-Doo can accomplish with a bit more money, the use of lighting is truly excellent and the way it makes use of its sets makes everything feel much more upscale than something like Invasion of Alien Bikini. It’s the window dressings that give it that feel, like the dozens (if not hundreds) of clocks in the watchmaker’s workplace or the old-looking vases in the antique shop, a number of which get destroyed. These background items, among other things which really aren’t important to the plot, are the difference between no-budget and low-budget, and this film makes great use of its low-budget. No-budget filmmaking is fascinating, but at the end of the day there just needs to be a little bit of cash to keep things well-oiled and pretty. Young Gun in the Time does that, and it looks far better than its budget might suggest.
Also noteworthy are the film’s action scenes. Young-Gun has more stamina than most marathon runners, and spends a great deal of time running through the streets trying to either quickly reach a destination or chase after something. He never stops to rest or ever seems particularly bothered by how much he is running, even if he is not as good of a fighter as some of the other characters. Then again, he’s just a low-level detective who finds missing stag beetles. Why would he have the skills of an assassin who uses a tape measure as a weapon? He wouldn’t. But he holds his own, and there are some really cool fights (including on that takes place in a van that I’m pretty sure was actually shot out on the street as it was moving). Not all of the hits land properly, but enough do that the scenes get your blood pumping.
Young Gun in the Time is an exciting film, both in what it presents and also what it represents. Oh Young-Doo is clearly a very talented guy, and this film shows some real chops, even if he’s still constrained by a tiny budget. If you don’t care about seeing a director expand his horizons, though, there’s still a lot to like here. Admittedly, if you aren’t a fan of nonsense or action, you will be turned off by the film almost immediately, but if you can look past the weirdness, you’ll find some unique and enjoyable. Hopefully it is also a sign of what is still to come from Oh Young-Doo. I can’t wait to see it.