The universal language of the movies ended with the advent of the talkies. Or so people say. But watching Park Chan-wook's Night Fishing, the short film he made (on an iPhone no less) with his brother Chan-kyon, leads me to disagree. Even without subtitles, this mini-movie speaks volumes, especially in its opening sequence, basically an addictively watchable music video featuring the South Korean indie ensemble The UhUhBoo Project. Watch those fantastical first few minutes in which the four band members jam on an abandoned country road while a kat -- a traditional wide-brimmed hat -- floats magically through the air as the world turns upside down then tell me you think that English is necessary.
Actually the Park brothers subvert the need for dialogue quite a bit throughout Night Fishing. In other sections of the film, you'll find the fisherman (Oh Kang-rok) singing to himself (language unimportant) or listening to the radio (language unimportant) for short stretches. Even the night itself speaks its own comprehensible tongue as the wind blows through the reeds and some bells atop a fishing pole are set to ringing. Later a shaman (Lee Jung-hyun) conducting an elaborate ritual at the fisherman's funeral reminds us that symbolic visuals too speak a language all their own. Talking is so overrated, isn't it?
And really, how much needs to be said explicitly when the topic is life and death. The first half of Night Fishing is surreal but pretty easy to follow: A middle-aged loner has a freakish encounter with a resurrected drowned woman who gets entangled in his fishing lines. (Because this is a Park flick, of course a hook gets caught in her lip and she vomits water repeatedly in his face upon returning from the dead.) The second half is a bit more cryptic: The drowned woman is leading a spiritual ceremony involving self-baptism, the cutting of a long translucent fabric, and a young girl (Kim Hwan-hee) in a wheelchair. I can't say this latter part makes total sense in the end but given the entire film is only about a half-hour long, Night Fishing never tries the patience. To the contrary, it invites repeated viewings.
With technology making filmmaking as readily accessible as the phone in your pocket, now anyone can create a mini-masterpiece without a lot of money. All they need is a cool script, great actors, a willingness to test the limits of technology, and the singular vision of a true artist. Don't believe me? Pick up your phone and play Night Fishing now.