June 12, 2016

Play Girl: Not-So-Powerful Puff Girls

You hear of movies being made by committee but a short film? Does that happen, too? It seems so damned unlikely. And yet... Jung Won-sik's "Play Girl" (which was packaged with four other shorts in the omnibus The Youth) feels very much like a product created with a checklist in mind. A checklist dictated by a group of fetishists. With an intended demographic. And some underage girlfriends to cast. The target audience? Middle-aged perverts. The main characters? Sexy, private school bitches (their word, not mine) who wear short plaid skirts while puffing cigarettes (traditional and electronic) and planning their next fistfight (which a friend will Instagram from the sidelines). I'm not saying there aren't young women out there who fit this description — including the neck tattoos and an occasional black surgical mask — but a whole high school populated by them? Well, that Jung's movie fantasy, I guess.

It's a fantasy that has some attributes in its favor: gang politics among bad girls, defied sexist stereotypes and Lord of the Flies power plays... What it also has are many poorly thrown punches pretentiously shown as shadow play, and too many tough chicks smoking with attitude played by actresses too afraid to inhale and hoping the scripted tough talk will suffice for "being mean."

Recently, I read a marvelous collection of short stories (Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet). I mention this because I'm now asking myself: Why are there so many more great short stories than short films, not just in numbers but in percentages as well. But the answer isn't hard to arrive at. Very few filmmakers have any interest in creating short films. I'm not claiming there have been no great shorts or none by Korean filmmakers. Who else but Park Chan-wook made "Judgement", "Night Fishing" and "The Cut" — all of them excellent? But the reality is that shorts are a tough sell for an audience and "Play Girl" just ensures that this remains the case.

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