Being one of four co-founders of the Filmette Film Festival at Soho's Harvestworks in 2016, I got to be part of a fairly intense curatorial process which involved soliciting, screening, judging, rejecting, and most especially arguing for movies submitted from all over the world. As I was telling someone about the wonderful long shorts and short features we'd finally selected, I was asked whether my fondness for one called "Milkshake" was related at all to my passion for Korean film. I was caught off-guard because I didn't know if I could safely label "Milkshake" Korean or not. The filmmaker, Ko Sangjin, was born and raised in South Korea, sure, but the film was shot in English in the US; the lead role is a young Korean man, yes, but he's played by an Asian-American actor (Vin Kridakorn) who isn't Korean at all. So does "Milkshake" qualify as Korean? At first, I thought, no. Then I thought, yes. To be honest, I'm still not sure. So should I cover it on my Korean film blog? The answer to that question is easy... Of course!
A sweet 30-minute flick about two orphans struggling to make ends meet (and to stay a family) in NYC, "Milkshake" does share some important qualities with the best of Korean films. Ko's got a great sense of framing and has wisely enlisted the help of a talented cinematographer (Kitanan Chewvej) so "Milkshake" always looks terrific. Ko also elicits incredibly naturalistic performances out of his two leads (the other is a very young Madeline Lupi). But what strikes me as most Korean about this little charmer is how "Milkshake" isn't afraid to suddenly veer from the sentimental to the dramatic or from the optimistic to the depressing without warning. Unlike American movies, Korean films have always struck me as much less concerned with sticking to a tone or a viewpoint and because of that there's a certain excitement that comes with not knowing what to expect next. As for Ko, currently working on his first feature, I'm definitely excited to see what's next for him, regardless of whether he chooses to shoot here or at home, in Korean or in English, or some combination of any of the above.