Strange and perverse things happen in the films of South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook: in Thirst a priest becomes a manic-depressive vampire who feasts on various gaudy parishioners, while in Oldboy a salaryman who has been locked up without reason for 15 years is released upon the world so as to punish him further. But in his latest project, the 30 minute short Paranmanjang (Night Fishing) which opens in Seoul at the end of this month, the unexpected occurs both in front of and behind the camera. Actually, there isn't a camera – Park shot everything on an iPhone 4.
Sponsored by the South Korean distributor of Apple's It gadget to a cost of approximately $140,000, Paranmanjang is at once a calculated piece of product placement, and a reminder that the movies have long answered to advances in technology. Park's work, shot with his younger brother Park Chan-kyong, certainly hasn't changed in terms of plot, being concerned with a fisherman who hooks the body of a young woman from a river and then finds himself caught up in her macabre world when she proves to be alive and in possession of enough psychological fissures to be wearing his clothes and calling him “father”.
“The new technology creates strange effects because it is new and because it is a medium the audience is used to,” Park told the Associated Press. Adding, in what could be construed as a generic endorsement, that he enjoyed the change in cinematography circumstances, “because it is light and small and because anyone can use it”.
Technological innovation has been ubiquitous in the cinema this century, often straining at both ends of the spectrum to leave little middle ground. Even as the largest of productions have embraced (often for the mercenary reason of higher admission prices) 3-D exhibition, the independent milieu has taken advantage of ever cheaper, ever more accessible digital options; what took dozens and costs millions can now be done by a handful for peanuts.
Whether the iPhone is an option of a step too far remains to be seen. For all Park's experimentation, it's the next generation of filmmakers who will decide what we become used to seeing on our screens. And, of course, there's always the question of post-production. Paranmanjang might have been shot on multiple iPhones, with the footage downloaded, but Park's editors appear to have had a hand in its birthing as well.