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With the exception of Berlinale hero Lars von Trier, you don’t see many modern big screen directors concerning themselves with the dynamics of the office (fantasies such as Working Girl or those films where everyone’s an architect or a baker don’t count), possibly because so few of them have ever held ordinary jobs. TV excepted, it goes for the rest of the arts as well – George Saunders or Joshua Ferris ponder upon about intraoffice memos and the critics treat it as if they were deciphering the religious rituals of the Incas. Lee Yong-seung’s Ship Bun (10 Minutes) follows a student intern through his immersion in a Korean office environment, but it’s mostly about the tang of one’s great initial failure, which imprints the future as surely as a loss of virginity. Having been denied a permanent position that he didn’t appear enthusiastic about in the first place, the initially cypher-like Ho-chan (Baek Jong-hwan) absorbs and manifests the desires of those around him, desires that transform him from enthusiastic to sullen and then beyond — “It was ordered from the top,” as the loss of the promotion is explained.
To that degree, the relatively realist narrative can be viewed as a horror tale of possession, as well as a thematic parallel to director Paul Verhoeven’s parade of anti-heroes whose ideology is unconsciously absorbed from their surroundings. Jong-hwan, whom at first seems too conventionally handsome for the role, does well with a character whose inner life is deliberately opaque, possessing a face which can quickly shift between indications of geekiness, deference and rage. Of course, for many, this is simply life in the 21st century. Responding during the Q&A to a rambling “question” about Confucism in the Korean workplace, Yong-seung responded that, rather, the film was based upon a couple of years he spent working in a film archive. “I just wanted to show the reality. What I experienced for myself.” Let’s assume he didn’t like it.
Re: von Trier, if they should ever consider preceding Nymphomaniac with an educational documentary, Claudia Richarz and Ulrike Zimmermann’s Vulva 3.0, would work as a good introductory text. Aptly put together talking heads-style, the film sports a few chuckles – a young, genital manipulating plastic surgeon sports a Ding Dong Dandy t-shirt – but the general approach is one of post-1968 Leftist German earnestness – you’ll never see so many stuffed vaginas of the teddy bear variety. The interview subjects, including erotica publisher Claudia Gehrke on censorship and a parade through the vaginal collection of Laura Merritt, are often informative but one wishes the approach were a little more celebratory instead of getting bogged down in female genital mutilation; it’s like bringing up the SS during a VH-1 special on David Lee Roth. There’s sexuality but no sex here; the subject may be sensual, but the filmmaking is not. One could hardly argue that the vulva is very, very important for a lady. Very, very important. It’s her penis! But Vulva 3.0 is a little dry.
Ship Bun (10 Minutes) screens Feb 14, 13:45 (CineStar 8)
Vulva 3.0 screens Feb 12, 22:30 (CineStar 7), Feb 13, 14:30 (CineStar 7)