YI OK-SEOP, KOO KYO-HWAN, & THEIR PET FISH, “MAGGIE”

Review of Maggie (2018)

I introduced myself to Yi Ok-seop (the director) and Koo Kyo-hwan (actor/producer) and handed over 366’s business card. Unfortunately, my handwriting in Korean is just as bad as my handwriting in English.

Yi Ok-seop

366: My name is Giles Edwards and I’m here for 366 Weird Movies. I may have written that incorrectly below…

Yi/Koo: “Dogs”?

366: Oh dear. My hand-writing is pretty bad, I was just looking that up before I got here… Not “dogs”—um, “movies”. But!… I want to ask about the choice of songs for the movie, as they were very clear and dominant from the beginning.

Y/K: When editing, we usual edit as we play music, and look through what kind of music goes well with this scene, this situation, and this line. And when we feel stuck when trying to explain the story in a better way, we look toward the music instead of hanging on to the problem we have in the story. So we look through music and try to find the solution by looking. We felt really empowered by putting the music and the scene together, because when they go really well together, it feels much more synergistic than when we tried to solve this problem as written, or when we couldn’t solve the problem at all, so it was a hint as well as a solution for us.

366: Last night, you both spoke about the nature of the catfish and the prediction of earthquakes. I was wondering if you might be able to repeat that again for this interview.

Y/K: The nature of “Maggie”, the catfish, is that they can sense, predict when there will be an earthquake in the next three or four days—it could be longer, it could be shorter—it’s not precise, but it can sense it and predict it. We thought the character of the catfish was like, when you were at school, in a classroom, and there are so many different people, but there is one group of people who are not really talking much, not really involved in any groups, or socializing with others, so you might think they don’t know anything, but at the same time they’re witnessing everything going on in the class-room, they know everything, every little story that’s going back and forth with other people. So we thought the character of Maggie, the character of those people on the streets in daily life that we think know nothing are kind of similar.

Also, the look of Maggie, there was this little… beard that would kind of make him look wiser in appearance. So the reason we decided to have a catfish was that we probably need little elements like Maggie, like a catfish in our everyday lives, where it just comforts us by just looking at it. And even if it’s not going to protect us in a precise way, it will let us know when things go wrong. It’s also a question about whether to “believe” or not—something might happen tomorrow, it might happen three days later, or a week later, but it is still there. Continue reading YI OK-SEOP, KOO KYO-HWAN, & THEIR PET FISH, “MAGGIE”

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MAGGIE (2018)

메기

DIRECTED BY: Yi Ok-seop

FEATURING: Lee Ju-young, Koo Kyo-hwan, Moon So-ri, Koo Gyo-hwan

PLOT: Maggie the catfish acts as a piscine confessor for Yoon-yong, who’s going through some problems with her work and home life; the fish predicts the appearance of some troubling sink-holes springing up (er, down) around the greater Seoul area.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: A psychic fish narrator, social commentary via sinkholes, and the appearance of a “manic pixie dream boy” all fuel this strange hybrid of dark Wes Anderson and light Quentin Tarantino.

COMMENTS: Many years ago, I was forced to take a seminar class for my degree and ended up enduring a semester-long trial entitled “Filmmakers with a Social Conscience.” It’s not that I don’t want awareness raised about society’s ills, but I had the suspicion before-hand that most of the movies would be heavyhanded and tediously paced. My fears proved correct at the time, but now, having seen Yi Ok-seop’s directorial debut, Maggie, I now must admit that lightning can strike even the smallest targets. And it strikes well, with humor, quirkiness, and pathos (a “p” word that seems to be cropping up a bit this festival).

A pre-penetration x-ray circulates among the staff of a small hospital in the outskirts of Seoul. Rumors fly about whose body parts were caught in the act of lovemaking, with nary a thought as to the who or why behind the snapshot’s existence. The following day, every staff member calls in sick except for the young nurse who’s “in” the photo and an osteopath who’s just about lost her trust in her fellow man. Subsequent events involving sinkholes, unemployment, and relationship dynamics proceed apace, all narrated by the omniscient titular character, Maggie the catfish.

There is a vibrancy throughout Maggie that weds the two dominant themes of whimsy and social commentary. There is brightness everywhere: the outdoor scenes, the well-lit hospital, and even the night-time streets illuminated by the colorful, flashing glow of warning lights surrounding the big holes in the ground that keep appearing. Chapter designations like “Everyone Likes the X-Ray Room” and “The Stairs of Death” act as synopses along the way while also providing wry counterpoint to the events. And though it has a cheerful, meandering nature throughout, everything gets wrapped up nicely—through the convenience of a key character who’s swallowed up by the ground at an important juncture.

Maggie‘s weirdness isn’t “in your face”, but more of a gentle squeezing of the shoulders from start to finish. There are definitely overtly odd things (the catfish, the eccentric hospital, and the ballad to “Maxine” around the midpoint), but it’s all very low key. What swayed me toward inclusion was the fact that all of this is being done for a purpose (and, I learned in a subsequent interview with the filmmakers 1)Available here., was funded not only sight-unseen, but script-unseen). My one criticism would be that when the story focuses on the slacker boyfriend, the movie rambles a little pointlessly—but even that’s apt, considering the character we’re following. And though I didn’t quite agree with another choice, I was impressed by the director’s decision to eliminate a character without allowing for an explanation. Director Yi Ok-seop and writer/producer/actor Koo Kyo-hwan strongly feel that violence has no excuse, and they make that point in a memorable way that really lets it… sink in.

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“The director is riffing on the idea of how misunderstandings snowball, but, without a solid central idea to anchor the wackiness, the exuberantly nonsensical chaos of this movie is likely to have only niche appeal.”–Wendy Ide, Screen Rant (festival screening)

References   [ + ]

1. Available here.

CAPSULE: 8 (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Harold Holscher

FEATURING: Tshamano Sebe, Keita Luna, Inge Beckmann, Chris April

PLOT: A father’s desperation opens him to a demon, dooming him to gather souls; carrying the remnants of his departed daughter in a sack, he is compelled to collect one final payment.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST8 is a beautiful film that combines elements of South African folklore with Victorian-style scares. As an atypical example of of the horror genre, its only weirdness is how impressively accessible Holscher makes the exotic supernaturality feel onscreen.

COMMENTS: The creative mind has long held a fascination for me, and my experiences at Fantasia have allowed me to casually research this phenomenon. Mingling with dozens of filmmakers over the years, I am always pleased to see the energy they have and their defiance against the odds. This holds particularly true when it comes to new directors presenting their full-blown visions to the world for the first time. It was with this in mind that I approached Harold Hölscher’s debut feature, 8. I spoke with the writer/director before its international premiere, and felt his energy; I felt this same energy in the theater last night.

Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) bears his heavy spiritual burden in a very literal way in the form of a large leather sack that accompanies him wherever he travels. This weight pins him to the holy ground where he is forced to roam: a plantation on which the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. He is a shaman, formerly a healer, and has paid a terrible price for the privilege of carrying his load. When he befriends the new owners of the plantation, he shares his spiritual knowledge with Mary (Keita Luna), the plucky young niece of the previous owner’s descendants. As their bond strengthens, Lazarus’ bond with his own daughter frays—but the demon that possesses her and the father demands Mary’s soul.

I anticipated that this movie would amaze me, so I mean it as no criticism that it “merely” met my expectations. Among the things it has going for it is that is features two character archetypes I always enjoy. The first is personified by Mary’s character. She’s an unflappable, inquisitive girl who always seeks knowledge and lets nothing frighten her if it’s new and amazing. Lazarus embodies the second archetype I cannot get enough of: the burdened wise man, tortured but calm. I don’t exaggerate when I say that Tshamano Sebe’s performance carries the film. While there would be no story without Lazarus, there could be no Lazarus without Sebe. He is alternately powerful and peaceful, often within the same scene. Lazarus’ ritual of extracting souls from the dying, despite its grim purpose, feels wholly natural, and strangely believable.

A lurking criticism I heard from others about the film was that it was perhaps “too mainstream.” There is merit to that sentiment, but I am disinclined to view it as a handicap. By framing something as exotic as the folklore and spiritualistic rites of pre-colonial South Africa in a familiar way, Harold Holscher can share its wondrousness with that many more people. At the same time, he has proven that, despite being a neophyte, he has the narrative and technical skills to succeed in the world of cinematic storytelling. I am certain that 8, his freshman piece, will open doors for him, and I look forward to following this storyteller’s career.

Also see our audio interview with director Harold Holshcer.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a mesmerizing film, one where everyone on screen works to steal the viewer away to a place filled with trauma.” -Brendan Frye, CGM (festival screening)

CAPSULE: LETTERS TO PAUL MORRISSEY (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Armand Rovira

FEATURING: Xavi Sáez, , María Fajula, Saida Benzal, Almar G. Sato

PLOT: Five cinematic letters to Paul Morrissey are sent by various fans of the experimental director.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is an anthology film, and so the format isn’t really what we’re after. In addition, the films lean much more toward “art-house” than “weird”.

COMMENTS: Udo Strauss: This opening letter, appearing in a photographic slide-style frame like all the epistles, is angry and languid. The writer in question is a German who, dismayed at the triumph of a hollow capitalism in his home country, attempts to claw his way toward unquestioning faith in God and Jesus. He attempts to find peace in a Spanish monastery. His doubt in the Church is made manifest by an attractive woman in sunglasses who intellectually parries with him in split-screen philosophizing. His desperation grows until we see him stapling pages from his Bible to his naked body. An obvious stand-in for , whom Morrissey directed in Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Frankenstein, actor Xavi Sáez encapsulates the plight of a man whose new gods disappoint and whose old God has gone silent. Appropriately, this was the most meditative and trying of the bunch, as we watch Udo grind himself down mentally in an attempt to attain a faith that cannot be forced.

Joe Dallessandro: Channeling in a junkie monologue over the shots of some nameless city’s denizens scoring heroin and coping with life, this is the briefest of the five films. Dallessandro’s gravelly tone made me feel like I was watching a reel from the author’s own memories.

Olena Wood: A former Chelsea girl waxes nostalgic about working with and frets over her diminishing fame (“I feel dizzy as I grow old”). To boost her spirits, she responds to a television ad for “Man Connections” (just call 800-453-2800 to rent yourself the perfect man). Her perfect man is a “Steve”, whom she meets at a swinger-karaoke bar after he sings Françoise Hardy’s “Voilà.” After forty-eight hours, he melts—it was only a rental—and the girl gets a phone-call about a special screening of Chelsea Girls she should attend. Dual montages show a “then” and “now” woman dolling herself up. It’s an odd riff on the universal fear of aging (and being forgotten) with undertones of determined hope clawing against the unstoppable time.

Saida Benzal: We find out that she’s a vampire in the closing credits, and that goes great lengths to explain Saida Benzal’s rumination on eternal damnation-through-longing. A cycle of events: a dark hallway, a man drawing in breath—a woman drawing in breath, a man rising toward a doorway—a woman crawling to peer through the crack below. These few minutes capture the furtive desperation endured by lovers who can never meet.

Hiroko Tanaka: The final letter begins with blood and sonic pain but ends with a making of peace, handily wrapping up the entire exercise. Almar Sato plays the a young woman afflicted with “Hoissuru”, a sound in the range of 20 Hz and 20 kHz that is audible in Françoise Hardy’s “Voilà” (again), a song Hiroko Tanaka used to love. She meets a young Spanish woman who works as a sales clerk at a comic book shop, whose voice immediately relieves the pain. Together they enjoy talking to a looming aquarium shark (who could also double as Morrissey’s stand-in as a confessor).

I write this review to try to work out the basics of what has occupied my mind quite a bit since I watched it thirty hours ago. I know little about Paul Morrissey, but plan to use this film as a starting point in my investigation of the iconic filmmaker; and perhaps now you may want to do this, too.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a true pleasure to witness, slightly echoing Guy Maddin’s experiments with found footage and certainly his weird sense of humour.It may seem strange to describe a film like this as ‘fun’, and yet that’s precisely what it is, with philosophical questions smoothly interwoven with loving throwbacks to Warhol and Morrissey’s biggest hit, Chelsea Girls, and discussions about the importance of eyeliner.” -Marta Bałaga, Cineuropa (festival screening)

CAPSULE: LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Sam O’Steen

FEATURING: Stephen McHattie, , , Patty Duke, Broderick Crawford

PLOT: Picking up where the slightly more famous original left off, we join young Adrian/Andrew as his mother takes him from his Devil-cult overseers across the country; reaching manhood, the hour of reckoning approaches when the world may see the rebirth of Satan.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTLook What’s Happened… is utterly ridiculous, to be sure, but with nothing more than the inherent camp to be found in a ’70s made-for-TV movie (and one that’s a sequel to an established classic, at that), it is “merely” an amusing, benign curio for those lucky enough to find it.

COMMENTS: In case you were wondering, that pantomime fellow behind the hippie chicks in the still is the young man conceived and born in Roman Polanski‘s more famous Rosemary’s Baby. The actor on the stage strutting his stuff is none other than this Fantasia’s special guest, Stephen McHattie, in one of his earliest onscreen appearances. McHattie introduced the movie—still mostly unseen and unknown after all these years—at the 2019 special screening at the Fantasia Film Festival. Let me tell you the story.

Roman and Minnie Castevet make for somewhat inept guardians, as they allow Rosemary to escape with young Andrew (born Adrian, and now age eight) into the world. A violent storm picks up when they leave the Satanic cultist’s lair, and they take refuge in a small storefront used as a synagogue. Rosemary feels that the boy is being sought out, and demands that the assembled Jewish men “Pray! Pray! Pray!” in an attempt to block the probing psychic eye of Minnie Castevet (whose parallels with a stereotypical Jewish grandmother border on the “uncanny”). Rosemary gets dumped somewhere in Nevada after her boy nearly kills some kids for teasing him, and is shuffled off onto a bus… with no driver(!!!). Andrew/Adrian is raised by a hooker in a a gimmicky “Castle Casino.” And… my goodness, I’m feeling like an idiot relaying this plot. Some later highlights: a self-driving car, a big black cake with a pentagram of birthday candles, a hospital for the criminally insane, and much, much more.

The screening was made even more special by the inclusion of mid-’70s advertisements spliced into the feature (including one for the bitchin’ roadster that Adrian drives around pointlessly). It was also preceded by McHattie’s film debut, “Star Spangled Banner”, an antiwar short that won a prize at Cannes back in 1970 (?). It impressed me greatly—I appreciated the irony of a young Canadian actor standing in for a doomed US soldier. With the titular song played in the background (as covered by The Grass Roots, a late 1960s folk-rock band), a young GI runs from enemy fire while quick clips of home, youth, love, and innocence are interspliced with his panic. Hokey-sounding, to be sure, but strangely moving to watch. I just wish I could find it again.

But it was not a night for politics: it was a night for the audience, along with one of Canada’s veteran character actors, to see an impressively awful movie together for the first time. McHattie quipped afterwards, “That looks like it was two-hundred years old.” For all its crumminess, there was an earnestness to Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, and at the very least, McHattie’s career survived the hit. He’s been in more than 200 roles since.

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“Connoisseurs of bad movies will likely find this misconceived project a worthwhile hunt, especially given its strange period details (imagining Adrien as a ‘60s hippie rocker despite the ‘70s setting) and the manner in which the story pushes a plot along through sequences that can generously be called anti-horror. “–Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com

Q & A AUDIO

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!