VIFF 2012: Moksha: the World or I, How Does That Work?

The longest, most unwieldy title of the festival belongs to this film by Korean director Koo Sungzoo.  It opens with a closeup of a man screaming, shouting for help as he finds himself chained to the ground in the middle of an empty, frozen playground.  How and why he got there is never really explained: he’s a man trapped in a metaphor, and the only way for the film to end is for him to figure out what it all means.  Throughout the film various people walk by and talk to him.  A woman slaps him repeatedly, he chats with a passing drunk, a priest dances for him to achieve “supreme perfect wisdom” (“Don’t dance, call the police!” the man desperately pleads).  He gets yelled at by a crazy bride on her way to a wedding, he shouts angrily at a phantom “crazy filmmaker”, he has a conversation with Edgar Allen Poe (apparently, I missed this but Koo and Tony Rayns discussed it in the post-film Q & A), at some point comes the realization that “the afterlife is awful but you can’t kill yourself because you’re already dead.”

This is all suitably weird, but the film is necessarily limited to its central metaphor.  There’s not a lot of mystery about what it all means, and in a Dragons & Tigers series dominated by films about death (I saw five of the eight films in the competition, this one along with A Mere Life, Memories Look at Me, A Fish and the eventual winner, Emperor Visits the Hell and they are all more or less explicitly about death and/or the afterlife) this is probably the least subtle and the least resonant.  It plays as more of a thought experiment than a dramatization.  Still, it’s pleasantly off-beat and the central performance by Jang Hyeokjin is impressive considering how central he is to nearly every frame of the film.  The fact that this was probably my least favorite of the films I saw at VIFF this year says less about its quality than it does the quality of the festival as a whole.

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