Being John Malkovich is a movie about outlandish spectators who are able to get inside the brain of actor John Malkovich. Likewise, Steven Whatmough’s The Korean from Seoul gives us an experience as eccentric as a Charlie Kaufman story.
As intriguing as it is bizarre, Whatmough's The Korean from Seoul is a 2021 possibly soon-to -be cult film that challenges the conventional, standard binding rules of film production. This film combines musical sequences as inventive as a vintage David Lynch film and camera work as raw and shaky as the show The Office. Whatmough immerses the viewer in an eccentric film experience, challenging not only their ability to consume the video content which it showcases but also their level of understanding.
The Korean from Seoul tests the viewer’s ability to connect the dissonant scenes of the film and piece them together to form a coherent picture of the story that Whatmough intended to convey. Set in Melbourne, Australia, it centers around the life and tribulations of a Korean from Seoul, Nam-Hong, played with comedic delight by Whatmough. Nam-Hong, formerly a street musician, is offered a position at Chandlerdale Exports, a company that deals predominantly in exports and imports between Australia and the Far East.
It is this complicated and often inexplicable professional relationship between Nam-Hong and his boss William Knoll at Chanderdale, brilliantly dead-panned by Ben Carew. Nam-Hong must navigate his bizarre job description and battle his crippling alcoholism to fit his yet to be defined role at Chandlerdale, the one addition to the team management has been waiting for.
In addition to directing and starring The Korean from Seoul, Whatmough also wrote the script, produced and edited this production marvel. While there is a lot to adore in this film, it is not without issues; the plot seems vague at times which hinders the way the story is told. However, Whatmough is able to deliver a punch so strong that the picture exceeds indie expectations. This is due to his excellent comedic timing shown through the acting and directing. In fact, Whatmough’s finest skill comes through in his masterful editing. For instance, Whatmough dazzles us as he delivers striking green screen footage, musical scenes and dissonant sound effects to depict the internal conflict surrounding Nam-Hong’s life and the dark inner world of Chandlerdale.
It is a testimony to the director’s creativity that a deliberately disjointed movie flows so fluidly. The viewer may even wonder how much of the movie is scripted as opposed to what was improvised. Most of the actors' cast seem to have exceptional improv skills to go along with impressive martial and stunt abilities.
By the end we realize in retrospect, under the surface of the story, we explored deeper themes, such as anti-Asian sentiments and deplorable work conditions, brought to us by an avant-garde filmmaker in The Korean from Seoul.