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A film about filmmaking, where the film-within-a-film might be no film at all, but rather a fantasy, a dream, a false memory, or even the life lived before the film—all these (and more still) are the virtualities Yoo Heong-jun toys with in his intricate directorial debut. URIWA SANGGWANEOPSI (Regardless of Us) is, in epistemological terms, a highly unstable object that cannot be reckoned with independently of the dissimulations and distortions of perspective via which we, as viewers, internalise, turning this material object into a mental image and thereby rendering deceptive the supposed objectivity of what we see.

The film begins after the film: actress Hwa-ryeong (Cho Hyun-jin), the star of a new film, suffers a stroke between wrapping and the premiere, leaving her with partial memory problems. In her sick bed, she receives a sequence of guests: the producer, the director, the actress who plays her daughter in the film, and finally two male actors, all of whom narrate to her the finished film she was never able to see. It appears that she played an actress suffering a life crisis, whose separation from her husband and affair with another man have in turn left her estranged from her adult daughter. She resolves, in extreme haste, to kill herself.

This might be the film that the cast and crew narrate back to her, hoping to rekindle her memory. But following (and perhaps even before) the visit of the two male actors, various versions of that same film throw up inconsistencies: Hwa-ryeong remembers one of the two young men playing the boyfriend of her on-screen daughter; he, however, claims to have played her son. Which version is to be trusted?

Could it be that we are not watching the “real” film-within-a-film but rather the film dreamed by Hwa-ryeong’s wish fulfilment, a film that is simultaneously the film of a dream?

Art history has given us the term ekphrasis for the oral or written description of an image—the use of the power of language to bring an absent artwork to life. In URIWA SANGGWANEOPSI, the contradictory narratives and gaps in the protagonist’s memory generate a multiperspectival ekphrasis of the absent film, simultaneously casting doubt on the empirical existence of the film: can we even be certain that it was ever made? Hwa-ryeong is asleep in her hospital bed.

At the moment doubts arise, an abrupt, monochrome green shot interrupts the hitherto black-and-white film. The second part of URIWA SANGGWANEOPSI begins. As Hwa-ryeong and her daughter argue, we begin finally to believe in the film-within-a-film that was vocalised and held in reserve for us by the ekphrasis of the film’s first part. It thus initially seems like the male actor’s claim has been refuted – after all, we are watching a film about a mother and her daughter and when Hwa-ryeong leaves the apartment for an audition, her daughter's boyfriend is seen on the street, played by the very actor. But in the next scene, this same Hwa-ryeong is seen arguing with her husband; the boyfriend of her daughter is suddenly her son. Two competing versions coexist, impossibly, in one and the same film, now legible as a film dreamed by Hwa-ryeong, who mentally reenacts her forgetting of the film via the fractured ekphrasis of her fellow actors. Could it be that we are not watching the “real” film-within-a-film but rather the film dreamed by Hwa-ryeong’s wish fulfilment, a film that is simultaneously the film of a dream in which the same person is both her daughter and her son’s girlfriend, in which the same person is her son and her daughter’s boyfriend? The dream knows no negation, as Freud would likely say of these double roles.

But the experimental, purposeful confusion of URIWA SANGGWANEOPSI goes even further: as Hwa-ryeong appears at the audition, she is interviewed by the director and producer from the film’s first part. The possibility thus arises that this may not be a real or virtual dream film, or film dream, but rather the chronological events before the film, the events that caused the film-within-a-film (that we think we’ve seen, but now won’t get to see at all) to come about in the first place. The rug is finally swept out from our—the audience’s—feet. The film closes with the camera zooming into Hwa-ryeong’s face; there is no figure, however, but only blackness.

Sulgi Lie, a film scholar and theorist, is currently a visiting professor at Berlin University of the Arts (UdK).

Translation: Matthew James Scown


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