South Korean Omnibus Film 'Mad Sad Bad' Aims to Break 3D Conventions

CJ Entertainment/KAFA
"Mad Sad Bad"

Directors Ryoo Seung-wan, Han Ji-seung and Kim Tae-yong attempt to explore a dimension of the technology they suggest is under-utilized by Hollywood -- its ability to enhance drama rather than action.

JEONJU, South Korea — The 15th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) raised its curtain quietly Thursday, in deference to the devastating ferry disaster that had recently halted the entire South Korean entertainment industry. But the country's top indie film event also opened on an inspiring note, with the premiere of Mad Sad Bad, an ambitious omnibus 3D project that signals new possibilities for the technology in the local industry.

"The entire country is in mourning but I believe the film can help achieve the role of cinema, which is about communication and healing," said JIFF festival director Ko Suk-man about the recent maritime accident that has left at least 219 dead and the rest of the country watching the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts.

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Ko went on to praise the opening film's three directors -- Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File), Han Ji-seung (Papa) and Kim Tae-yong (Late Autumn) -- for venturing into the world of 3D -- in a different way from Hollywood. The Korean indie film industry has been rather shy about creating 3D films due to the medium's reputation for being expensive, genre-specific and unnecessary for drama.

"When it comes to 3D, comparison with Hollywood is inevitable. But Mad Sad Bad distances itself from mega-budget spectacles and poses a very important question about the aesthetics of 3D technology in film. This project is meaningful in that it presents an authentic fusion between technology and storytelling," he said.

Choi Ik-hwan, filmmaker and head of the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), produced Mad Sad Bad as part of the state supported body's KAFA+ project. The film is due to hit national theaters after JIFF on May 15 via CJ Entertainment. Though comprised of three shorts that vary in theme and genre, each film utilizes 3D technology to heighten the viewer's emotional connection to the story.

In the first segment, Ghost, Ryoo dramatizes a true story about two high school boys who become involved in a violent turn of events as they try to help a girl they met on social media. Naturally, a dizzying array of chat box windows floods the screen at various depths. 

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"It was a great challenge to create depth using separate frames, and so I had to approach filmmaking in a different way from how I've worked so far," said Ryoo, adding that he felt "dizzy" and would have to work on post-production more to adjust the coloring. Nevertheless the filmmaker believes that "3D can be a powerful tool for depicting reality with an added dimension."

In I Saw You, Han opted to add a romantic musical spin to the zombie genre. Set in a future where zombies are medically treated and given the opportunity to be manual laborers, the film poses questions about love and memory in the tradition of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

"It was a great experiment for me to break down genres, establish emotional connections and to work the musical aspect into the visual effects. I'm not sure if it worked, but if the opportunity presents itself I'd love to explore the different layers [3D allows], particularly when it comes to capturing light, dust and reflections," said Han. "New challenges are central to the creative process."

Last but not least in Picnic, Kim adds a splash of fantasy to a poignant story about a little girl whose autistic younger brother goes missing. Visual effects are used to hit subtle emotional chords in this finely wrought family drama.

"While this is a 3D film, I focused on capturing the talent of this beautiful actress sitting next to me, instead of the technological aspect," Kim said about the film's eight-year-old star Kim Su-an.

"When making films I'm always concerned about how to make the internal reality of the film believable [for audiences], and allow them to feel closer to the character. I think 3D, like 2D, is just one of the ways you can achieve this. Personally I'm able to relate better with 2D films but I realized that I could express things differently in 3D," he said.

JIFF runs until May 10, featuring 181 films from 44 countries, including 40 world premieres.