Over a year ago, Film Threat added a WTF category to our list of genres on the site and even added a WTF category to the Award This! Ceremony each year. It was put there to spotlight risky and experimental forms of storytelling. Films in this category tend to be hit or miss, as often these films tend to be simply weird for weird sake or genuinely have something to say. It’s a question that was constantly running through my mind watching Steven Whatmough’s WTF film, The Korean from Seoul. What the f**k!!!
A drunk Korean, Nam-Hong (Steven Whatmough), is hired to be the head of security for an Australian trading company called Chandlerdale Exports. The company’s director, William Knoll (Ben Carew), is the one who hired Nam-Hong. The person he thought he hired from Korea is a street musician from Australia. Soon suspicions arise as a jealous coworker becomes curious about Nam-Hong’s true origins.
Quickly, Nam-Hong makes quite an impression as he tests the security and safety of an auditorium full of empty chairs. It’s one weird scene to behold. As a result of his avant-garde security techniques, he’s given more trust and responsibility.
The WTF qualities of writer/director Whatmough’s film arise from its visual style and themes of corporate greed. Visually, The Korean from Seoul feels like a collection of odd coffee-table art. Each scene has a distinct visual style, and it’s all connected with a loose plot. One might liken Whatmough’s film to works by David Lynch. I think it finds more inspiration from Monty Python’s Flying Circus as plot segments shift from one odd location to the next. It’s then broken up by oddly produced Chandlerdale commercials, low-budget music video, and a lower-budget Matrix-inspired fight sequence at the end.
“The person he thought he hired from Korea is a street musician from Australia. Soon suspicions arise…”
The film addresses paranoid corporate work culture with Big Brother surveillance foisted upon its employees. It also finds an interesting take on race and the “all-look-same” conundrum toward its Asian employees. The icing on the cake is Knoll’s paranoia against his competition, likening it to war against the forces of darkness. It’s a battle of life and death with employees treated like expendable minions ending with a martial arts sequence as Nam-Hong is forced to protect an incoming shipment against Chandlerdale’s competition.
I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m struggling to describe The Korean from Seoul in some serious way. I found following the movie required work to follow and understand. WTF films need to constantly engage an audience at every moment. Once your audience looks away from the film, they’re lost, and it’s a fight to get them back. I think this is the biggest struggle for The Korean from Seoul. There are just too many opportunities to get lost in its disjointed storytelling.
There is a significant technical error, and it’s the sound. More often than not, it’s hard to hear what actors are saying due to low recording volume and enunciation issues from the actors. It is frustrating.
The Korean from Seoul is a low-budget DIY in story and production values, and I found an odd charm in that. A bigger budget might have ruined its odd appeal. What I appreciate about Whatmough’s final cut is that nothing feels haphazard or randomly thrown in. A great deal of thought went into each scene, and it all feels intentional. Lastly, I found myself loving the music and soundtrack. The music is not something I’d ever have playing in the background, but it’s original and is just another layer to how Whatmough constructs his scenes. The Korean from Seoul is one strange little movie, and it’s not for everyone. It sits solidly in the WTF category, and ultimately you’ll watch the film because you’re looking for a WTF experience.
"…a bigger budget might have ruined its odd appeal."