Song Il-gon’s 2005 film The Magicians began its life as one of the 30-minute short films that make up Jeonju International Film Festival’s “Short Digital Films by Three Filmmakers” omnibus series. Song then expanded it to an a feature film. Filmed entirely in one take, this digital film takes place on New Year’s Eve in a bar on a mountain owned by Jae-sung (Jeong Woong-in) who is meeting with his former band mate’s Myung-soo (Jang Hyeon-seong) and Ha-yeong (Kang Kyeong-heon). The band broke up three years prior when Ja-eun (Lee Seung-bi) killed herself on New Year’s Eve. Now they are back together to drink and talk and reminisce.
The Magicians plays out more like a stage play than a film. The stylistic choice to shoot the entire thing in one take means that the flashbacks or memories the characters step in and out of happen in real time in front of us. Characters put on or take off clothing, let down their hair, and step into their memories. This is a world where a tree house becomes an apartment building and the characters dance in and out of their sadness as they deal with the loss that Ja-eun’s suicide left them with.
This is a beautiful film that shows what little you need to make a captivating story. The focus goes in and out on the camera as Ja-eun’s ghost twirls around the characters, more alive and centered in death than she was in life. Even the introduction of a snowboarding monk (Kim Hak-sun), who in a lesser film would have been treated as irreverent comic relief, has a sense of humanity and truth. I use truth here not in a stylistic sense, but a truth in the sense that these characters feel real. Their pain and friendship seems natural. It comes in the little moments, like finding a cassette from Jae-sung and Myung-soo’s past that leaves them laughing. It also comes from small facial expressions like this:
Kim Meyong-jung, the cinematographer, does a great job creating a world that feels somehow to the side of time. The film evokes the feeling that one gets when reminiscing among friends, especially when remembering those who are no longer with us. Like Ja-eun they float ephemerally all around us, alive in our memories and stories. This is a film about friendship and loss, and the impermanence of pain and the absolution of self forgiveness. It also helps that it ends with a song by one of my favorite Korean bands. See this film. My fevered words do not do it justice.