Where I Was Born | Short Film Review
By Vanessa Nim (March 20th, 2019)
Directed by: Jungmin Cha
Written by: Jungmin Cha
Produced by: Jungmin Cha
Animated by: Jungmin Cha
How easy it is to hide behind the familiarity of daily life. In the coming and goings, it’s easy to ignore - purposely or not - the bigger picture of social issues that permeate our society. Combatting this ignorance, laying bare our dark under bellies, is Jungmin Cha’s animated short Where I Was Born. Where I Was Born features a series of short tableaus illustrating Cha’s observations of her hometown, Seoul, South Korea. Cha’s simple but distinctive animation style presents a unique perspective as her lighthearted illustrations juxtapose against the darkness she reflects on within the city.
In Where I Was Born, Cha creates an intricate portrait of her reflections on her hometown. Vanity, greed, violence - Cha lays bare all the demons she observed with an air of objectiveness and often humour. Cheeky green blobs run amok in the short animation, paining themselves for beauty, drinking too much alcohol, filming each other in public restrooms, pretending to get hit by cars for money, drunkenly and violently attacking each other. The film is straightforward with an air of objectiveness, presented as a statement, but at the same time asking a question: “this is where I was born(?)”
Cha’s choice to use tableaus, rather than a narrative, plays well to provide a unique social critique. Through tableaus, the storyteller remains impartial, giving a stronger sense of objective observation than could be achieved through narrative. By using short but interconnected vignettes, Cha puts her hometowns demons on display and engages with them without forcing out derivative messages. This choice showcases the strength of Cha’s vision as she is able to communicate complicated themes of social ignorance through observation alone.
The tableaus of Where I Was Born are constructed to be as reflective as they are revealing. Immediately, it is easy to interpret Cha’s film as an expose of Seoul’s darkness. However, the juxtaposition between the filmmakers simple, humorous and lighthearted animation style and the dark scenes the illustrate reveal Cha’s real focus of critique: us. The contrast serves to replicate the mask we use to ignore all these societal demons. When the demons are softened in lightheartedness, in humour, they are so much easier to swallow. And when the demons are softened, we can feign ignorance, we can blame society instead of ourselves, the ones who watch it happen.
Where I Was Born is a reflection of society and an attempt at honesty. In it, Cha is laying bare her hometowns underbelly not to condemn it, but simply to reveal, objectively, all the aspects of society most of us would rather ignore. That is, Cha is not passing judgement on the city, or even society, itself, but, if anything, is passing judgement on those of us who choose to ignore the dark corners of our own cities, societies and selves. The real subject of Cha’s critique is us; us who soften the demons, who watch them and allow them to roam cloaked in our own ignorance.
- Vanessa Nim