A pretentious film student discovers the difference between pontificating about cinema and actually making a movie in “Let Me Out,” a highly entertaining comedy created by South Korean film schoolteachers Kim Chang-lae and Jae Soh. Poking good-natured fun at the creative process and imbued with an infectious let’s-put-on-a-show spirit, this highly accessible and brightly performed item is an ideal fest attraction and could prosper in offshore ancillary markets with savvy promotion. Local release is skedded for March.
With teaching posts at Seoul Institute of the Arts and prior experience as feature helmers to draw upon, Kim and Soh have come up with an engaging and painfully accurate protag in the form of Kang Mu-young (Kwon Hyun-sang). A self-absorbed senior at Ahn Seo Film School who knows all the theory but has yet to produce anything of his own after four years’ study, Mu-young is ordered by delightfully droll Professor Byun (Yumouhyung) to get behind the camera in some capacity or face failure.
Figuring he’ll do the bare minimum and take crew roles on other students’ projects, Mu-young finds his plan backfiring when acclaimed director Yang Ik-june (helmer of 2008 indie hit “Breathless,” playing himself) arrives at the school to present his new film. After being heckled by Mu-young for making “bogus films,” Yang surprises everyone by awarding a special cash prize to the know-it-all, challenging him to prove himself as a filmmaker instead of lamenting the state of South Korean cinema.
The story bubbles along nicely as panic-stricken Mu-young dusts off “Let Me Out,” a “zombie melodrama” feature he’s written, and tackles the daunting task of sourcing cast and crew from students who couldn’t land gigs on anyone else’s projects. With nerdy, bowtie-wearing best buddy and producer Yong-woon (Han Geun-sup) by his side, Mu-young ends up with a motley team including sweet but insecure leading lady Ah-young (Park Hee-von), hysterical supporting actress Sun-hye (Jessica Choi), loose-cannon cameraman Young-noh (Lee Hyuck) and Pae-in (Kim ki-bum), an obsessive editor who’s been holed up for years in a dingy cutting room with his unfinished film.
Nailing the conflicting emotions of paralyzing fear and utter exhilaration that frequently affect rookie filmmakers, the script has a trump card in the way Mu-young gradually transforms from a smarmy, dislikable critic into a humbled, struggling creative artist auds can sympathize with and eventually root for. The icing on the cake is Mu-young’s director-actor relationship with Ah-young, which inches its way nicely toward tentative romance.
The movie’s appealing emotional trajectory is delightfully combined with all the expected comic disasters befalling “Let Me Out.” The funniest of these are a drunken wrap party before the shoot has commenced; Sun-hye’s non-stop histrionics on and off the set; and a hilarious, zombie-themed variation on the famous “collapsing building facade” sequence in Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” Paying tribute to the spirit of collaborative micro-budget indie filmmaking, the story shows how the enthusiasm and commitment of assorted zombie extras and lowly crew members plays a crucial role in saving Mu-young’s movie from total catastrophe.
Produced by Seoul Institute of the Arts with funding supplied by a project-specific government grant, this low-budgeter attains the standard of any polished commercial movie. Crisp lensing by ace d.p. Kim Seung-hoon (“Night and Day”) and note-perfect production design by Hannah Lee are the highlights of the first-class technical package.