A 30-minute spy thriller helmed by South Korean hitmaker Kim Jee-woon (“The Last Stand,” “I Saw the Devil”) “The X” is not so much a narrative film as a string of action showpieces designed to explore the visual potential of ScreenX, a new exhibition system that provides a U-shaped, 270-degree field of vision. The result is like a roller-coaster ride that goes through its loops so fast, one needs to try it a few more times to register its sensations. With its dynamic sense of motion, the format at this relatively crude stage of development is ideal for actioners; horror and fantasy films also could make use of the additional dimensions to implement certain shock effects.
For one-and-a-half years, Korean cinema chain CGV has partnered with CJ E&M to create a more immersive experience for viewers. The resulting design projects a triptych of moving images on the central screen as well as two adjoining walls. Kim was commissioned to shoot for six months after research and development got underway, so the story and shooting style evolved along with the technology.
The $900,000 production, like Kim’s other works, is stylish on all fronts, featuring ultra-hip costumes and grungy but sensuously lit sets. X (marble-eyed heartthrob Gang Dong-won), a secret agent for an unspecified organization, describes himself as a glorified courier, though few couriers drive such flashy cars or take delivery orders from a cutie like Fingers (E Som). X’s latest mission is to deliver a metal briefcase to Agent R, but when he arrives at R’s hideout, things have gone awry, and X’s g.f., Mia (hottie Shin Min-a), appears to have been taken captive.
The two side screens are put to use only after six minutes, when X enters R’s darkened office, his flashlight darting around and giving audiences the feeling that they, too, are inside the room. Numerous fights and chase scenes follow, the most effective one set in a parking lot where various baddies on motorbikes charge at X from all directions. The format is best at conveying the sensation of moving ahead, such as in tracking shots through corridors and tunnels; a climactic burst of fireworks also looks spectacular. All setpieces run for about a minute, the longest the human eye can endure 270-degree vision, per research.
Compared with the depth of field achieved, ScreenX cannot provide corresponding spatial breadth. Images that are too complex, such as one of Finger’s high-tech switchboard, can cause eyestrain when stretched across three screens. The biggest problem is not knowing where to look; by the time your eyes have found what to focus on, the image has dissolved. There’s also a marked discrepancy between the vivid image texture of the main screen and the grainier side projections. Projectors and speakers lining the adjoining walls can be distracting, although plans to embed them internally are under consideration.
The production made use of flexible new rigs built so that three cameras could be maneuvered in each take; lighting, too, had to be designed differently to ensure that it would show up on camera. Several sound systems are being used in conjunction with the format at various cinemas in Seoul, including Sound X, which uses 30 different speakers. This enables “sound panning,” rendering even lower-volume sounds highly distinct.
A spokesperson for CJ CGV claims that it takes only three days to install the ScreenX system in most cinemas, at a cost of around $200,000. After a planned rollout in Seoul, private demos for industry professionals will be available in a select Los Angeles theater before year’s end. A feature-length film is already in developments and could see completion by late 2014.