Filmmaker Park Chan-wook merges tradition with Apple's latest technology

From left, camera director Kim Woo-hyung, actors Yoo Hai-jin, Kim Ok-vin, filmmaker Park Chan-wook and actor Park Jeong-min pose for the camera prior to an online press event on Friday for the short film "Life is But a Dream." [APPLE]

Renowned filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s latest film was shot entirely with iPhone 13 Pros.

Park collaborated with Apple to participate in the “Shot on iPhone” campaign which sees Apple invite users of iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max to submit photographs and videos utilizing the unique features of those phones' cameras. Titled “Life is But a Dream,” the short film combines martial arts and romance using the narrative of pansori (traditional Korean narrative singing) and madanggeuk (a type of traditional Korean performance that is staged outdoors). The story centers around two ghosts who are fighting over one coffin and end up falling in love and a mortician who decides to hold a wedding for the two.

Actors Yoo Hai-jin, Kim Ok-vin and Park Jeong-min took on the lead roles of the mortician and the two ghosts.

This isn’t Park’s first time to film a movie with an iPhone. In 2011, Park created a short film titled “Night Fishing” with his brother Park Chan-kyong shot entirely on the iPhone 4. The film won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival.

“I worked with my brother under the team named ‘Parking Chance’ and ‘Night Fishing’ was our first collaborative effort to make a short film together,” Park Chan-wook said at an online press event Friday. “We had such a good time making that film which led us to continue to create short films as a team. I wanted to create another short film using a [mobile] device with the latest technology — we [my brother and I] also worked together for this one as well.”

The film’s title stems from a traditional Korean idiom “Iljangchunmong,” often used to describe life as transitory as if one is living in a dream.

“There is always at least one idiom that fits well with the narrative of the film when you search,” Park said when asked about the meaning behind the title. “The idiom [Iljangchunmong] just matched perfectly with the story — life is nothing but a dream but, nonetheless, it’s a beautiful one. Some may think that it’s momentary but beautiful, and some may think that although it’s beautiful, it’s momentary.”

Kim Ok-vin, at the top, and Park Jeong-min as the two ghosts who fight over a coffin but instead falls in love. [APPLE]

It marks Kim Ok-vin's second time to work with Park after “Thrist” (2009). Kim explained how the filming environment was different when shot with iPhones.

“[With cameras] it’s as if you’re working with these gigantic sets of eyes,” Kim said. “At first, I was doubtful whether or not the small lens of an iPhone could [properly] capture the scenes, and I was worried that the shooting process might be too different from what I’m used to. After seeing the results though, I realized all of my worries were in vain. In some ways, it was actually really comfortable to work with iPhones on the set due to their mobility. [Sometimes] it felt like the cameras weren’t even there, so I could focus more on my performance.”

“The biggest advantage of filming with iPhones is that the prep time is short,” camera director Kim Woo-hyung said. “When you spot good scenery, it usually takes a long time to set up and prepare the cameras for filming — [but depending on the light] what I want to capture on screen might have disappeared during that 10-minute gap. For iPhones, you can film or photograph something you want in a matter of a few seconds.”

Kim added that no extra lenses were used to film the movie. The scenes were shot entirely with the lenses of iPhones.

In the scenes of the soul wedding, now-famous choreographer Monica from Mnet’s dance competition show “Street Woman Fighter” (2021) appears as one of the ghosts celebrating the marriage. She was also responsible for the scenes where the ghosts wildly dance throughout the night.

A scene from "Life is But a Dream" as the ghosts celebrate the soul wedding [APPLE]

“I was flipping through channels on television when I discovered ‘Street Woman Fighter’ by chance,” Park said. “I was hooked. I thought I was the only one who knew about the program, but about two weeks later everyone was talking about it [...] I’m especially a fan of Monica.”

Instead of hoping to convey a message, the cast hopes that the viewers can just enjoy the merging of traditional Korean culture and state-of-the-art technology.

“When I first read the script, I thought it was distinctively Korean, but at the same time, sophisticated,” Kim said. “The music, costumes and pansori all delightfully correlate with each other and I hope that viewers can enjoy that, and if they find it enjoyable, share it with others.”

“Life is But a Dream” can be streamed for free on Apple’s official YouTube channel and AppleTV+.