By Carole McDonnell
Hello there, Dear Readers, Watchers, and Fellow Creatives.
No doubt you all understand the power of a passionate obsession. And, some of you might remember my embarrassing addiction to stories that send the viewer off into a rabbit-hole of dislocation. Well, I will just say that an obsession is not easily dropped. Lord knows, they’re even harder to drop if the obsessed has no intention of actually dropping the obsession. So, yes, I waded through my usual drama crack of singularities, quantum physics, string theory. Yep, films such as B4, Orange, Beautiful Prison, and Penitent Man. But, true to my promise to spare you my time-travel and dislocation rambles, I’m not gonna review any of that. Nor will I review Apocalypse Kiss which was my first — and, yes, undoubtedly my last — venture into dystopian porny horror. (Yes, there are some things in this world that one’s mind cannot unsee.) Instead, let’s get to the speculative stuff that entranced me this summer in the fantastic universe of creativity.
Embers, written by Claire Carre and Charles Spano. Directed by Claire Carre, Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández 2015 1 hour, 26 minutes Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube
I love living in these post-gatekeepers days. Sure, the big filmmakers/publishers/music companies are good at making big films, books, and music with big stars and blockbuster production. But there is something about indies. Yes, yes, some of them are pretentious, some are precious, most have bad acting. But, all that said, indies do tell some good stories sometimes.
Embers was on Kickstarter and I’m sure the folks who donated to help this little indie are proud of it. The story takes place in the near-distant future. It’s a few years after a viral pandemic killed much of the world’s population and left the rest with semi-amnesia. The survivors have forgotten their past memories and can’t create new memories. They remember certain basics or habits — like how to ride a bike, how to speak their language, how to open the odd can of food they’ve found somewhere. But for the most part, their present memories tend to last about fifteen minutes, disappearing several times throughout the day and when they sleep.
This is speculative fiction at its best, and the best aspect of speculative fiction is how it deals with the ramification and consequences of a particular idea. In this film, we follow several characters who have pretty much gotten used to their present circumstances. There is no whining about living in a bleak world, no grief about the loss of the old ways. Because no one remembers the old ways.
So who are the main characters? Well, this is an indie film so we have “types” as opposed to characters. There’s a character called Chaos, who walks around chaotically, doing chaotic things, in a chaotic state. Even with memory loss, he’s a nasty piece of work. Personality is resilient in this world, apparently, and an amnesiac with a selfish nasty personality will be selfish and nasty no matter what. We have “the lovers” who give each other new names every time they wake. They wear cloth bands made from the same material so they’ll know they’re supposed to be together. We have a nameless little boy who probably has known only this life. It’s not clear if he inherited the universal memory issues or has a kind of memory adapted to this world. There is a teacher/writer who lives in the woods. He is one of three characters who knows his own name. And the only reason he knows that is because it’s on a book he’s written and he’s consciously trying to train his mind to know how to remember. And there is a father and a daughter who have lived in a bunker since the outbreak began. The daughter wishes to explore the world outside the bunker but the father fears dangers and the loss of memory.
A word about the tension in this film. This is one tense film, because there is mega-suspense in worrying about human issues such as separation, safety, isolation. But if you’re someone who has a problem with films where nothing big really happens, you will be bored to tears. This film is not altogether silent but don’t expect mega-dialog and action.
Embers has received various awards in many film festivals and I’m glad the donors to its Kickstarter campaign enabled me to see it. As I wrote earlier, the gatekeepers of distribution can no longer prevent art from reaching the masses. I accept that. For me, it means everything old is new again. The ancient paradigm of art was local; artisans shared their work with the neighbors and villages nearby. Then education, wealth, and the notion of fame came about, and artistry was joined to the idea of being super-famous. Now, in the internet age, we’re back again to the roots of art distribution, to a smaller kind of fame. Yep some folks will have super contracts and mega wealth but most artists / singers / artisans / writers are happy to just share their stories in their little community and internet worlds. Youtube, ebooks, indie films, fabric design places, etc. I wouldn’t mind a few of my books being ultra-famous but I like this return to normal art-making. More films like this, books, music, etc for me to encounter. Kudos to Kickstarter.
W — Two Worlds — Written by Song Jae-Jun Starring: Lee Jong-Suk, Han Hyo-Joo. 16 episodes. South Korean television series. July 2016 to September 2016. Fantasy, Suspense, Melodrama, Romance. Streaming online on viki.com and other sites.
Korean dramas are nothing if not predictable. But every once in a (long) while, something unpredictable comes up. Don’t get me wrong; I like all the typical tropes. But I like organic storytelling as well. And nothing is better than organic speculative storytelling because there are so many ramifications and consequences and one’s heart just squees when a writer shows she’s aware of the implications of her story. This drama was written by my favorite Korean writer, the writer that brought the world Nine: Nine Times Time Travel and Queen InHyun’s Man, both dramas that dwelt with the rabbit trail of ramifications. In W – Two Worlds, the traveling is not between decades, centuries, or altered timelines. It’s about alternate realities: the characters in the real world versus the characters in the world of a webtoon which is being written by (at first) the real-world manga-writer.
The story of the webtoon goes off-the rails when Kang Chul, the hero of the popular manga W, refuses to die at the hand of his maker. In the comic book story, he has returned home to find his family brutally murdered. Next thing he (and the readers of the comic he lives in) knows, he is put on trial for their murder and a nemesis prosecutor is out to prove his guilt. Kang Chul decides to kill himself. Well, his creator decides to kill him. The character, however, is quite stubborn. Instead of jumping off the bridge which he was “drawn” to, he struggles to live. In spite of himself, the manga creator sees the pages of his drawing table and of the published webtoon change before his eyes. He knows he has not drawn the story in this way and is furious that his character is insisting on living. Angry, he suddenly finds himself inside the manga — yes, yes, there are portals — and tries to kill off Kang Chul directly. (This is reflected in the manga website.) After the Artist/Creator leaves the manga, Kang Chul’s desire to live drags someone else — the daughter of the Creator — into the manga world. This is Oh Yeon Joo, and Yeon Joo is destined to become the OTP. Why was she brought into this world? Well, like everyone else reading the webtoon, she wants the noble/perfect/vengeance-seeking Kang Chul to have his happy ending.
And so, we are off. Other people — people inside the webcomic and people in the real world — are affected by the story. For instance, two small but important examples. The manga creator had not created a killer with a face. In fact, he had no idea what the killer looked like or why the killer had killed Kang Chul’s family. It was a trope he wanted to use to help his character suffer. The manga-readers might have been crying out for the killer to have a face, reason, and personality — heck, even the killer was crying out for that — but not the Creator. Second example — the love interest in the webtoon becomes unimportant because the hero of the comic — Kang Chul — has gone off-track by falling in love with a girl from the real world. What is the comic book female lead to do when her very reason for existence ceases to be? Well, she starts to disappear before her very eyes.
This drama is a combination of mega and speculative fiction and watching the writers mine the tropes and possibilities of the premise is an absolute fun ride.
Ku_On — Director, Takayuki Hatamura; Actors: Haruna Isaoka, Sou Sato, Nana Seino, Seiko Seno, Hidemasa Shiozawa, Shizuka, Yusei Tajima; Genre: Science Fiction, Drama, Action Japanese 2015 Amazon Prime
First things first: This is not the Kuon horror video game or Ku-On, the horror cutscene video. (A hyphen, an underscore, or no hyphens at all can make a whole lotta difference.) First things over with.
Second things second: If you’re anything at all like me, when you see a movie involving spirits possessing other folks’ bodies, you’re usually not on the Possesser’s side. You’re on the side of the folks whom the bodies rightly belong to. Par for the course. After all, none of us like thieves. But forget that pesky trope for the nonce. It’s not important in this flick.
Okay, so that’s that.
Some two hundred years ago, a meteorite fell on a village in Tokyo. The fallout — yes, pun intended — of that cosmic happening was that the descendants of certain villagers all now have the power (I won’t call it a “gift” because immortality does have its drawbacks) to jump out of the body they’re inhabiting and into the body of another person. The only caveat is that the “possessee” has to be the same sex. AND also the same age the possessor was when his gift manifested. Our hero realized he had this power when he was twenty-seven so he can only jump into are 27-year-old male bodies. There are other little rules but those are the basics that our hero needs to know and discovers at the beginning of the film.
As luck would have it, our newbie possessor jumped into a new body and into a new life at the worst time possible. One of their fellow immortals, a serial murderer, is scheduled to be transferred from one prison to another and has to be stopped. If there is anything worse than an immortal who steals bodies, it’s an immortal whose only joy in his immortality is murdering folks, especially seventeen-year-olds because that was his age when he first turned.
So what we have here is a catch-the-serial-killer caper. Except that pursuers and pursued keep changing bodies. Think Fallen meets Highlander meets The One.
Ya know what? I liked this. It was a fun little indie that knew what it wanted to accomplish and didn’t go wild doing unnecessary stuff. Lean and mean, that’s how I like my films. Of course, not every ramification of every speculation is always shown. And this movie is a clear example of ignoring consequences that aren’t necessary to the immediate plot. For instance, while we explore why such a community of immortals could be whittled down, there is the whole other issue of human bodies being taken over and discarded. So that could be problematical because one requires a certain amount of sangfroid and indifference to simply not care about those dead or comatose discarded bodies. Some questions, such as “What happens to the soul of the body’s original owner?” are not answered and perhaps would be if this were a series. We viewers don’t know if the original soul is repressed/conquered by the new spirit, squelched, nullified, and/or temporarily neutralized? And neither do we care. The ramifications don’t matter in that world, although they would in this present reality.
Happy Creativity, all.
Carole McDonnell is the author of three novels: the afroretroist medieval Christian fantasy romance Wind Follower; the epic fantasy The Constant Tower, and the Christian new adult novel, My Life As An Onion. Her stories can be found online at Escapepod and Untold podcast. Her stories an several serialized novels are also available on the Radishfiction app for android and Apple.