Persona is a Korean short film anthology series starring K-Pop artist Lee Ji-eun. Known professionally as ‘IU’, she remains the sole repeated person in each of the four movies. But each segment has a different theme, supporting cast, and director.
The series moves from art house subtext to Korean mythology before the more standard short-form storytelling. The characters are based on philosophical musings of love, life, and death. Each of the movies comes in at around 20 minutes so none demand too much of your time.
That said, the weakest is probably the first: ‘Love Set’. Here, IU is an angsty daughter, watching her father play a tennis match with his new girlfriend. The sexual grunts and groans that she has to sit through in frustration is not the most subtle subtext for her irritation at the situation, and makes up the first third of the short.
Her attempts to break them up or stake claim on her father (literally grabbing hold of him with overt possessiveness) fail, and so a tennis challenge is issued to the usurper. In their subsequent rally, focus is given to the heavy breathing and pooling of sweat on lithe female bodies. It goes on too long to be of interest, even if the resulting discomfort is intentional.
Sticking with ‘art house’ but much more interesting is ‘Collector’. A middle-aged man’s emotions are played around with by a young, flighty woman (IU). She disappears for days at a time, whilst he desperately tries to seem ok with it in order to keep her. As she gives him anything but her attention his attempts to win her favour fall on deaf ears.
We also see inside his mind as a fantasy version of him contorts and is even decapitated in response to her barbs. That he left his wife to pursue a much younger woman undermines any sympathy at his plight. Yet the disjointed direction gives away that something else is afoot. Drawing on the mythology of the kumiho, a Korean nine-tailed fox that can appear human, ‘Collector’ shows that IU can hold the camera’s focus by her strength of will.
‘Kiss Burn’ is by far the most easily accessible. This time IU is a school girl who tries to find out why her friend hasn’t attended classes. She visits her home only to be rebuffed by her friend’s layabout father. When he leaves, the two girls take it upon themselves to set a variety of ‘home alone’ style traps in order to teach him a lesson, with varying results.
Kiss Burn is a simple tale of friendship and rebellion. The young characters are learning about themselves and pushing the boundaries of what they can do. It’s paced nicely and ends up with a rather farcical conclusion.
Lastly, in Persona, there is the sombre ‘Walking At Night’. A young couple go for a walk around their old haunts. As they stroll and the dialogue twists downwards, it is quickly revealed that he is dreaming and that she is dead, having taken her own life not long prior.
Shot in black in white and using beautifully framed shots of streets, cafes, and monochrome street lighting; ‘Walking At Night’ is a mini-exploration of life and love in a country where suicide is indeed a major issue. The score is gentle and complimentary and while this segment means the collection ends on a downer, it’s engaging and thoughtful enough to not leave you in your own fugue.
Overall Persona is an artfully crafted and well action collection. IU’s seems keen to move away from her standard K-Pop start to a genuine artist and her performances certainly show she has the range. Persona may start with its weakest link but it is worth sticking with. And there is plenty here for fans of dabbling in art house nuance in the form of short story nuggets.
Words by Michael Record