Lo-fi Sci-fi in the Land of Gangnam Ebook

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BookCover LoFi SciFi Gangnam

I knew the lecture was doomed when I saw the clown. It was a Saturday morning on the outskirts of Seoul; I’d just flown 10 000 km to give my first director’s workshop at a prestigious Korean film festival. Filled with naïve and illustrious hopes, I’d worn a suit jacket and jeans in public for the first time, nervously rehearsed my fifty-five talking points for an intensive afternoon seminar. Until I discovered my opening act was whipping his audience to frenzy with balloons and a tickle trunk. And a sparkling foot-long golden bow-tie, custom-built for hosting a Science Magic Show for Korean schoolchildren. Many of the children were twelve. Most were eight. The majority stuck around for my workshop.

Theoretically, the workshop was a central feature of the 3rd Gwacheon International Sci-Fi Film Festival, held in southern Seoul in the brand-new ultra-tech National Science Museum in October 2012. I’d been invited to present a film I’d co-directed and edited, the fiercely independent feature Ghosts With Shit Jobs, and give a two-hour seminar entitled “How to Make a Community Powered Feature Film for $5000”. Given the specific nature of the film and lecture, I’d made the blind assumption the audience would be a complimentary film fest crowd: cinephiles, students and indie film directors. I’d written 3000 words, prepped fifty shot examples, even memorized my grandiloquent introduction. But from the second I climbed out of Grand Park Station Exit Number Five just east of the Science Museum, I heard a savage doom blowing.

Before I could see the Museum, I felt it, roaring. At the subway’s exit—a man in a red spacesuit was freefalling, performing aerial acrobatics above a screaming wind-machine. A captivated crowd of parents and infants watched a humungous fan hurl him two stories into the air and suspend him there until he streamlined his body and slid back to earth. In the distance, the Science Museum lay hunched over like an alien spacecraft at the end of a grand promenade built for worship. It did not resemble any film festival site I’d ever visited.

As I approached the ticket gate near the entrance, a lovely festival programmer named Jeongwha greeted me graciously. She offered to give me a tour of the building, an ever-curving glass and carbon facility throbbing with weekend crowds. Everywhere, troupes of visitors mobbed film fest stages, experimented with green screens, posed in front of robots and astronaut models. All top-notch material, but I noticed an odd fact: all the visitors were children. Or, they were ambling parents, trailing far behind their spawn. But in the moment, I shook it off. Because the logic of flying across the Pacific to present an R-rated film to children was beyond irrational. There would certainly be more adults at the screening. Film students. Cinephiles. Grown ups.

My guide led me to the festival’s screening space, where a cavernous ticket lobby connected the primary theatre with a gift shop and the barn-sized conference-style lecture hall where I would present my seminar. Jeongwha first lead me into the 400-seat theatre for a quick sound-check, maybe to show off the state-of-art facilities. The theatre was bewitching, carved out of some high-tech blonde graphite wood—the film never sounded or looked better. After, we exited and walked through the lobby towards the lecture hall—the walls sporting the festival’s thirty-feet high, immaculate robot art.

But as I walked through the lobby, I noted that the festival’s movie posters were clearly targeted at kids. Except ours. Our lead actor’s picture hung next to an image of The Rock outrunning a Tyrannosaurus rex. And a poster for Frankenweenie. And the Transformers.

The inevitable dawned, bent and shook its head. I entered the lecture hall for tech rehearsal and saw the clown with the bow-tie performing physics-based magic for a restless group of pre-teens and knew I was fucked.

I took a few photos and thought—how did we miss the fact that this film festival was built for children? And why would they invite us here for this—our movie has the word “shit” in the title. It’s entirely inappropriate for kids: it features murderous combat cyborgs, bathroom taser assaults, baby robot slaughters, faked suicides, and 31 curse words in 95 minutes. A distant foreboding registered—what if I had to give my lecture to children. Though surely that wouldn’t happen—there would have to be a separate audience for that, the cinephiles and adults.

I considered the options for an invitation mishap—maybe the Hangul translation of “shit” wasn’t right. Or maybe the festival programmers discovered our movie won best feature at Sci-Fi London and blindly lobbed the invite out there. On whimsy. And without blinking, we’d accepted. Because when someone offers a free trip to Asia to an independent filmmaker, no one asks questions. Or at least, they don’t ask good questions. The flight alone was worth more than a third of our entire production budget, so jump at that chance—it’s the land of soju and Gangnam and karaoke—what could possibly be wrong with it. I don’t know if we’d even looked at the website.

Besides, other directors on the project had attended festivals in far off lands that turned out to be brilliant: our writer and exec producer, Jim Munroe, swapped drinks with Julian Sands at the head table of a Polish film fest with an opening gala that put TIFF to shame. The folks in London, England and Arizona had feted it with awards. For a film made with a smaller budget than most productions spend on hairspray, it took us a long way. So any lilting twists of Korean-English in the invite emails didn’t scare us, and any gaps in translation we filled with: free trip to Asian film fest.

Further clouding our judgment—we desperately wanted to see what an Asian audience would think of our movie. Because Ghosts With Shit Jobs is all about a future where Asia runs the planet after North America has immolated itself on a pyre of its own financial idiocy. In the Ghosts future, us North Americans work for Asia, doing all the shit jobs none of them want to do: a digital janitor blurring logos in a post-Goog Street View virtual world.

A human spammer. Spider-silk gatherers. Robot baby makers. It’s aspiring big-brain lo-fi sci-fi with a hint of controversy and some flagrant dirty language. What it isn’t: ideal fare for a schoolchildren’s Saturday afternoon matinee.

So as I watched the clown—really more of a goofy Science Magician—prepare two fourth-graders for a magic dancing trick, I wondered if I’d ever find out what a Korean adult might think of the show. Which was distressing. Missing out on that conversation would be missing the whole point of the trip, and really, half the point of the three years we spent to make the bloody movie.

The project started out with a small Toronto sci-fi community’s desire to make a futuristic film set after the financial collapse of North America. And then, to talk about what that means to Gen X, Y & Z. What’s the future of the next generation of jobs in a world of monetary chaos? Our post-apocalypse won’t be predicated on zombie attacks and their loose-limbed metaphors, but the real perils of buckling economies and austerity disasters. The topic was deadly relevant in the bailout-rich recession-bound atmosphere of 2009, but it wasn’t being explored in fiction or mainstream sci-fi. Still isn’t, really—zombies reign supreme even as we head off the next, ubiquitous fiscal cliff.

Counter-culture guru Jim Munroe rallied a small group of Toronto filmmakers to the cause. He didn’t want to wait for funding or turgid Canadian granting bullshit—he wanted to do it his way, and now. Which is how Jim’s always done things. He walked away from a major publisher in ’99 and self-published six of his own novels over the next decade. And surprisingly, made enough money on it to survive.

I first met Jim in 2005 while riding shotgun on his Perpetual Motion Roadshow, a monthly DIY literary touring circuit that sent trios of writers across North America on nickels and dimes. I was a bombastic poet from Edmonton best-known for driving a Pink Ambulance and I totally admired the guy’s modus operandi: do the art and have fun promoting the shit out of it. When I moved to the Big Smoke in 2008 we beered up and I volunteered for whatever community-based film project he was starting next. Cause if there’s one thing Jim does well besides cook up sweet sci-fi, it’s build communities to make sweet sci-fi.

So we made our little movie with a small group of dedicated filmmakers on a micro-budget. The online response and the reviews were bracing and the movie got into some festivals and even won a couple. Once we started touring it, we had terrific discussions with people all over the world about the central idea—what would the future of work and finance and technology look like if the States cratered and China ran the show? Which is one of the great joys of working in sci-fi—speculating on the great ideas of What Will Be. But through it all, we felt that half of the equation was missing—we’d never been able to discuss the central tenet with an Asian audience. And we wanted that. Bad.

Which landed me in the National Korean Science Museum in mid-October, staring at the science-magician clown working his under-aged crowd with sparkling vigour. He performed a complicated trick involving the launch of a rocket from a garden-hose ballista. Applause was spattered. We left to catch the start of the movie. In the ticket hall, a hundred and fifty pre-teens had assembled and waited noisily for the film.

The movie was scheduled to play before my workshop, and with the clown show still in full effect, I sat down with the audience when the theatre opened. I watched the first twenty minutes with Jeongwha and the kids, tried to gauge a reaction. No one laughed. No one cried. No one coughed. I cringed at some of the lines, and hoped the translator found an age-appropriate Hangul substitute for “if you’re so particular about who sucks your cock then maybe stop going to tranny bars.” The language in 2040 is rather salty. It was not the best screening I’d attended.

After the first act, Jeongwha and I snuck out of the theatre to meet the interpreter, Dongjin, a charismatic business student who sounded like he’d spent some years in New Jersey. I’d sent him my lecture script earlier and he’d said it was quite good. But now, standing in the conspicuously empty lobby, he said he had some concerns about the format. Which was fine—I had some concerns about my potential audience.

Because I didn’t see any adults lining up for my lecture and the whole building was full of children. I was barely ready to speak in front of a regular audience. Speaking for two solid hours to kids, about an esoteric film subject they likely had zero interest in—totally different thing. Totally different and terrifying thing. I expressed my reservations with some rising dread, but Dongjin shrugged, said I’d be fine. There would be other people in the audience, adults and film students. Hell, he’d just seen two film students waiting near the lecture door on his way in. I could see the hesitation though—buckle up.

He really wanted to speak about the format of the thing. Because it wouldn’t work. So I re-iterated my initial idea. I’d talk for thirty or forty minutes about making a low-budget multi-director feature. Then, I’d help the audience create the story ideas and resource lists to make their own. We’d all share them—totally normal premise, I figured. People love to talk about their big ideas. Dongjin politely said No Way. Koreans were too shy to volunteer. The panel moderator, a film director named Chang Hoon, appeared and they discussed it in hurried undertones. They announced that a straight Q & A would be a better idea, and twenty minutes before the start, we gutted half my workshop.

As I stood there marking up my script, a camera team from one of the big three Korean broadcasters arrived and requested an interview. Intriguing shift. In Canada, we never got big three. We rarely got TV, ever. Dongjin said it was a good sign—the festival was getting publicity, word of the workshop would be out there. Don’t worry—we’d have a good crowd.

I followed the crew graciously, beginning to sweat under the sports jacket. They set up camera in front of the theatre, and positioned me between The Rock and the Dinosaur. It was my first time working through an interpreter and it was stilting—like a teenager learning to drive stick. I’m an OK TV interview, but I tend to go on looping tangents if I don’t know what the questions are going to be like. Naturally, the producer had some doozies about current Korean sci-fi film trends, what I thought of Korean sci-fi films in general. In general, I’d seen exactly one Korean sci-fi movie in the last ten years, so I said it was brilliantly terrific and just needed better international publicity. You know, like Gangnam-style. It was sub-moronic, but it was all I had. I hoped Dongjin’s translations would save me.

Somewhere in the midst of the interview the film let out and the kids poured out of the theatre and excitedly pointed and took pictures of the white dude with a camera aimed at him. Some of the kids whistled and tromped out the door with their classes, but the majority headed to the workshop. The majority. Roughly eighty Korean school-kids and their handlers thundered past the camera and entered the lecture hall at the end of the lobby. I watched two other adults, presumably the film students, follow them in.

At that point it struck breastbone—I not only had to give my first real lecture to an audience in about five minutes—I had to give my first lecture to a crowd of Korean schoolchildren who didn’t understand English. Irrevocable. Doom.

We wrapped the interview, and walked back into that giant bastard lecture hall. My audience numbered roughly a hundred Koreans and a pair of bored-looking American short filmmakers. I later discovered they were the only other filmmakers at the entire festival. In the front row: three kids with colouring books. Between the ages of three and six. It was the only hard detail I could focus on. My front row was full of kids with colouring books.

4:00 PM. Zero hour. My hands shook as Chang kicked off the festivities with a gregarious introduction to wild applause. It wouldn’t last.

I explained the purpose of the lecture to the audience and asked if anybody present was interested in making films. Amongst the Koreans were the two ungainly filmmaking students who’d lined up for the lecture—one girl and one boy in their early 20s who stared at me with uncomfortable otaku eagerness. Between the students and the bored Americans, four hands went up. Ninety-six did not. I thought about freefalling and wondered exactly what I should do with my precious fifty-five talking points. I looked at my script and told the interpreter we would truncate it. Cut it. Vigorously. But as I started chopping, I looked out at the audience and those two gangly film students stared up at me with their twitching pencils and unblinking gazes and their unfinished cinematic opuses. And I knew I couldn’t just gut it. They’d probably been standing outside since the Magic Science Show ended. They were waiting for some brilliance. And what else was I going to talk about for two hours?

So I ploughed into it. Some of the audience hadn’t seen the movie so I ran the trailer, which I’d forgotten had no Korean subtitles. No one understood it, but they applauded again, then went stone silent. I tried my best TED speaker introduction, but could only talk in one sentence bursts and then wait, minute by minute, for Dongjin to translate. And learned it’s near-impossible to establish any rhythm or emotional connection while speaking through an interpreter. Essentially, you throw out a sentence like a juggling club to the other guy to bash around for a long while before he nods and chucks it back and you start the whole routine over. Dongjin was an engaging speaker, but it’s a slow process when the information is relevant. It’s murderous when it’s not. I started preaching about community-building and pre-production planning, and watched the infants in the front row drift back to their colouring books. Most of the pre-teen kids glazed over and a full-grade panic swept in. The Americans didn’t care either—they had no intent of making a community based film for no budget. The only ones that seemed to care were the organizers and the two film students, and they seemed to care a lot. I asked myself what the Rock would do in this situation. And kept freaking rolling.

Because sometimes that’s how it goes. You get in front of the wrong audience with the wrong art or wrong message and you try to work it but it’s not going over. There were a good number of nights in my explicit poetry career like that. Sometimes Saskatoon doesn’t want to hear a poem about blowing up a cow with a hand-grenade. But often, even in a hostile crowd, there’s one or two faces that can’t stop staring, can’t stop nodding their heads or taking feverish notes and you know it’s going over huge for them. They came out here specifically to see you do this. Whatever you’re saying resonates deeply with them, and you may be the only one that has ever said this important thing to them. So you keep going. Because you owe it to them.

At least, I felt I owed it to them, those two film students and a couple of youngsters in the second row that seemed to be enjoying the show. So I ground through our pre-production material while some parents politely packed up their youngest kids. The tweens’ attention wandered. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when I talked special effects, because everyone loves them—even philosophers and ADHD infants love a good camera trick. So I showed them every effect I had, twice. The detachable robot hand shot

was an absolute saviour at the thirty-minute mark, seemed to turn the whole lecture for a moment. But then I ran out of new shots, hit the blank screen of death. And watched the audience go blank too. Tried to race through the rest of the production and post-production content while re-running as many shots as possible, sweaty hand on the machine. But there were not enough effects on our budget, could never be enough: the point of lo-fi sci-fi is to use them intelligently and sparingly to avoid breaking the bank. Finally, after about forty-five excruciating minutes, I wrapped it up and said we’ll move into the workshop portion after a short break.

I was vibrating. Physically shaking. Because I’d been freefalling through the stratosphere of foreign language and ill-matched audience, speaking as fast as possible while stopping every sentence and trying to give those two film students what they came for. I thought I might hyperventilate. I drank a quart of coconut juice.

But after the break, the Questions from the Q & A were surprisingly good, even entertaining. The rhythm picked up. The moderator was a genius. The two students asked thinly veiled queries about films they were making and we tried to help them, but it clipped along and there wasn’t even enough time to answer them all. After awhile, we asked if anyone wanted to try to workshop a story idea they had for a low budget sci-fi movie. For a long minute, there were no takers.

Then, a small miracle. One seven-year old boy in the second row held up his hand and said he had a story he thought might make a good film and wanted to see what I thought. He talked in Korean for nearly five minutes and the audience listened raptly as he described it with great passion. The translator tried to explain his story to me about cloning and some kind of electrical super-power. Which I said sounded awesome, flat out. That he should make it immediately, maybe write it down and then shoot it with whatever you have. Use your phone! He wanted to know if he could do a simple special effect without computers and we told him of course. That’s the crux of lo-fi sci-fi—all you need to show cloning electrical super-powers is a close up of a prop needle with a lightning bolt and the word “DNA” on it. Then jab someone with it.

The kid was excited as king-hell and the moderator filled his head with more possibilities until the questions and stories dwindled and it was pushing 6:00PM and we wrapped it up. There was some applause and the film students thanked us profusely and wandered out awkwardly, but the little boy was more forward and wanted his picture taken with me. And that was the best moment of the afternoon, throwing my arm around him while he posed with a big grin, giving the camera the omnipresent peace sign.

The festival’s Purple Shirted logistics squad came in to take down the banner and projector and I thanked the organizers and everyone seemed a bit dazed. In an odd moment, one of the Purple Shirts walked up to me and introduced himself, said he recognized me from Toronto. Was going to school there. Used to see me at the library. It made as much sense as anything, but he high-fived me and climbed back up a ladder. There were stuttering handshakes all around.

I stumbled out of the Science Centre alone, shaking my head and trying to breathe normally. And I couldn’t help laughing. It just rose up in the Seoul dusk with a weird exhilaration. The kind of off-kilter exuberant post-incident laughter I can only remember on two occasions: after escaping on foot from a trio of cop cars in Fort Mac, and surviving an impossible three hour run to a train station in midnight Naples loaded into the back of a careening van packed with drunken Mafioso. Laugh for surviving, laugh for the surreal. Laugh for the impossible experience of trying to give an imploding film lecture to a group of Korean schoolchildren through an interpreter. I went home to my Gangnam love hotel with its padded fur walls and cackled and thought about getting drunk as soon as possible.

After the workshop, I had a few free days before the next official film fest screening. I spent a night pounding beers and exotic liqueurs with some ex-pat pub owners. It was the kind of roiling bar-crawling evening where it makes perfect sense to hop on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle and burn through twisting midnight sidewalks that bulge with oncoming octopus vendor carts in order to reach the next bar. It helped knock the edge off.

I set to exploring, and spent the days wandering all over Seoul. She’s a city that simply bedazzles; the metropolis’s high-tech architecture expertly integrated with her ancient palaces and spice markets and green spaces.

So many unique neighbourhoods, so much raucous energy on each strip, so much alien culture and language and population and food. Even the simple act of eating beef-tail soup and clam porridge alone in a restaurant packed with local salarymen—it overwhelmed with that raw feeling of travel, of otherness, of whole ways of life before unseen.

But through it, a feeling of vague dissatisfaction, because each glimmer of Seoul’s pristine mass transit and omnipresent tech hinted at exactly the thing I wanted to know. What would an adult audience think about our show, about the big idea—is the West going to crater? Will China leave America in the dust? Will South Korea leave us Canadians in the proverbial muskeg? Because on every Samsung Galaxy-packed subway car I rode, the answer, at least technologically, was clear.

South Korea’s tech is ridiculous. From a casual observer’s point of view, it appears effortless. Just like Canada, everyone has a smart phone. But Koreans freely use their smart phones in places we can’t—like the subway. Underground talk and text—something impossible in the bowels of Toronto. If a Korean doesn’t own a cell phone, they can rent one. And free wireless is everywhere—every single hotel and eatery offers it as a matter of fact—it fairly blankets the city in fast, cheap intercrossing layers. An ex-pat restaurant owner told me that a 250 GB service package only cost him 20 bucks a month. A comparative Canadian version runs $120 a month. My ex-pat said there were plans afoot to put wi-fi in every park and open area in the city—for free. If the wireless doesn’t work for some reason, even cheap Korean love hotels offer home computers wired in right beside the bed. Again, free—while many Canadian hotels still charge $15 a night just for a hook-up. For that price point, members of a generation of Korean video gamers can spend 24 hours living and playing in gaming cube farms called “PCs.” Tech is the lifestyle. And it’s just spanking our overpriced infrastructure, whether we know it or not.

After a few days of culture-gazing and street-wandering, I headed back to the film’s second screening with a real hunger to get my questions answered. I was supposed to introduce the film and do some interactive feedback after the next show. Again, I was optimistic. Which was foolish. I spent the day memorizing my speech and answering fabricated audience questions. In the afternoon, I put on some sweet underwear and donned the suit jacket for the second time. It was mostly for funerals, but fuck it, I was deadly serious about this.

The screening was set for 5PM. I arrived early and spotted the festival organizers, Chang and Jeongwha. We found the interpreter, Dongjin, and his New Jersey accent, and went to check on the crowd. The showing started later in the day than the first time round, so I figured it would be a better time slot. But logic caved that in hard—the Science Museum is a kids’ arena, and at 5PM, kids are home. The theatre was dead.

As the hour dawned, a smattering of fifteen or twenty Koreans spread themselves out across empty seats. I tried to make light of it, saying I’d held poetry readings for four people, but my heart sank. Forty hours on a plane for an audience of fifteen kids. Chang and Jeongwha said I could just introduce the film, skip the questions, and we could leave. They’d all seen it twice, so they didn’t need to see it again. So Dongjin and I introduced the show with gusto, thanked the crowd for their hospitality, and the four of us walked out as the movie started. I was deflated.

Then Dongjin asked–now what? The three of them talked in rapid Korean for a hopeful moment and asked me if I’d like to try soju and roe fish. Dinner on the festival. They would like to talk about the film. And maybe karaoke.


We took the train to Sadang-dong neighbourhood in Southern Seoul and Chang guided us to a local open-walled restaurant packed with Koreans. Chang ordered a plate of raw fish and offered up a bottle of soju. Dongjin poured a shot for me and we said Cheers and Gunbei and away we went.

It turned into one of those rollicking conversations that only happen while traveling, when everyone has a different perspective and wants to learn and has nothing to lose by sharing their real thoughts with friendly strangers they’ll never see again. We talked about the commonalities and difficulties of life and careers in arts. And we talked jobs, cause the movie was all about jobs. Chang, a film director, said his career was difficult for parents and cohorts to swallow. Took forever to get established. He said that most Koreans work like maniacs, and most young men and women labour as salarymen for some large company—toiling long hours in a structured office environment until the boss says they can go home. Most of those jobs, he figured, really were shit jobs. But everyone did them.

Jeongwha was interested in North American stories, about some of my jobs—I had to explain my short career as a professional fly fisherman in great detail. How I’d chased bears away from quads, rolled machines in muskeg, fished with an electroshocker and a helicopter. I explained that like most of their artistic careers—my own path followed no particularly sensible route. That there was a similar pressure in North America to choose a reasonable occupation early and follow it, but that my path swerved all over the place: student, lumberjack, fisheries biologist, web dude, courier, TV producer, poet, editor, director. But we all agreed that for good or ill, best to try one’s own weird path rather than settle for salarymen hell.

They were fascinated by how we picked the jobs in the film. How did we figure what Shit Jobs North Americans would do in the future? I said we’d simply started by trying to punch holes in condescending North American documentaries about “poor third world workers,” twisted them through a futuristic prism and dropped them back in our own lap. Instead of Chinese sweat-shop doll manufacturers, we had robot baby makers. Thai collectors of bird’s nests used for soup became genetically-engineered spider-silk gatherers. And we went from there, we had fun with the future.

And after a few bottles, I turned the conversation to the main question of the film. Asked whether they thought America would collapse, and whether Asia would soon be considered the first world. Whether China would become the next superpower. It was a heavy question and they took a sip of soju as they considered it.

Chang spoke first: I hope so. He was joking. But he wasn’t. He hoped that America would sink away, primarily because he couldn’t stand the arrogance. Basically, all three Koreans thought the premise of the movie was dead-on, barely worth debating, a commonly-held opinion. It’s not if the US drops off as a world power and China takes over—it’s when. And they were looking forward to it. They didn’t think America would fall back as far as the third world, but figured it would become more like certain second world countries. Possibly like European nations that still have some clout, but aren’t as relevant or super-powery as they once were because of their financial problems. And, that in a decade or two, the rise of China was inevitable.

Which made them nervous, as they worried they could find themselves swallowed up and spit right out. Relative to the local superpower, South Korea holds a position similar to Canada’s. We’re a population of 30 million people perched north of 300 million Americans—the beaver on the back of Melville’s great Nantucket Whale.

Korea’s got 50 million people sitting due east of a billion-plus Chinese—the little haechi on the back of the Dragon. Both tenuous positions. Though of course, we don’t have to worry about the extra thrill of nuclear missile-rattling North Korean neighbours—which my table-mates didn’t care to ruminate on. Still, they took China’s ascendance to supreme world power as a given, and said they would just hope for the best—hope that it would be a peaceful transition. They also figured that China would eventually become just as arrogant as America and cause its own problems, cause that’s just the cycle that happens. And joked that maybe they should be learning Mandarin instead of English.

And there I had it—the answer to the premise of our film, and the reason we went over—will North America collapse and the East rise ascendant? In the off-hand and damning street-level opinion of three intelligent folks from Korea—yeah, it’s just a matter of time. And I couldn’t blame them for thinking as such, especially considering tech as the new currency. When I told them we couldn’t use our cell phones in the subway, they were incredulous. They actually laughed out loud.

So, we talked about all these great big ideas—the future of nations and careers and humanity—and drank four bottles of soju and got a bit drunk and they gave me a fish head to eat and I ate it and we smoked cigarettes and compared lives in Toronto to lives in Seoul and went to the Norebang singing bar and drank another couple beers and sang like crazy.

After, we shook hands warmly and split in the subway station and I wandered away with that glow of ephemeral friendship that traveling brings. As I stood in the subway car waiting for the train to start, a gaggle of Korean schoolchildren boarded, bumping into each other and playing with their Samsungs. A young boy started taking photos of his friends and fiddling with retro-colour filters to the delight of his subjects. He reminded me of the kid from my lecture, the seven-year old boy with great passion for making a movie about cloning electrical super-powers—the best moment from that weird-ass lecture.

And I wondered if he would end up making that movie—The Boy Who Cloned Electrical Super Powers. Or, if he would make a truly great movie someday, twenty-five years from now. An international hit that would cross all the borders. Of course it would cross all borders, tech has already erased those. But would I unwittingly dial it up online on my eye-ball embedded super-phone and watch it someday? Or maybe catch it at a film festival. Would we still have film festivals, and movie theatres to watch those films? Would his movie play in North America, or would North America even be worth playing in—being the new Second World and all. Impossible to know, but fantastic to ponder, like all sci-fi and future thinking—the joy of speculating and betting on the great ideas of What Will Be.

The subway doors closed and we sped away underground.


Tate Young is a writer, director & editor living in Toronto.