SEOUL -- When a Cannes award-winning filmmaker Park Chan-wook and his younger brother Chan-kyong held a test screening of their first collaboration of the film Night Fishing they knew right away the film would be in black and white.
A 30-minute film shot entirely on iPhone, the coarseness of the image quality on the big screen reminded them of a restored black and white film. The two brothers, instead of trying to improve the picture quality by sharpening the fuzzy spots, exaggerated the coarseness even further. They reduced the amount of lighting in outdoor shooting, obscured details of the landscape and mounted a DSLR lens to give it a film-like look.
"It worked out because in the film you can't really see what's beyond the river (where the film takes place) and that creates a strange sense of fear," the 48-year old director says. "It was a choice due to budget constraint because we had limited access to lighting but it made sense artistically and also visually."
The result is a delirious fantasy-horror film unique to Park's style, based on the story of a man who catches a young shaman while fishing in a night river. For Korea Telecom, a local mobile phone carrier for iPhone who commissioned Park and funded 150 million won (130,000 USD), the film turned out to be a publicity stunt well worth the investment. Night Fishing was invited to Berlin's competition for shorts, where it screens at the CinemaxX 3, and also attracted 30,000 admissions in local multiplex theaters in January.
Park isn't the only filmmaker to venture into the new genre. In South Korea, the world's most wired country with more than 40 million mobile phone subscribers -- among which 7 million are smart phone users -- mobile phone companies are fiercely competing with each other to attract the attention of young, tech-savvy subscribers. One of their recent strategies had been to collaborate with high-profile filmmakers like Park and promote their movie-making apps.
Galaxy S, Samsung's ambitious attempt to move into a smart phone business, recently commissioned the director Kim Dae-woo of last year's box office hit The Servant to shoot a 20-minute short film. Age of Milk is a romantic comedy starring two TV idols -- Min Hyo-rin and Choi Daniel -- which has had more than 3.5 million downloads since it opened in December on the company's micro-site, according to Samsung Electronics. The film also played on major cablers like OCN and Super Action.
The film slips in scenes featuring the company's product like when the male lead shoots her lover underwater with his Galaxy S zipped in a plastic bag in a swimming pool. But overall it is a nifty short film that feels like an extended music video. Samsung explained in a press release that Age of Milk reflects the needs and trends of consumers in the age of smart phones.
"The question of finding the right story for a mobile phone is still baffling to me," said Kim, whose films are known for putting spin on classic Korean tales as in his screenplay for Scandal (2003), his adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons. "I am not an early adopter. I was terrified of how the film would look on a larger screen. But I was very impressed with the overall picture quality."
Other filmmakers see potentials in phone cameras and their apps as an alternative to professional equipment. The camera size is a big asset. Park's crew installed ten iPhone cameras for the filming of Night Fishing. This saved time and allowed access to more diverse angles without having to reshoot. He also discovered that actors performed more naturally, because phone cameras are un-intrusive.
"It really has changed the perspective of a film," says Hong Gyeong-po, a director of photography for Mother and Taeguki. "It's hard to believe that I'm making a film in an age where people shoot, edit and watch their films on their mobile phone."
A local survey also presents a dizzying future of the country's mobile technology. Korea Information Society Development Institute, a think-tank for mobile and wireless technology, said more than 20 million people, which is one-third of South Korean population, will become smart phone subscribers by the end of the year.
Already companies are offering carefully crafted marketing plans to reach their potential consumers.
A new app by a local developer features a program that shows Korean indie films on the iPhone. Korea Telecom is also collaborating with Lotte Entertainment, the country's second largest distributor next to CJ Entertainment, to host a smart phone festival later this month. The festival's jury is led by a veteran director Lee Joon-ik (The King and the Clown), and the winning films will be screened at Lotte Cinema, a local multiplex chain.
Ham Bo-ram, a 21-year old fine art student is one of the contestants who submitted a 9-minute film titled True Christmas. The film took him a month to shoot and edit.
"I want to be a filmmaker and iPhone 4 is a great tool because it has iMovie (an application that allows the user to edit)," he says. "I eat, sleep and work. The rest of the time I play with my iPhone."