Wink Rabbit (HONG Haksoon, 2014)
Reviewed by Darcy PAQUET
Wink Rabbit opens, appropriately enough, with an image of the earth, moon and sun. The film is, after all, depicting its own sort of universe. It’s an emotion-filled universe, and as the moon rotates around the earth, and the earth rotates around the sun, their eyes dart back and forth, seeming to express a kind of wonder.
As the image scrolls down to the ground and the film begins, we are gradually introduced to various creatures and characters. Some have been given ordinary descriptive names, like “Bird”, “Funny Woman” and “Big Sea Fish.” Other names are more creative and enigmatic: “Edgy Milky Girl,” “Edgy Milky Boy,”“Love Pig,”“Pink ZingZing,”and the eponymous“Wink Rabbit.”The characters, depicted in crude, child-like sketches, greet each other, hold hands, and flash each other the thumbs- up sign. There is no overarching story to speak of; instead, we follow the characters over the course of a typical day in their world. The film’s director calls it a “boring documentary.”
It takes some time to become acquainted with the world of HONG Hak-soon, which spreads over multiple animated shorts, exhibitions, paintings, a book titled HACKPAGE, and over 10,000 sketches which Hong refers to collectively as The Wink Rabbit Blueprint. Any single work contains only part of the story, and Director HONG is fond of planting elements (for example, Wink Rabbit’s notebook that appears at the end of this film) that will be developed further in subsequent works. Inevitably, one’s first impression is a sort of bewilderment.
But the Wink Rabbit universe, once you have time to explore it, is expansive and fascinating. The childlike nature of the drawings is appropriate, because there’s an almost radical earnestness and lack of irony to this world. The stories that emerge are those of friendship, generosity, mutual understanding, creativity, and love. They are presented not at a cynical distance, but with a surprising directness and naiveté. Yet that doesn’t mean that the stories are simple or easy to understand. On the contrary, the ecology of the world defies logic, and the actions of the characters elude easy interpretation. Indeed, HONG maintains that now that they are fully realized, it is the characters themselves who determine the course of each story.
On a purely visual level, the more that you see HONG’s drawings, the more you come to appreciate their artistry. His natural gift for composition allows him to be free and undisciplined on a micro level, while retaining a cohesiveness and aesthetic power that is best seen on the macro level.
As time passes, HONG Hak-soon has won over more and more enthusiasts in his home country. However, international recognition at film festivals has been slower to materialize. Nonetheless it seems inevitable that an artist of such unique vision, who pursues his art with such unswerving commitment to his own aesthetic, will ultimately be recognized and embraced by viewers both near and far.
Darcy PAQUET is the founder of the website Koreanfilm.org, and the author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves (2009). He is a delegate for the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain and a programme consultant at the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy. He recently launched the Wildflower Film Awards Korea, an annual awards ceremony for Korean independent and low-budget films. He also works occasionally as an actor, most recently in a small role in the SBS drama 3 Days. Darcy has been living in Seoul since 1997.