Commissioned by film production powerhouse CJ CGV, short film The X (더 엑스) has been specifically created with the purpose of experimenting with Screen X technology. By utilising the space either side of the screen, Screen X intends for films to be a more immersive experience for audiences.
In order to fully explore the possibilities offered by the technology, famed director Kim Jee-woon (김지운) has been brought on board to helm the short film, while stars Kang Dong-won, Shin Min-ah, and E Som fill the roles within the spy thriller. The story itself is intended as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the spy sub-genre, and in all honesty is rather inconsequential. Ultimately The X is intended as an experiment, and as such it deifies review. Instead, it is more apt to discuss the pros and cons of Screen X technology, as director Kim and his team only somewhat succeed in exploiting the extra space they have been afforded.
Screen X is indeed an immersive experience when employed correctly. One of the earliest scenes features Kang Dong-won in a room filled with light reflected from a ’70s disco ball, and when the screen expands to envelop the audience it does truly feel like being within the film itself. There are two or three shots such as this within The X, and in each case the film looked quite stunning as the extra depth generated genuinely creates a feeling of immersion within the events on screen.
By director Kim’s own admission during a press conference at BIFF 2013, there was only one particular sequence he focused on within the film, and it shows. The car chase sequence is short but thrilling, as motorcycles and cars weave through all three of the screens and into adjacent areas, with the action flowing well throughout. Director Kim’s incredible vision for action is fully on display during these scenes, and as villains are mown down in hails of bullets their bodies and motorcycles fly from one screen to the next. The manner in which such devices are executed allows the audience to follow the carnage naturally, before moving back to the action on the central screen. While short, it’s an impressive sequence that utilises the technology well.
The chief issue with The X is that director Kim hasn’t adjusted his directing skills in order to fully exploit what Screen X technology provides. The story and action are continually centrally located, and when the side screens suddenly appear it is extremely jarring and pulls the audience from the film easily. Throughout The X this is a key problem, as rather than gradually guide the audience from one screen to another, the impromptu flash of a new screen unexpectedly appearing is quite frustrating and distracting. Moreover what often appears on the peripheral screens is of little importance anyway. When Agent Fingers (E Som) uses her computer, for example, images of her PC screen appear on the outer cinema screens – extremely odd considering she is looking it in the central area. As such, several members of the audience complained they didn’t know where to look, or what action to follow.
Another issue with Screen X is actually within the cinema itself. Unless a cinema is equipped with the two additional (angled) side screens, the film must be projected onto the walls of the room. This may seem a minor quibble, however in attempting to follow a story from one area of the room to another the 90 degree angles of the cinema walls made the transitions awkward and interrupted the flow. This also begs further questions as to whether cinema chains will want to refit screens to provide such an experience or, perhaps more importantly, if other directors will wish to use the medium in the first place to justify such expenditure.
Currently Screen X is an interesting concept, although at this early stage is somewhat gimmicky. However the same was said of 3D and 4DX once upon a time, and it will be interesting to see whether industry professionals decide to take the technology a step further and make it a permanent feature of the cinema-going experience.
The X is ultimately a technological experiment rather than a short film. Commissioned by CJ CGV and directed by auteur Kim Ji-woon, the production is intended as a showcase for Screen X technology which employs two additional, peripheral screens. Aside from an impressive car chase and one of two key shots, director Kim and his team generally fail to exploit the potential offered by Screen X making it feel somewhat gimmicky, although time will tell if the industry adopts what’s on offer.