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Short Film Review: The Nap (2023) by Joonseong Ahn

The Nap’ poses a question that in current times is an urgent one: what makes us enemies when all that distinguishes us are uniforms.

What makes people enemies? And what happens if you take away the circumstances that make them fight each other? These are the questions at the heart of 's short film ‘'.

Hong Kong, Within Me is screening at Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia

It is early 1950's and the Korean War is raging on. On a hot summer day, two young men are taking a sweet nap in the valley water. Ironically, one of them is a South Korean soldier, Taeyoung, and the other is a North Korean soldier, Wanhee. For a moment war seems non-existent.

Although set in times of war ‘The Nap' is not a hardcore war film. Instead, Joonseong Ahn aims to make his audience think about what it is that makes people enemies. While in the water without their uniforms and guns, the two soldiers are just human beings. They joke around a bit and don't really see each other as the enemy until they are reminded of the war. They run for their uniforms and once again are on opposing sides.

Joonseong Ahn starts the film by setting the right stage to talk about his premise. The film is set in a rather idyllic landscape and the tranquillity and remoteness of this space adds to the feeling of relief and peacefulness that the soldiers feel while taking a break from the chaos of war. Without any dialogue or music, the film relies heavily on the acting to convey the feelings of the two protagonists. The two young actors, and pull this off in a subtle way. Especially the bit in the water when resting and fooling around feels very natural.

However, Joonseong Ahn adds an extra layer to the situation: a mix-up of their uniforms. This is where he takes the story one step too far for it to stay credible. For one the riverbanks are shown to be quite different: stones versus bush and it makes one wonder if the soldiers would really make the mistake of running towards the wrong uniform. On top of that the film's editing doesn't help the viewer with understanding what is going on. Joonseong Ahn starts by setting up the scene with establishing shots of the river and its surroundings. Then he introduces the soldiers in a simple yet effective way: showing their uniform and the soldier it belongs to while at the same time suggesting where the soldiers are placed, in relation to each other: South Korea on the left, North Korea on the right. Next is a shot of a big rock followed by a shot of the two soldiers resting against, presumably, that rock, seemingly still in the same position. However, when running for their uniforms it turns out they actually changed position.

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This way of editing the action suggests breaking the 180-degree rule. According to that rule, the camera should be kept on one side of an imaginary axis between the two characters. That way their position stays the same. In ‘The Nap' the viewpoint switches to the other side of that axis, or as it is called, the camera jumps the line, but as the characters have moved as well, the viewer doesn't notice the jump. As such, Joonseong Ahn misleads the viewer and as a result they are as taken by the uniform mix-up as the soldiers are. In theory that sounds like a good idea. However, the execution feels forced and unnatural. The rock shown doesn't seem big enough to be the one they are leaning against. Also, there seems to be no reason for them to have changed their positions.

Possibly, the director overthought this part of the film or maybe he got too hung up on the theory of how film editing works. This is a shame because it distracts the viewer while the short is otherwise interesting and well made: tranquil beginning followed by the rapid editing to take the viewer to the climax of the film. It is also a pity because there might have been an easier way to achieve his objective: extending the playful fight in the water and making the soldiers circle each other combined with the right editing might have been enough to confuse both the soldiers and the audience.

All in all, ‘The Nap' poses a question that in current times is an urgent one: what makes us enemies when all that distinguishes us are uniforms. As such it is a shame that a too artificial twist distracts the viewer from that question.

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