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The Genius behind the Toilet Paper: the films of Chang Hyung-yun

The Genius behind the Toilet Paper: the films of Chang Hyung-yun


Korean animator and director, Chang Hyung-yun has mastered the rare feat of balancing on the line between insanity and genius. He’s natural orientation along this difficult precipice allows him not just to walk along it but dance upon it, bringing along his madcap characters and out there story-lines for good company. The fact that his—albeit fairly small—filmography remains rarely seen only makes his position as future cult filmmaker seem all the more predetermined.

His most recent film is also his first feature, entitled Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, which should give you a sense of his proclivity for bizarre characters who embody even more bizarre forms. The film was released in 2014 in South Korea and played a few festivals (London Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Future Film Festival and more). The film is, not surprisingly, hard to summarize but at its heart is a sci-fi romance that is equal parts the chase and explosions of the sci-fi genre as much as it is the heartfelt, ‘love conquers all’ message of the romance genre. The title characters are star-crossed lovers who face extraordinary means in order to end up together. Extraordinary means is a huge understatement for a giant walking incinerator, a toilet paper magician, detachable rocket arms, a warthog witch and much, much more. The beginning of the film begins with such a frenetic pace, introducing elements each more bizarre than the next that without warning you can find yourself a bit shell-shocked. While some may prefer the method of jumping into the pool of crazy headfirst, Hyung-yun’s notable collection of short films provides a way to dip slowly into his particular brand of cinema.

Prior to Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Hyung-yun made seven short films starting in 2002 with Maybe I am Blind, but his films began attracting international acclaim with 2003’s The Letter. The postal-centric love story begins to hint at what soon becomes staples of his work: forlorn love, dark and odd humor, and a simple but pleasing aesthetic. No magic toilet paper just yet.

2008-Wolf Daddy

Wolf Daddy, his 2005 short film, becomes a true festival hit playing at nearly 50 festival and winning numerous awards. The film’s premise is fairly simple, a young writer is interrupted by the arrival of what he is told is his daughter. This happens again with another child, and yet again another. Slowly his priorities shift from being a successful writer to being a successful father. Now imagine the father to be a wolf, the children that show up at his doorstep are a human, a turtle and a rabbit. Each one delivered by a woman who slaps him to attention with gravity defying martial arts moves. The job he eventually takes is that of a bus, literally transporting the small children to school each day within his stomach. Amidst the eclectic cast and bizarre details remains a sweet, heartfelt take on family, which gives a greater purpose and meaning to a scene of a wolf being slapped in the stomach with a turtle. The deeper comment on real human emotion and values is what allows the filmmaker to stay balanced and not just fall face first into the pit of crazy.

While the animation in Hyung-yun’s film isn’t of the highest quality in the genre, it improves with each of his films, signaling only greater things in the future. He uses the art form to its fullest potential as well, he’s creating things that truly could not exist in real life and his character designs capture a realism wrapped in cartoon-cute that works perfectly for his narrative sensibilities. Cult filmmakers inspire the obsessive cinephile to become detectives, tracking down as much of a director’s work as they can find, and it should be no different with Hyung-yun. There’s a benefit to seeing as many of his films as possible, if not just to try to crack the greater mystery of what is going on inside his mind. There are alternative meanings to familiar ideas in his world; domesticated animals doesn’t mean house-trained dogs or cats, it means animals that do the dishes, and sweep the kitchen with a heavy sigh. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that in five years we learn that Hyung-yun’s unique vision of the world has been right all along, but I would also be a little scared.

Rodney Uhler