REVIEW: Opera [2021]

Rating: 10 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 9 minutes
    Release Date: 2021 (South Korea)
    Studio: Beasts and Natives Alike
    Director(s): Erick Oh

With a triangular structure composed of about one hundred different individual compartments that all connect via a religiously, bureaucratically, and militarily closed-loop ecosystem, it is impossible to fully comprehend everything that’s going on in one go. Erick Oh‘s Opera therefore becomes more a treatise on society’s ills, aspirations, failings, and successes than a narrative with A to B propulsion as a result, its infinite cycle of night and day (as dictated by an hourglass turn) becoming a nightmarish depiction of the nine circles of Hell as much as the faith-based dreams of divinity. White-headed figures eat, work, and worship while dark-headed figures await their moment for revolution in a chaotic scene of fire and brimstone all but extinguished once the switch is flipped to do it all again.

The closest thing I can compare the piece to aesthetically is the mobile videogame Monument Valley and its intricately designed optical illusions of bridges and tunnels populated by figures caught on its tracks to progress forward. Imagine those games zoomed out so that we see the entirety of their geography at once, the camera panning over its breadth of information without context or purpose beyond the assurance that its machinations are laid bare for us to digest and interpret on our own. Do we watch the zealotry? Or the bodies alternating from coffins in the ground to meat grinding conveyor belts recycling eaters into eaten? Do we watch as one side sends everything upwards to its rulers? Or the other as its rebels move down for inevitable bloodshed?

Its detail is exquisite, its content mesmerizing. As the description talks about our history and society holding beauty and absurdity, we recognize the ways in which those notions augment and oppose each other on-screen through these parallel vignettes. That the keyhole exists at the top and the key at the bottom only reveals how an end is impossible. Good reaps bad. Bad births good. One side is the hero and the other the villain—each flip-flopping depending on your own selfish desires and/or unavoidable desperation. A prison is survival and death. A library is education and censorship. Our duality of existence is given abstract form in a uniquely idiosyncratic world that stands alone and as metaphor. Everyone is a slave to its progress and creator of its destruction.


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