Q & A with Director of Trans: Naeri Do

Trans follows Minyoung Go, a teen girl with an eating disorder who dreams of becoming a transhuman. Following a serious assault, she plans revenge on the boys that attacked her by making her dreams into a reality. Trans enjoys its UK Premiere at Grimmfest Easter edition on 4th April 2021.

Trans is causing quite a buzz on the festival circuit for many reasons. This fast-paced Sci-fi thriller wraps quantum physics, neuropsychology and transhumanist philosophy into a sharp Philip K. Dick style paradoxical time loop all the while exploring the values that challenges many people today. What is particularly special is that this South Korean film is triple F rated, meaning women take the lead both in front of the camera and at all levels of production. So we were particularly excited to chat to director and writer, Naeri Do, who was just as excited to meet a female film journalist.

Transhumanism is a concept that has been used in other horror films, but Trans is different in that it explores the concept from a philosophical perspective. What led you to be interested in Transhumanism?

"At first it began with my interest in science. Then I began to explore the concept of multiple universes which lead to exploring multiple consciousness which is why there are three main characters in Trans. I developed the plot using brain patterns, when you start studying AI it leads to neuroscience and through that; transhumanism. I also wanted to show my opposition to human centeredness in this film."

I comment that I am also interested in the films concepts, having a particular interest in neuropsychology.

"As you will be aware from your own background, transhumanism has elements of science fiction, so it is not just about the factual aspects and science of transhumanism."

Modern society relies so much on technology already, and I read that a chip is being developed that will sit below the skin and sync with fitness technology to monitor health. Aren't we already transhuman? What dangers do you think it poses to us as a society?

"The concept of transhumanism is fascinating. When it comes to human centeredness, where humans think their race is the best, it would be easy to think that maintaining your human-ness is the best and anything else would be deemed as a threat to who they are. But the concept of transhumanism is mixing of humans with AI. An interesting quote I have seen is that the race that gets to explore the universe is the next level of humans or AI. It is not that I worship AI but I think that it maybe the next step in evolution and something that our society may have to learn to accept is to coexist with AI and developed technologies."

I really liked that Trans was really unsettling because we are never sure what is real, and I was left with a sense that reality is something that we create . Can you explain the films references to our concept of reality in more detail?

"I would like to start by explaining the films structure. Trans is divided into five different parts where the first three parts are repeated, where you can see the clock repeatedly on screen. The first is Minyoung Go’s perspective, the Second is from Itai's perspective and the third is from Nonchul's perspective . These are basically dreams and as is revealed later in the film, these are all aspects of a single character who has already become transhuman. As we get to the last part of the film, she wakes up from the trans state to reality.

My intention was to show the ways our brain can interpret reality. Many people think that reality reflects our dreams, but I wanted to show that our dreams reflect reality and so you can see these elements are integrated into the last part of the film where the actual reality happens."

I asked Naeri to expand on the philosophical concepts of reality that were explored in Trans.

"There was not a specific concept that influenced me, although I did major in philosophy so I had a little bit of training in this area. Transhumanism can be interpreted as both transformation and changes but also about crossing different borders , for example going from one state to another. One aspect that interested me the most was breaking fixed thoughts and prejudices that are already here in this world. So after research on different concepts, my findings lead me to develop the film in this particular way."

Trans makes reference to the fact that no matter how much we evolve, we always come back to the same place of thinking we are not enough, leading to us despising and abusing ourselves. It is true for Minyoung, and many young people today. How do you suggest we break the loop?

"I am not sure how to answer the question. There are different layers of narrative to a film, one could be a story about love, another could be about liberation. One method to break free from the loop and to find freedom is to doubt what feels most stable to you. So being anxious and unsettled is a good state to be in."

That reminds me of a quote ‘growth happens outside your comfort zone”. It maybe my interpretation but it seemed that Trans solution to being stuck in the loop is to step outside it. "Thanks, I appreciate it. "

Trans reminded me both of the 2004 film Primer in style, with references to various anime films and games including Ghost in the Shell. Are there any specific films that influenced Trans?

"The concept of time loops is explored in other Sci Fi films, to the extent I was worried when writing it could be a cliché. I made myself a promise that the first part of the Trans had to influence the end and the story had to develop with each loop within the film. One film that influenced this aspect was Inception and I would like the audience to approach Trans in the same way. The flitting of back and forth between past, present and future was influenced by Iron Sky and there is another film Moon which focuses on three clones that interact as three characters. I also like Brandon Cronenberg and a Danish director called Lars Von Trier who focuses on the concepts of nymphomania and feminism."

Talking of style, Trans loops back to the same point in time. This had the risk of confusing and losing the audience, yet the story unfolded clearly. How did you strike a balance between repetition and story development?

"I focussed on the research initially. This was the aspect that took the longest when developing the plot. I took a long time over developing the plot too. Some films have a lot of energy at the beginning and then loses momentum by the end. Completeness was therefore an important aspect when balancing repetition with story development."

The film is triple F rated, meaning that women have been involved in all levels of the film. What challenges do you face both as a woman and as a film-maker in South Korea?

"I had a long hiatus as I made films during university but it took a long time to receive support for Trans. I submitted this idea in 2016 and it was rejected over and over. The #MeToo movement had just started and only started to affect South Korea in 2017. This influenced the decision to grant support for the film as a way of addressing the imbalance.

However, there were still some challenges when filming. I was afraid it would be seen as political but it is the directors role to bring balance and lead the whole crew. I did face some challenges there. Right now as a female filmmaker, things are not easy. "

What is next for you?

"I am currently working on a film about cyberfeminism. Perhaps we can talk about that soon.

Horror Girly says:

Trans is a white- water ride through temporal paradox/time loops, consciousness, quantum physics and transhumanist philosophy but is starkly relevant to anyone who may have struggled with self confidence and body image. It's charm comes from the old school VFX and the retro 'teens do a cool science thing' style movie with plenty of anime references. At first, you may feel confused by the repetition and fragments of time, but these are clarified by the films mid point where we start to understand the characters relation to each other and that reality is completely subjective. As mentioned, this film reminded me of Primer (2004) in tone and style, with nods towards Cronenburg style body horror and with a pulsing soundtrack. It is worth a watch (or two, or three!)

You can buy tickets for Trans at Grimmfest here

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