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Plastic Girls: A Film by Nils Clauss

As Nils Clauss wraps up his 3 part Korean series with a short documentary called Plastic Girls, we can’t help but notice the distinctive features that make the trilogy cohesive. The most glaringly obvious one is that they address social issues that, in some cases, were just glossed over and weren’t dissected like the documentaries were able to do. But the most interesting part of the series is the use of space and architecture that make us focus on the subject matter with a different lens.

Plastic Girls from Nils Clauss on Vimeo.

These mannequins are unique to Korea and Clauss pokes at gender issues without actually talking about it. The mannequins seemingly innocuous presence creates a tension in the space that brings to light the hyper-sexualization of women in public spaces. In a sea of media platforms that gawk at everything that is wrong with the culture, Clauss manages to spark a conversation without openly bashing it. Clauss states, “As a foreigner, how do we and how should we address our concerns about something we personally disagree with? What kind of criticism can you possibly engage yourself in, if you live in a society, which is so different from your own and possibly conflicts with your beliefs?”

What was the motivation behind Plastic Girls?

Up to Plastic Girls, I never directly addressed gender issues in any of my previous films. From a theoretical point of view, it might not be acceptable to criticise the male gaze, by utilising the male gaze through my camera. But for the mise en scène of the film, I wanted to create a strong visual relationship between the audience and the mannequins. It makes us feel very uncomfortable staring at the plastic girls and that reflects the relationship between the mannequins and the passersby who encounter them every day on the streets.

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I felt that since the mannequins aren’t real humans, it allowed me to take this approach without being offensive. I want the audience to understand that Plastic Girls is not a stereotypical display of female body parts but that it illustrates how the male gaze is supposed to interact with those plastic mannequins in a public space simply for the sake of commerce.

The scripted interviews gave the mannequins a sense of delusion, what was the approach for the voices?

Different to Bikini Words and Last Letters, the interviews for Plastic Girls had to be scripted. Whereas it was really difficult to find the right interviewing approach for Last Letters due to the tragic subject matter, Plastic Girls  on the other hand created a challenge to put yourself into the mindset of the mannequins. This raised many questions. What do the mannequins think about? Are they happy or sad? How do they feel about their role and appearance? How do they express or verbalize their thoughts?

The entertainment industry here has especially ingrained obnoxious beauty codes into society thus shaping the younger generation to be obsessed with looks and popularity. Therefore the characters in Plastic Girls are conceptualised as very obedient towards their owners (who literally take advantage of them), very accepting of an unacceptable situation, very euphoric towards their work (which is excessively monotonous) and sexually explicit about how they talk about and present their bodies in public space without any reflection.

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What was the purpose of the different mannequin names?

The linguistic developments I talked about in Bikini Words inspired me to link the names of mannequins in Plastic Girls to beauty-related expressions, which are actually part of everyday vocabulary here in Korea. For example, Saemi has a body shaped like an “s-line”, which is basically a very curvy body from bottom up to breast. Rora is a “nuclear beauty”, Sunny has “honey skin” and Mina has a “Cola bottle body”. All the terms exist in contemporary Korean vocabulary and are applied to the look of young people. I think the fact that these expressions are part of popular and everyday culture as language about the body might help to explain the psyche of the characters we shaped and interviewed in Plastic Girls.

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You can find our coverage of Bikini Words on our website as well as Last Letters on Vimeo.