29/01/2023

Oscar-nominated film Ajoomma blends Singaporean and Korean filmmaking with ARRI equipment

Singapore’s Oscar-submitted film “Ajoomma” breaks cultural barriers, blending filmmaking techniques from Singapore and Korea to create a look through the eyes of the film’s protagonist Auntie­–a widow obsessed with “K-dramas” (Korean soap operas).

The story follows Auntie as she travels to Korea for the first time. While there, she is accidentally left behind by her tour guide and is suddenly faced with an unforeseen adventure in an unfamiliar country.

The team spent a lot of time designing the look of “Ajoomma,” playing around with ideas and references. Korean cinematographer DP Gyeong Hyeon Hwang explains: “The nuances differ slightly depending on the country where the story is taking place.

With the team shooting in different locations, they had to use two sets of cameras: The ALEXA Mini LF with Ultra Primes in Singapore and the ALEXA Mini with Master Primes in Korea.

“The ALEXA Mini has tremendous advantages when it comes to mobility, especially in combination with gimbal equipment.

“We wanted the camera movement to gradually become more dynamic as soon as Auntie arrived in Korea, and setting up the Mini with the gimbal was effortless.

“Since this is a road movie, there were also a handful of car scenes. Similarly, the Mini was stable and easy to rig onto vehicles,” says DP Hwang.

“We paired the Mini with Master Primes to achieve a sharper look, which I thought would reflect Auntie’s feelings while in Korea.”

As for the ALEXA Mini LF, cinematographer Hwang did not intend to use a large-format camera, but it was the only ALEXA available in Singapore during that time. However, this unexpected situation turned out to be a delightful twist.

“The combination of the Mini LF and Super 35 lenses, which was not full frame but still provided a slightly wider angle and a shallower depth of field, created stunning images. It was extremely useful because I gained the privilege of having a few more lens options.”

To get a more natural and softer look and, at the same time, minimize the image difference between scenes in the two regions, the production decided on using ARRI Ultra Primes with the Mini LF.

Thinking back to a particular time when ARRI equipment came in handy, Hwang recalls: “I remember shooting a couple of night scenes on a long apartment road in Korea. That was challenging because the whole space had to be filled with ambient lights.

“Thankfully, when shooting a dark night scene with enough ambiance, ALEXA cameras provide deep and clean shadow detail. As a result, we were able to shoot the scenes without any major problems.

“ARRI ALEXAs are the most stable cameras with outstanding highlight roll-offs and high sensor quality. It’s a universal fact.”

Beyond the storyline, the coming together of cultures was also reflected on set. As the first official Singaporean-Korean co-production, the film was brought to life by a mix of Singaporean and Korean crew members.