Nicole Parnis May 12, 2020
Frankie Goes To Seoul – The Makings Behind The Masterpiece
What do you get when you cross a hymn-like ode to a secluded beach in Mġarr with the bright lights of Seoul? Something that looks a lot like filmmaker Franco Rizzo’s latest music video for Brikkuni’s single ‘Fomm Ir-Riħ’.
Released Saturday 9th of May 2020, in the midst of the global Coronavirus pandemic, the stellar offering merging local music with an international backdrop has definitely got tongues wagging. The ambitious project is a true reflection of the very best of both the musical and film-directing artforms coming together to create what’s been repeatedly referred to as “stunning”, and a modern masterpiece by viewers.
Interestingly, the music video was backed by the band and Rizzo themselves, who chose to swerve public Arts funding for this particular feature. The collaborative effort goes to show just how well these things can be done, and the talent that our island’s nurtured. ‘Fomm Ir- Riħ’ sets the bar for Maltese music videos, and with a feature of this standard now under his belt, we can only imagine the director’s capabilities when given the chance to splash out.
The video serves as a true wake-up call to potential funders, private or otherwise, who’d like to invest in the very best of Maltese talent, shining a spotlight on our creatives on the global stage of online platforms. Although the song is sung tenderly in the band’s native tongue, the message is universal. Melancholy and longing for lost love is a language everyone understands. You don’t need a Maltese dictionary to feel the sense of being “half a person” without that special someone, the very bane of the human condition. The lovelorn narrative is referred to though songwriting in every dialect under the sun, and the video fits this narrative like a surgical glove.
The actors in ‘Fomm Ir-Riħ’ were recruited off Korean Craigslist, (brilliant.), and their performances nothing short of flawless. Notably, COVID-19 has its own role to play in the music video, almost starring in a part of its own, taking shape and manifesting itself in face-masks and empty streets; an extra visual barrier representing the distance between two parted souls. It’s Robert Sanchez – Another Chance meets Lost in Translation – The Pandemic sequel.
Brikkuni collectively make for gorgeous, addictive listening on the track. Vella’s call to prayer vocals set earthy foundations for singer Kim Pepe’s choir-esque notes, sounding straight out of a favourite dream. The musical composition itself is worldly, taking you on a trip from Persia to Paris by making use of the ethnic sounds of a hammer dulcimer with a fizzy electronic outro which makes you want to lose yourself on the metro system in a big city, or revel head back, eyes closed in the crowd of a packed out live performance. We’re patiently waiting for that day. Bloody corona.
Until then, Trackage Scheme caught up with the most buzzed about music scene man of the moment. All the way from South Korea, Franco Rizzo lets us in on the movie-making magic behind the masterpiece.
Hey Franco! We’ve got to say this first….WOW! How did Brikkuni first get in contact with you and what was their brief? Were you given full artistic license?
I was originally supposed to shoot the video back in May 2019, while on my second month-long trip here in South Korea. Mario had sent me a low-quality garage recording of the song before that trip and even then it sounded intriguing. The trip ended up being quite the hassle, but I made it a point to shoot on the last day nevertheless.
I was in Busan, a seaside city to the south east of Korea. Out of all the footage I shot there, only the staircase and neon signs shots made it in the final cut. It seems that it was for the better, because in early February of this year, Mario got in touch again and gave me the final version of the song, which had the synth outro. The project picked up steam again, and I was able to fully focus on it and also provide even better filming.
I do remember meeting Mario before moving here to briefly discuss the song. He gave me full artistic liberty with one and a half conditions. The one condition: he had explicitly said that he doesn’t want a “travel video”. The half condition: I always kept in mind that he’s not particularly keen on narrative-based music videos, preferring work like my Velts’s music video.
The song is about a place in Malta and in Maltese. What can you say about the contrast between language and culture of the footage, and did you have any personal feelings and connection with the subject matter of the song?
From the outset, I was always fascinated with taking something Maltese and mixing it with something not Maltese. It opens up the work of art not just artistically but also makes it available internationally. Since I am now based here, South Korea managed to cross language barriers, especially in music (BTS) and movies (Parasite), so what’s to stop a Maltese band from doing so? Maybe it’s highly ambitious and very pretentious to some extent, but here’s hoping this music video is a valid first step in that direction.
As for the song itself, Mario did say that ‘Fomm ir-Riħ’ doubles for a mystical place where parted lovers reunite. I took it even further; it could be that place, mystical or otherwise, where you are reunited with a loved one – friend, family member, lover, alive or have already passed away – or where you are finally at peace with yourself, your own identity. I identified with both of these themes. As far as being at peace with oneself, I have completely outgrown Malta. After returning back from Korea last year, that feeling had reached the very tipping point. While Malta is still my home country, it no longer feels like home for me for a multitude of reasons, that I dread ever returning there for good.
I don’t feel Maltese any longer, but then again, at this day and age, what does it even mean to be Maltese anyway? So now I’m kind of stuck in between a culture that is not mine, yet I somehow find myself identifying a lot with, and a culture that I was born into which is continuously becoming more alien to me. This is why the inclusion of a Korean (Jo Jin Hyo), a half-Korean (Andrei Chernov), a Korean-American (Kate Mayne) and an African American (Renée Simone) was a conscious choice I made. I discussed the above with the actors, to see how they too connect with them personally. In turn, it made me more confident in the belief that these same themes are quite universal.
There’s a noticeable varying degree of how much each actor is tied to Korean culture: Jin Hyo fully embodies it. On the other hand, African American actress Renée is completely foreign to it. In fact, if we take Renée’s “storyline” in the music video, we see her wearing a hanbok – the traditional Korean dress – navigating a landscape that is not her own, and towards the end, we see hear wearing a traditional African headscarf. Through a foreign culture, she has come to embrace her own identity.
As for being reunited with with a loved one, I will only say that I had met someone I was fond of, whom I last saw physically back in May 2019, and deeply wish to reconnect with again, even if just to see that they’re doing fine. This in turn explains why the music video is tinged with a sense of longing and melancholy, to things past or things yet to happen, if they happen.
The video is a beauty. How long did it take to create and how did you find the actors?
It took the best part of three months of blood, sweat and tears to make, including production, filming and post-production. I had originally intended the video to follow an art-house documentary concept, where I would film a day in the life of a North Korean living in Seoul, but from then on the concept kept on transforming and developing.
I had actually managed to get in touch with three North Korean refugees. One of them had actually lived and worked in Malta funnily enough! Unfortunately, it seemed like this setup was not meant to be from the very beginning. For previous two small projects I filmed here, I found actors through Craigslist Korea, so I posted there again. Craigslist kept deleting my post, and to this day I still have no clue as to why, even after I removed any mention of the North to be on the safe side. As soon as I managed to secure two North Korean actors, coronavirus spread throughout Korea. One of the actors immediately dropped out. The other had to focus completely on his own work, so we parted ways amicably.
I guess the advantage of not having a clear narrative path for a music video this time around was to be able to adapt to the situation much easier. I knew that I had to include particular scenes to sew a common thread between the individuals, for example, a nightscape with city lights in the background. That’s why I scrapped the North Korean aspect altogether and diversified the cast further.
I had already worked with Renée before for a short movie, so I got her onboard, and her red umbrella was one of those happy accidents I’m still grateful to her for. Andrei was supposed to be in that same short but had scheduling conflicts that time. I had always liked his look, which fit this work perfectly. He was so professional and helpful that I look forward to collaborating with him again in the future. Kate is an up and coming model with only a few gigs behind her, but I couldn’t have asked for a better actress. She ended up saving the day by suggesting Jin Hyo, whose background in studying acting shone through his nuanced performance.
Even though Korea was badly hit at the time, compared to the rest of the world, their handling was, and still is, top-notch. Ironically, coronavirus was a blessing in terms of this music video. Places that were frequently heavily crowded, especially the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace, were eerily empty, which definitely helped enhance that sense of melancholy. Nevertheless, we still acted responsibly. We were usually only two or three people on location while filming, wearing masks and with hand sanitiser always at the ready.
Interesting! What was working with the myth that is Mario Vella like and what was his and the rest of the band’s reaction?
Working with Mario was surprising to say the least. Before this collaboration, I had only interacted with him through comment threads and some occasional direct messages. You would assume that he’d be this surly person with his particularly blunt commentary, but I guess that indirectly served as further motivation for me to refine and hone my creativity even more.
Mario, warts and all, seems like a guy who definitely knows what he wants when it comes to the musical craft. However, given the chance, he will put enough trust in you to give you full artistic license, which, together with the opportunity given of finally making a Brikkuni music video, I am still very grateful for. His reaction was something I hope I am able to recreate or even top in the future. Both him and the band loved the edit I sent first so much, they didn’t ask for any changes.
The video is almost feature movie-like. Did you have any concerns about how it would be interpreted in contrast to “normal” music videos? Any pre-launch nerves?
I guess I was always averse to “normal” music videos. Recently I have become particularly aware of filmmaking and editing trends started by one content creator or filmmaker, which are copied over and over and over again, until they lose their sense of novelty and originality. Mind you, though, by no means am I minimizing the technical excellence needed to achieve them, and when used correctly and in the right framework, they work brilliantly. But then again, if everyone else is doing the same movie or using the same effect, how much of a unique work are you creating which you can definitely say it is yours, made in your own voice? And are they helping the image tell the story after all?
My aim was always to create images that stick, images that even when their meaning is not immediately evident, they would hopefully elicit some sort of emotion or instinctual gut reaction within the viewer. I am well aware that my technical and budgetary resources are, so far, still very limited, but the last couple of outputs (Bila, Velts) and Brikkuni’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone to create works which, even though they might not be entirely perfect, I am quite proud of and satisfied with.
I count myself lucky enough to have found bands, and individuals too, who they themselves don’t like to work within what is known as the “normal” in Malta. Personally, and might I also add, unfortunately, I would attribute the “normal” with the mediocre, which is what the guys in charge over there always make a point to heavily invest in, which is some seriously misguided effort.
But then again, guess what? You’ve got to put enough trust in Maltese viewers, who have now become more accustomed to seeing things outside of the “normal”. In fact, the band agreed that I post an exclusive preview of the Brikkuni music video before the official launch date in the ‘K-Pop Malta’ Facebook group out of all places! I am glad to report that it was very well-received, and with enthusiasm too.
There will always be pre-launch nerves, so much so that whenever I finish a music video, I just wish it would go out immediately to get it over with! The response in Malta was very positive and encouraging. So far over here in Korea, not many have seen it but it has also been very positive. As to how it made me feel? Relieved and even more motivated to give an equally valuable follow up. But for now, I’ll take a good rest until the next one.
Thank You Franco! XX
YOU CAN STREAM BRIKKUNI’S NEW ALBUM FOR FREE IN FULL FROM THE FOLLOWING MUSIC PLATFORMS: