Tuesday, August 27, 2019

[Review] Bring the Soul: Episode 1 "Challenge"

Before I’ve even had time to finish watching all of the content from the 2018 Memories series or grow tired of revisiting the “Love Yourself in Seoul” Concert DVDs or even before I’ve had time to watch the latest episode of Run BTS comes a new reality series called Bring the Soul. Six half-hour episodes of recycled and picked over footage from the Love Yourself tour mixed with interview footage and aired exclusively on Big Hit’s new platform Weverse for $17.99--the same price per episode as a full hour-long episode of the extravagant costume drama Game of Thrones on Amazon.

Despite my serious misgivings about this series in the wake of the emotional porn and voyeurism of Burn the Stage I found myself clicking into watch the first episode of this new series. Call it morbid curiosity. Or maybe a journalistic spirit. Or both.

This is what I said in my review of the Burn the Stage series:

Adding to the dissociative feeling I got watching this was that as somebody who has enjoyed hours (and hours) of backstage and rehearsal footage from the various WINGS tour DVDs (as well as on special broadcasts like the Kyocera Dome Concert Documentary that aired on Japanese TV and the actual concerts themselves) the series really didn’t have much to offer in the way of backstage and rehearsal footage that added in any real way to my understanding of how the group puts together its concerts. We see a few different cuts of incidents and interviews but for the most part it felt like stuff rescued from the cutting room floor, used as visual filler for one of the many, many (so many) montages. There’s no sense of the artistic process or the hard work that goes into crafting massive stadium show.

And you know what?

Just ctrl-c, ctrl-v that right into Bring the Soul.

What is the point of this series? It certainly isn’t aiming at realism or giving us a sense of the creative work that goes into putting together a stadium show. There’s no insight into the planning process. No insight into the creative theme of the tour. No discussion of what the songs mean to them. Discussion of what went wrong and what went right in Wings. What new challenges there are in scaling up the show to a 60,000 seat venue. What was behind the choreography for their new solo songs. How did they pick the setlist. What discussions were had about costuming. Music. Staging. Did they watch any other concerts to get a sense of what was even possible.

And forget the planning process of the concert. Okay, maybe I’m in the minority of wanting to see the behind-the-scenes of the actual artistry. I can accept that. What we also aren’t shown is any context of the day of the concert itself. There is no grounding in the fact that it was August and hot and the concerts had taken place between two typhoons. It’s mentioned offhandedly, in passing, but if I hadn’t known already I’m not sure I would have understood what was happening at all. There’s very little footage of the excited and happy fans milling around outside the stadium. No pause for ambience where we can just soak in the background noise of being there. No interviews with excited fans outside like you sometimes get. Putting a face and cheerful words to the amorphous “Army” that BTS constantly references, the very word lurking in the background like Pennywise the Clown waving from beneath a sewer grate.

What we are shown is scrap pile montage footage of the concert and rehearsal the day before that anybody who has watched the behind-the-scenes movies for the Seoul concert DVDs would have already seen a more coherent version of. Disembodied. Decontexualized. Cut to feature as many gifable moments as possible rather than to provide any sort of narrative or understanding. AND as somebody who was actually there, like there in the stadium on both days, I can also tell you that the montages conflated day one and day two of the concert. Mixing both shows together with no indication that it was happening.

In by far the most distressing scene of the episode, we see the camera follow Jungkook as he’s clearly looking to have a private moment to collect himself backstage. We don’t see his face but we see his arm wave at the cameraman, gesturing for him to back off. The camera does not. Jungkook sinks to a crouch. The camera remains trained on his back for what feels like an eternity. Jungkook does not turn around.

We, as viewers, understand that Jungkook is upset but we do not really know why. We can kind of piece it together that he’s mad at himself for making a mistake but what is the point of a) filming him in distress when he has clearly indicated that he does not want to be filmed and b) putting it in the series? I’ve seen comments to the effect of “Get over it, he’s an adult, he consented to be filmed.” And, yes, he is an adult. And while we cannot assume that he did not explicitly give permission to have this footage included in the series, we also cannot assume that he did.

And whether or not Jungkook okayed it, in the end, can you explain to me, in your own words, gentle viewer, what value is gained--what insights into Jungkook’s character can be gained--by showing him in a moment of distress like this where he has indicated that he does not want to be filmed? Something that we couldn’t have gotten without it? And please tell me why you, dear Army, want to pay to watch your favorite in a moment of distress?

By far the most valuable parts of the episode were the interview portions but even those felt disjointed. Instead of a steady question and answer with the camera where we can hear what they are asked and take time to get the response and process it we’re treated to interviews taken… at some point. Later. And hear answers in response to… something. What they all seem to be saying is that they face many challenges. They’ve made it this far but with that success comes increased pressure. Ah, pressure, says Namjoon at the beginning. But we’re never really invited to understand what that pressure is. Hoseok says at one point that, yes, of course he has troubles but he keeps them private. Is it the pressure of the increased number of eyes watching them? Yoongi speaks to the pressure of getting on stage before an audience of tens of thousands of people--and later we hear what the roar of the fan chants sounds like from back stage: a solid wall of grey noise--but it’s Jungkook who is left to hint around the real pressures they face. Mistakes are magnified, he says. We have to watch our every behavior.

Imagine that pressure.

Now imagine needing a private moment to collect yourself and, instead, having the all-seeing-eye of a camera trained at your back.

What is it that Big Hit is selling us with this series? Certainly not music and world class performances (wait for the Japanese concert DVDs to see that showcased). Not even the male beauty and idol dreams of the Summer Packages (which I actually do really enjoy, although I know some find them silly). Or even the philosophical musings of Burn the Stage: The film. We’re being sold a narrative that says these seven men are working themselves to the bone for us. Because they want to please us. At one point Taehyung says that he closes his eyes when he gets on the lift to the stage and when he opens them he is never sure if there will be an audience or a sea of empty seats. The challenge is not in pursing their own satisfaction or the perfect song, the perfect performance but is spurred by fear. Fear of the audience reaction. Fear of failure. It's all over this first episode of Bring the Soul.

I ask again, why is Big Hit showing this to us?


7colours2myN8 said...

Thank you for this honest review! It's sad but I feel the same way. There is no real value in the first episode. I don't get new information, or even explanation of the thypoon or what problem JK faces.
The interview scenes are by fr too short, the boys dont get time to really say anything meaningful. Also, i don't need the footage of the performances - if I want to see them singing & dancing, I watch their concert blu-rays. Instead, why not simply show us more of their preparations etc?

I think in the scene you mention, JK is not telling the cameraman to let him alone. If you look closely, there is a person who hands him a flashlight but he doesn't need it. Anyway,you are right with asking "why"?

Filmi Girl said...

Thank you for the comment!!! I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply. :)

And I heard from a few others that might have misinterpreted what was happening in the scene with Jungkook so I actually went back and watched it again this morning and you're right that you do see just a flash of light that seems to be a a staff trying to follow him with a flashlight, as if the staff thinks JK might be walking somewhere or looking for a dropped item. Then JK waves the staff away and crouches down looking for a private moment. In this case, I really think the reading stays the same, as you said. Whether he's waving away the light or the camera (I mean if he was waving the light he might not have known the camera was there!) But in either case he wanted a private moment to collect himself. And even if he was asked if they could include the footage and JK said yes (which is unlikely considering how often the members seem surprised by videos but not impossible) it still is not necessary to convey "challenge" or "burden" or whatever the theme might be. And how can we as fans demand access to this after seeing the simple request for some privacy? I wish I could say it's been quite shocking how many fans are defending this footage but I remember the screencaps and video of the Chile incident blowing up on Twitter so I know this fandom has no shame.

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