Kowloon Forest doesn’t look like most VR movies. Like so many other experiences, it capitalizes on the sense of scale you get inside a headset. But Kowloon Forest swaps out sweeping vistas and towering stone giants for the cramped confines of Hong Kong. It roots you in squashed apartments and dense city streets in unapologetically close proximity to its five central characters. The result, director Alexey Marfin hopes, will be a new kind of intimacy.
“Kowloon Forest is a film about moments of intimacy in a megacity, and I think at its core, the concept is about making the viewer feel a certain way in a certain space – in other words, to evoke feelings and emotions that are tied to certain places,” Marfin tells me over email. “I think it’s a very experiential film in that sense, which naturally lends itself to VR.”
Check out the first trailer for the film below. The film promises an intriguing mix of, close-quarters character studies driven by compelling monologues.
“It was important for me to write a story that could only be told in VR (rather than just taking a regular movie idea and putting it in 360 degrees),” Marfin adds. “The idea in each scene was to use VR to pierce the characters’ private bubbles, and to situate the viewer somewhere uncomfortably close – in terms of our normal understanding of personal space. For example, if we sit two inches away from another person face-to-face in real life, that would feel extremely invasive. But how would that feel in VR, when we are an ‘invisible’ observer?”
But these characters often aren’t alone, either. Kowloon’s scenes place you literally in the middle of a dialogue they’re in with someone else. For one sequence, that’s finding yourself between a man eating dinner and a streamer on a laptop eating alongside him. In another scene, a woman sits alone in her apartment but faces her reflection in the mirror.
“For example, the first scene I wrote was Toonyun’s scene,” Marfin explains, “she is in her room, taking off makeup, and we are in the tiny space between her and (her reflection in) the mirror. We used this scene to audience-test and refine our idea, to make sure it was working how we wanted. There is a lot of CG in the movie, so we were able to really fine-tune and choreograph this experience even more.”
The 360 degree format has wrestled with its own existence over the past few years as it tries to nail down VR storytelling. We haven’t seen Kowloon Forest for ourselves yet, but this unique approach gives us hope.
Kowloon Forest will be premiering in the Osage Gallery in Hong Kong on July 5 and then showing from July 6 – 28. Marfin is exploring the possibilities of bringing it to other exhibitions around the globe too.