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Birthday Boy (Sejong Park, 2004)

This evocative 3D animation follows a solitary young Korean boy around his nearly deserted village during the Korean War in 1951. Playing among ruins, forging new toys and acting out his fantasy of being a soldier, little Manuk is completely caught up in his own world. Young and naive, he is oblivious to the actual realities of the war around him. Although there is evidence of the consequences of war in every frame, the film concentrates on Manuk’s feelings rather than showing the horrors of war explicitly. When Manuk finds a parcel on his doorstep he opens it, mistaking it for a birthday present, and what he finds within lays bare - to the audience at least - the terrible price of war.

Classroom Activities

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Questions

  1. Why is the postman the only adult we see?

  2. Where has Manuk’s mother been?

  3. Do we like Manuk? Do we feel sorry for him?

  4. How does Manuk feel about his situation? Is he happy? Why/why not?

  5. How does this link with his father’s disappearance?

  6. How is this setting different from your experiences?

  7. Why has the village has been abandoned? Where have all the people gone?

  8. What might the village have looked like before it was bombed?

Watching

CAMERA

  • Use freeze frame on the opening scene. Discuss where Manuk is. What is he playing inside? What visual clues help to determine the setting? How do the camera angles and movements give the viewer more information about the setting and character? Why has the director used a zooming-out pan camera movement?

  • Use freeze frame on the image with Manuk lying down playing with a car, with the shadow of the bars across his body. Discuss the composition and meaning. What comment does this make on Manuk’s life? What effect does the close-up of Manuk’s face and the toy car have on the audience?

  • Review the scene where Manuk opens his ‘birthday present’ and plays with the ‘gifts’. Discuss the irony of the birthday ‘gift’. What do the close-up to medium shots tell us about Manuk? How does the music make us feel? What does the shadow across the gift indicate?

  • Use Spot the Shots to look for close-ups of Manuk’s face throughout the film. List how they chart his emotions.

  • When the postman crashes his bicycle, the camera shakes. Why?

  • How do the high angles extend our understanding of setting/character? Discuss the high-angle shot of the village. What does the film-maker allow us to see? Discuss the interior of the home. What does the camera allow us to see? Toys? Photos on the wall? Lighting? Costumes?

  • Identify the pans and tracking movements used in the film. How does this support our understanding of the setting/character?

SOUND

  • Review the scene where Manuk is watching the train go past. Discuss the use of sound. Why is the sound of the train cut in the sequence and what effect does this have? Does the sound of the wind link with Manuk’s facial expressions in any way? The camera moves from a high angle of the train to a low angle of Manuk looking up; what does this convey? How do the close-up shots of Manuk demonstrate his rapid changes in mood and focus?

  • Explore the diegetic and non-diegetic sound throughout the film. In what ways do the eerie sounds support the notion of isolation? Are they foreboding of things to come? How did the sound of the train change the mood, and how was this reflected on Manuk’s face? How do the sounds of the aeroplanes remind the viewer of the severity of the situation?

COLOUR

  • Discuss the use of silhouette and shadow in the scene where the train goes past.

  • The shots showing the interior of the house use warm colours. Why?

LIGHTING

  • What effect is created when the lighting at the end forms bars? What comment does this make about Manuk’s situation?

Analysing

NARRATIVE

  • Ask your class to complete a prediction exercise to imagine what will happen after the film ends and the mother arrives home.

CHARACTER

  • Describe Manuk’s physical appearance.

SYMBOLISM

  • Discuss symbols in the film (the parcel, the dog tags, the tanks, the film’s title) and how symbols create a bigger meaning beyond just the events of the story.

  • How does the filmmaker emphasise the significance of the crashed aeroplane?

  • At the end, when Manuk is lying on the ground with the bars across his body, the film cuts to his mother’s silhouette and we hear her say ‘Manuk, Mum’s home’. What comment is being made about his situation and the role his mother plays?

CULTURE AND EXPERIENCE

  • Can you recall an event or situation where you felt lonely or isolated? Discuss in groups.

  • Discuss the cultural elements of the film, for example when Manuk takes off his shoes.

Creative

WRITE

  • The little boy receives what he thinks is a special box on his birthday. Discuss or mind-map what special things would be in your box.

  • The boy finds a wallet in the box. If his dad had left a note in the wallet, what would it say?

  • Compare the film with poems about war. Use the film as an inspiration for a war poem.

  • Write a voiceover for the film.

  • Manuk chants about a brown bear. Create a new playground chant.

FILMMAKING

  • Use British Pathé clips of the Korean War to compile a news item about the war.

DRAMA

  • Use ‘hot seating’ to ask questions about Manuk, the mother and the father, with pupils taking on the roles.

RESEARCH

  • Compare Manuk’s games with playground games and chants in Scotland.

  • Research the Korean War in the 1950s. Create a report or multi-media presentation.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-119-C
Resource Rights Holder AFTRS (Australian Film Television and Radio School)
Project Ref STSH2-07
Year of Production 2004
Genre Drama
Curriculum Areas Expressive Arts, Health and Wellbeing, Literacy and English, Social studies, Religious and moral education, Modern Languages
Who Sejong Park (Director, Writer, Animator), Andrew Gregory (Producer), David Williams (Animator), Alex Goodwin (Animator)
Country of Origin Australia
Medium / Content 3D Animation, Fiction, Colour, Sound, Subtitles
Themes War, Birthday, Play, Death, Family
Clip Length 10:00