In South Korea, ‘Plastic Girls’ lure customers into convenience stores

The more success robots have in creeping into our lives, the more ethical issues they bring with them. While some roboticists are building sex robots, other of their colleagues are urging governments to outlaw them all together. A new short film by German director Nils Clauss explores another manifestation of the machines — robotic mannequins that small businesses in Seoul, South Korea have used to attract customers. On the surface, the mannequins appear as innocent as inflatable air dancers but, as Plastic Girls progresses, the director manages to make their presence seem much less benign.

“The presented mannequins are unique to Korea and the film explores through them a clever way to address gender issues in Korea without flatly denouncing the society itself,” Clauss writes in a statement.

Clauss moved to South Korea in 2005 and, since then, has documented the nation through film and photos. He first captured images of these robotic mannequins with Plastic Welcomer back in 2015. Plastic Girls is a follow-up film that dives deeper into the phenomenon, giving the robots fake voices, backstories, and motivations in an effort to humanize them.

“I keep smiling for 365 days and I make the world brighter,” says Sumin, a Wonder Woman-costumed mannequin standing outside of a convenience store. A smile is conspicuously absent from her lips.

“My boss tells me everyday that ‘you can’t work here if you don’t bow,’” says Mina, a leather-clad mannequin at a gas station. “So I do my best to lower my head as much as possible.”

While each mannequin speaks, the camera crawls along, offering closeups of their physique.

“By choosing plastic mannequins as the very peculiar main subjects of the film, I intend to make the audience feel uncomfortable,” Clauss says, “but also give them enough room to reflect on the sexualization of public space on a conceptional level rather than specifically within the context of South Korean society.”

The short film is an obvious nod towards Blade Runner, as Creators pointed out, particularly with respect to Vangelis’ iconic score, with its sizzling, ambient synth sound. The music in Plastic Girls was composed by gender studies graduate and collaborator Udo Lee.

South Korea’s mannequin trend is apparently dying out, according to Clauss. In the two years since he shot the images for Plastic Welcomer, many of the mannequins disappeared from storefronts. “We also contacted the company which made these dolls and surprisingly they had also gone out of business,” he said. To solve the problem they borrowed a mannequin and transported her around to the various locations.

So, despite the film’s cautionary tale, Plastic Girls may soon no longer exist in South Korea — but that’s not to say the issues the film raises will disappear along with them.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix in October, from 'Mindhunter’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

15 epic sci-fi novels you should read before they become blockbuster films

You can get ahead of the next crop of science-fiction movies coming out of Hollywood by picking up the books that inspired them. We compiled a list of books you can add to your reading list now to get a glimpse of the future.
Gaming

As deaf gamers speak up, game studios are finally listening to those who can’t

Using social media, personal blogs and Twitch, a small group of deaf and hard-of-hearing players have been working to make their voices heard and improve accessibility in the gaming industry.
Emerging Tech

Boston Dynamics is trying to make fetch happen with its new working robot dog

Boston Dynamics wants to see Spot in the workplace, but not as part of take-your-dog-to-work days. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the technology company believes its extraordinary robo-dog is now ready to start work.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Emerging Tech

What the heck is machine learning, and why is it everywhere these days?

Machine learning has been responsible for some of the biggest advances in artificial intelligence over the past decade. But what exactly is it? Check out our handy beginner's guide.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards
Emerging Tech

With cameras that know dogs from Dodges, Honda is making intersections safer

Honda and the city of Marysville, Ohio are working on creating a smart intersection. The goal would not only help better direct the flow of traffic, it could also help save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists.
Emerging Tech

Regular paints and plastics will soon be able to ‘heal’ like skin

Imagine if paints, plastics, or other coatings could heal up like human skin in the event that they suffered damage. Thanks to researchers at Clemson University, such technology is almost here.