Podcast Review: Moonface
A subtly provocative use of the podcast medium
By Kelly Cho
Moonface is a six-episode, independent audio drama created by James Kim, an established podcast producer based in Los Angeles. Kim’s life inspires the semi-autobiographical story: Paul is a Korean-American in his 20s who’s passionate about sound art. The plot centers around his efforts to face his inner demons, where he struggles to embrace his Korean identity and reveal his sexual orientation to his mother.
It’s difficult for Paul and his mother to have deep conversations due to language barriers, which is made worse by the family dynamic. As Paul remarks in episode three: “We are not that kind of family. We keep things to ourselves.” The theme of belonging is explored convincingly and in diverse ways throughout.
Much in line with Paul’s distaste for “explanatory comments” in podcasts, Moonface paints all its backdrops and scenarios solely by using sound effects and background music. It’s fascinating how nuanced emotions can be expressed in such a way. Transitions and flashbacks are also seamless, resulting in well-paced narration with a splendid aural experience.
By focusing on soundscape design, the podcast pushes the boundaries of what the medium can offer. In episode two, Paul explains to a friend why he is interested in sound arts. He guides the friend through the process of imagining how ambient noise–such as the sound of someone running, a river, or the wind–can become music by “opening up your ears.”
Moonface will resonate strongly with second-generation immigrants living in the U.S., as it dissects the hardships and stereotypes faced by minority communities. With a highly intimate and immersive first-person narration, this coming-of-age story will be relatable to a young adult audience as well.
Lastly, Moonface has a fantastic selection of indie, folk, and electronic music, including work by Clairo, Big Thief, Park Hye Jin, and Peggy Gou. The use of Kim Jung Mi’s ‘Haenim (The Sun)’ from her 1973 psychedelic folk album, Now, in the credits for episode one was especially memorable for me. Her voice is soothing, ethereal, and expressive, and the lyrics are poetic. It fits beautifully in an introspective story about finding one’s cultural roots–one that is filled with both uncertainty and hope. –KC
Cover art courtesy of James Kim.