Seen in Jeonju

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Bae Doo-Na Interview

4th May 2012

One of my students at Woosuk University, Kim Han-eol, told me that he would like to develop his translation skills. He asked that I give him material to translate and wondered if I would go over it with him, helping him with grammar and vocabulary choices. Of course, I was happy to do that and directed him to entertainment news section of Daum.  I told him he could pick any article there and he selected an interview with actress Bae Doo-na written by Jo Jeong-Won, “Issue Reporter” of Daum Entertainment, published online April 30, 2012.  I think he did a great job on the translation and asked his permission to post the edited work here. He agreed.

Bae Doo-na is currently in theaters in the film As One.  It is the story of the first time South and North Korea united their athletes to particiapte in an international event. The Korean title of this film is simply ‘Korea‘ which is what the unified team was called but the English name was changed to As One since most non-Koreans take Korea to refer to South Korea. In the movie, Bae plays the North Korean table tennis athlete Lee Boon-hee.  What follows is the translation of the article:

“I’M COMING OUT OF BEING LEE BOON-HEE,” says Bae Doo-Na.

20120430092410332“When the filming started, I became Lee Boon-hee and I could feel my heart race. Now I am gradually getting out of her shadow.”  The movie she is referring to is called As One (directed by Moon Hyeon-seong) and is based on the true story of the first union of North and South Korea when their table tennis teams worked together for 46 days under the name ‘Korea.’

During the matches, the North Korean player Lee Boon-hee had the image of being cold-blooded and fearless in the midst of a game. The coach of the team, Hyeon Jeong-hwa described her as a conceited person.  On the day of this interview in a cafe in Seoul, my first impression of Bae Doo-na was that she was unapproachable. Was this the influence of playing the role of Lee Boon-hee? As we spoke, that gradually faded and a warm personality and delightful energy emerged from her.

Lee Boon-hee rarely expresses her feelings in the story even when provoked by opponents. She merely responds with her own poker face and continues with her work. In this, there are some similarities between Bae Doo-na and Lee Boon-hee. However, Bae’s offscreen life is that of a purely brilliant woman and Lee Boon-hee may very well be that way as well. “I wonder what others, besides my family and friends, will think of the movie. My parents and friends cried like I did when they saw it. How was the movie?” she asked me.

In response to her question, I said, “I thought that your natural character was perfectly suited for playing that character as you two seem alike.” She was shocked by my answer and showed her gratitude.

“It is a pleasure to hear that the character and I are alike rather than I did a good job acting. I had been wondering what Lee Boon-hee would think if she had a chance to watch this film.”

The hardest thing about the role was the emotions that overwhelmed Bae. As soon as the cameras started rolling, she completely transformed into Lee Boon-hee.

It was hard for me to hold back my tears in the last scene. I was expected to overcome the situation but I could not stop shedding tears. My body was out of my control and I was nauseous. I was mad at myself and it was horrible to endure. It is a scene that is supposed to be funny when the coach argues and gets a red card, however I could not stop crying and I resented myself for it.”

As One does not manipulate the audience into feeling sorrowful. It promotes an emotional response naturally and honestly. As Bae is also naturally honest with her emotions, it was hard for her to hide them.

“When I was in my 20’s,  I thought after each film that I would be myself again after filming wrapped up. It was like that when I finished making Air Doll (2012).  But after winding up As One, it was difficult for me to start my next film, Cloud Atlas. I cannot fully shake the image of Lee Boon-hee. I want to slow down.”

I proposed that in order to refresh herself that we order some sweet chocolates from the cafe and which I know she enjoys. But the image of Lee Boon-hee remains with her.

The movie As One has the power to immerse the audience into the film. The strength of the film lies in the fact that it is based on a true story.

“As I watched the film, I should have been watching my performance without any other thoughts, but I was fascinated by the movie. It was hard for me to look at it objectively after playing Lee Boon-hee. Audiences are going to like this film because the strong impression it will leave. They will find the last scenes really inspirational.”

Bae Doo-na is not beautiful in this film. For much of the film, her face is soaked in sweat and she did not like to wear make-up in this role.

“Actually, I don’t care for cosmetics. Even now I’m not wearing much. I hate to wear full make-up. And I will certainly not wear make-up if the story I am filming requires me to depict a real character. As an actress, unless I am on a public stage or need to look refreshed, I do not enjoy it.” (laughs)

Reflecting her real life onscreen… that is a common theme for both Bae Doo-na and Lee Boon-hee.

There was a rumor stating that the reason Bae was selected for this film was because she learned table tennis in elementary school, but when asked, the answer turned out to be “No.”

“As you know, I am right-handed and Lee Boon-hee was left-handed. For the basic moves, it was possible to use my right hand, but I had to learn to use my left hand and it was the first time I had to do anything like this. I had never used my left hand and for the harder moves, my strength was insufficient. My swings were unnatural and problems arose because my left hand was not strong enough and when I hit with my right hand, I was too strong.  I had to practice a lot before filming.”

When I asked Bae Doo-na what was the most difficult thing about making this film, she pondered the question and put deep meaning into her answer. “I have no regrets after making this film but I will think of As One whenever I face hardship. Table tennis requires a lot of energy even though it seems liek there are not many moves.”

As One will open on May 3rd. Bae Doo-na is preparing for her busy interview schedule in the coming days.

“After it premiered, the response has been very positive and we are optomistic that this film will do well.”

Barking Dogs Never Bite inspired her as an actress twelve years ago. In other words, it was her turning point. “After a decade, it is time for a new turning point. As One could provide the motivation for one.”

Finally, I asked her if she thought about getting married and if she has a boyfriend, and she laughed in response.

“In the past, I had to hide my emotions. But I don’t have to do that anymore. I am not interested in getting married, but I wouldn’t mind going out once in a while.”

It has been 14 years since Bae Doo-na debuted as an actress. In that time, she as accumulated an impressive filmography. We have no doubt that, as always, she is going to shine in As One

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Interview with Guy “Bill” Grafius

18th October 2010

guy grafiusSeveral years ago, maybe back in 2003 or 2004, I was able to see the horror film Dracula in a Coffin at a special screening at the Korean Film Archives (KOFA–then in their easier-for-me-to-reach location) and I wrote a review for it for the site that hosts this blog, Koreanfilm.org.  This past week, I received an email from Mr. Guy Grafius. He had appeared as an extra in that movie and wanted to know if it was available to see as he never had the chance to watch it. Unfortunately, he wrote a bit too late. It was possible to watch Dracula in a Coffin this summer as part of the KOFA;s free online viewing, but it has since been rotated out. I could only advise that he keep checking in with KOFA. It is likely Dracula will be featured again, probably in summer when horror movies are more popular. The correspondence could have ended there, but I was curious about his experiences here in Korea in the early eighties and how he came to be an extra in this film. I asked Guy if I could ask him a few questions and post his answers here and he graciously agreed.

When did you arrive in Korea?  I went to Korea with my parents at the end of the school year in 1980 and lived there with them until the fall of 1982. I was 18 when I first arrived. We lived on the Yongsan Base where my dad was stationed.

 How did you come to be an extra in Dracula in a Coffin?  There was a talent agent who worked with several of the teens on the base. She sometimes approached me about work. For example, I was also on the Min Byung-Cheol Practical English TV show and did a couple of modeling gigs. It paid well for a college kid but I said ‘no’ to a lot of things because I didn’t like being in front of the camera. I don’t remember much about the agent except that she spoke English well and seemed well connected in the industry. She was always nice to me but she didn’t like it when I talked to people on the set. I think she used to tell people I was some big model in the USA.

min byungcheolProfessor Min Byung-Cheol is still quite famous today. Tell me about working with him on the television program. I only worked on Practical English for a week. It was a fluke. I was supposed to go into the TV station and do just one sketch, but the main American actor didn’t show up or couldn’t make it so they asked me to fill in. We shot all five shows in one day. It was a long, hard day. I was nervous and I didn’t enjoy it. It had a live television audience. The sketches all came from his books and the audience followed along and every time I missed a line you could hear this hushed “oooowwww.”  I was recognized on the street quite a bit after the show aired. One time I was walking and there was a group of college students across the street. They were staring which wasn’t unusual, but I heard them say something about Min Byung-Cheol Practical English. Right after that, I tripped and fell on my face. I’m sure that was a big laugh for them!

That’s embarrassing. You also mentioned modeling…? Yes. I forgot what my first modeling job was. Probably a still shoot for an ad. I was young with blond hair and that was all they really cared about. Needless to say, I stood out in a crowd there.  I really didn’t like being in front of the camera mostly because I knew I was BAD actor and I was a little self-conscious. Really, I was bad. But like I said, they only cared that I was blond-haired and blue-eyed.

dracula in a coffinWell, it helped you get the role in Dracula. They needed young foreign-looking men for the disco scenes. Did you meet director Lee Hyeong-pyo?   I met the director on the Dracula shoot, but I didn’t talk to him much. I was given direction through translation, by my agent, I think. (Think of the movie Lost in Translation). All I had to do was dance on the disco floor. No lines, no talking. I did speak to Ken Christopher a little. He had the role of Dracula. All that I remember is that he was complaining a lot! He hated the red contacts he had to wear as he said they were very painful. I think I was only there for one day.

 

Did you appear in any other movies?  I did a scene for a ‘kung-fu’ movie. I’m not sure what they did with that or if maybe it was more of a reel footage for the actor. He was not Korean—maybe from Hong Kong, I forget, but he looked like Bruce Lee, very muscular and knew what he was doing. The scene was myself and another American were supposed to have killed his sister and he had come for revenge. What’s funny is that myself and the other American had total baby faces. Not much of a bad guy image. But we had to do a few fight scenes with no stunt doubles. I remember missing a cue and getting hit in the nose and it started bleeding bad. I wasn’t really hurt, but the actor’s sensei grabbed the back of my neck on some pressure point and the blood stopped. But they told me once he lets go, it will bleed again. It was at the end of the day and they needed to finish the shot. So they got me all set up with the sensei still holding my neck till they said ‘action.’  I could feel the blood start to come out, but we got the shot done before it really started to flow. Oh! One other think I remember is when my agent called for the job, she said they wanted me to wear street clothes, which to me meant a nice shirt and pants…but what they wanted was more of a tee shirt/bad guy image, like a street gang type.

 Wow. It sounds like you had some interesting experiences in Korea.  Yeah, it was a really good experience living there for two years. I had three big modeling jobs there before I started to say ‘no’ and I had two full time jobs as well as going to college at night. I was a busy camper.

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dragon leeAlthough Dracula in a Coffin is not available at this time, I wondered if I could find the Kung-Fu sequence that Mr. Grafius mentioned. He had already given me a clue that might aid in searching for the film if it had been made for a movie. He said the main actor looked like Bruce Lee. Although lots of people wanted to imitate Bruce Lee, only one really looked like him, Geo Ryong.  In Hong Kong movies he has been called Dragon Lee, Dragon Bruce Lee or simply Bruce Lei.  He was raised in Russia and then moved to South Korea as a teen. He was spotted by an agent because of his resemblance to Bruce Lee and was trained and taken to Hong Kong where he began a movie career. Geo made about a dozen films in South Korea.  Mr. Grafius confirmed that an image I sent him looked like the main actor of his Kung-Fu shoot. Looking through his filmography and the movies he made in the early 80s, there is only 1 that really stands out as possibly containing the fight sequence mentioned in the interview. It is called Golden Dragon, Silver Snake (KOFA’s website calls it Fight at Hong Kong Ranch but, through searching for ads in newspapers published at the time for the movie index I am building on this site, I have learned that KOFA had never checked original promotional material when assigning names to films). The plot of this movie mentions that Drong Lee is out to avenge the death of his younger brother. Mr. Grafius stated that his kung-fu background was revenge for the death of his sister. However, since the word for younger sibling in Korean is the same for male or female unless specifically modified, his translator may not have known the gender and just picked ‘sister’.  I decided I needed to see the film—even though the genre is really not one I enjoy. This movie is not available on DVD in Korea, but I discovered this weekend that they are available in Hong Kong through a site called HKDvds. I ordered Golden Dragon, Silver Snake and saw that two other films from director Kim Shi-hyeon were available there so I bought them as well (Dragon Lee VS the Five Brothers and Enter the Invincible Hero). It will take a couple of weeks for the films to arrive, but I will let you know what I find out after watching them.

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Director Kim Seong-soo

27th January 2010

kim seong-sooKim Seong-soo, the youngest of five children, was born in Seoul on June 19, 1961.  He attended Sejong University and majored in English but his passion for movies was ignited after joining a movie club at school where he befriended director Yoo Ha, who had re-enrolled in school, and director Ahn Pan-seok.  Viewing Yooo Hyeon-mok’s film The Aimless Bullet, he is quoted as saying that ‘there has never been a movie like this’ and claims that was the inspiration behind him enrolling at Dongguk University’s graduate program for film. However, he didn’t finish the program. Instead he jumped at the chance to join director Park Kwang-soo’s team in writing and filming The Black Republic (1990) and The Berlin Report (1991).  He also assisted on the screenplay for Lee Hyeon-seung’s film The Blue In You (1992).

The first film he directed was a 1993 short film called Bimyeong City. After its release, he continued to help other directors with their screenplays while preparing his first feature length film, Run Away which opened in 1995.  However, it was his second film, Beat, that caught the attention of the nation.  Opening a year earlier than Shiri, Beat is an early indication of the changes that were taking place in Korean film-making and it remains a favorite to this day.

Kim followed up this film with City of the Rising Sun and the epic film Musa (sometimes listed as The Warriors).  In 2003, Kim directed and produced Please Teach Me English and in 2006 he produced The Restless.  Kim Seong-soo should not be confused with another director by the same name born in 1938 and still active in the film industry today.

Below is an interview I had translated several years ago at the time of the release of Please Teach Me English.  It was conducted and written by Lee Ji-hoon and Joo Seong-cheol and appeared in the magazine Film2.0 on November 16, 2003. The original article in Korean can be viewed here: http://www.film2.co.kr/people/people_final.asp?mkey=1775

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I couldn’t help noticing that you have a picture of Che Guevara hanging on the wall.


Oh, I’ve admired him for a long time. Wasn’t he great? (laughs) His life was amazing. He was a romantic and, as I get older, I feel that he had some kind of spark in him. He’s not a bad looking guy either. You know, you can’t get a picture like that just anywhere. I bought it while I was in Italy at a communist bazaar.  They open it once a year like a kind of village festival. I’ve seen many pictures of Che Guevara but I never found one that I really liked until I bought this one. I only paid about W10,00 for it.


Che Guevara’s image of the romantic revolutionary seems related to the image of some of the characters in your movies.


That could be. I was brought up in a time when people would get excited watching movies where the hero from the National Independence Army would come riding over the hill to save the downtrodden.  There has been that feeling of heroism in my movies.


I have heard that you like romantic comedies.


Probably everyone who claims to like movies, enjoys romantic comedies. I am like anyone else and I like a wide variety of films.  I had thought about making a romantic comedy before.  I wanted to debut with Dr Bong.  If I had succeeded at that time, no one would be asking me why I am making a comedy now. (laughs)


But aren’t most of your movies along the lines of action and adventure like Beat, City Of The Rising Sun and Musa?


Oh, of course.  People tell me that I am a director who makes these macho-action movies, especially as I started to get settled down in Chungmuro.  But I feel defensive when I hear that.  To tell the truth, I think I have typecast myself as an action movie director.  It is partly because I love the movies of Chang Cheh and Bruce Lee.  When I was young, I enjoyed watching westerns and war movies in the theaters or on tv. And I just remembered…when I was in college, I joined a movie club. I was asked to write down a list of my ten favorite movies.  I put Bruce Lee’s  Fists Of Fury at the top of my list and everyone made fun of me. (laughs)  It was the mid-80’s and everyone was analyzing the films of people like Sergio Eisenstein or Jean-Luc Godard.  Anyway, since finishing school, I don’t watch many action movies. And films like Fists Of Fury don’t appeal to me like they did when I was younger. I have asked myself many times how I am different now from when I was younger and was able to get interested in those movies. I’ve come to conclusion that I just have different tastes now.  These days, I get introduced as the director who makes movies describing a tough, male-driven society, but I don’t really agree with that assessment. Of course, my movies may seem that way, but that’s not necessarily how it is.


I remember that people seemed a little shocked when they heard that Kim Seong-soo was going to make Please Teach Me English. Is what you just said the reason why you planned a new romantic comedy?


I have no idea why people were shocked (laughs).  The thought of me doing a romantic comedy must have seemed alien to them. I have no idea why. (laughs). I sometimes get this rebellious feeling when I hear about what people expect from me.  I will soon be in my mid-40’s and, having already started my own company, I feel like I shouldn’t be holding still.  I have set up a new office.  Of course, it’s not a venture business, but I am feeling in the need of some adventure at this time (laughs).  The reason I made Please Teach Me English was because I liked the scenario. I especially liked the role that was given to Lee Na-yeong.


It is a fact that this is the first movie you made where the main character is a woman and many people doubted you would be able to understand a female character or be able to depict her well.


I’ve heard that a million times.  It is true that I don’t know much about women. I have never been in their minds or been able to look deeply into their psyche.  I was brought up at a time when it wasn’t really a man’s place to know or care what makes women tick.  For example, in Jang Hyun-su’s Rules Of The Game, there is a scene on the rooftop scene between Park Jung-hoon and Lee Kyeong-yeong.  When I watch a scene like that where two men are talking, I completely understand the corresponding emotions. Maybe not everyone can understand the feeling, but I do. (laughs). Anyway, I can understand everything about men and their emotions, but I wasn’t sure about making a film that depicts a female character. However, this script was too good to pass up.  The character of Yeong-ju is sweet and charming in the scenario.  I thought I could handle that movie because the director’s job is to simply change the written scenario into a series of images.


A director’s job is to change a scenario into a series of images?


Isn’t it?  That’s what a director does.  There might be some directors who are able to show the audience more than what can be seen on the screen, but I’m not at that level yet.  I’ve been trying to work on that.  Anyway, in Please Teach Me English, I tried to make it more of a character-driven movie without using too many special effects.  I have found that most good romantic-comedies focus on the characters without special camera tricks. Rather than making this film realistic, I tried to make it like a cartoon.


When you make films in a genre other than action, don’t you find it difficult to find a balance between your old style and the style you want people to see?


I didn’t realize that I had my own style.  The reason I became known for a certain style is because I have wanted to try various techniques in my works, not because I am stylistic.  I am still a young director and I believe it is my job to try various things and see how they appear on the screen.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that well. (laughs).  But with Please Teach Me English, I didn’t worry about that. I wanted to follow the scenario as closely as possible.  I did have one thought regarding my style of directing. Because most of the films I have made were action movies, I had no time to discuss a scene with the actor before filming. Musa is an example.  It was really difficult to get all those horses standing where they should be standing or trying to capture the wind which would only be blowing perfectly for just a second.  But when the time was right, I would yell, “Alright! Let’s go! Woo-sung, move forward now!” Then he would walk forward a bit and say, “But what am I supposed to do?” (laugh)  I wouldn’t even tell the actors what to do in certain scenes.  Then I would say. “What? You mean I didn’t tell you? Alright, don’t worry about it. Just move forward and turn your face once to look back as you walk across.”  That’s how I would do it. It left something to be desired because it was just using the image of the actors instead of extracting quality from them.  Other directors have a chat with the actors before the scenes.  I really envied that technique. (laughs)  So I decided to talk a lot with the actors this time.


Besides the genre, there are other differences between Please Teach Me English and your other films.  Your other movies all deal with these do-or-die situations and the instinctive reactions and explosive violence that came with them.  In Please Teach Me English, these situations don’t exist.  Were you comfortable with such a big change?


I felt comfortable with it because I like both styles.  When I’m in a singing room, I sing trote and then something for Sechs Kies.  The film Musa uses all things related to action and heroism.  But the work was just too much for me to manage. But even though there were many difficulties, I never once lost my temper or considered giving up.  I usually just dive headlong into my business. There was just one time near the end when we were filming the final battle when I thought to myself, “This is going to be tough.”  After finishing Musa, I briefly thought about making a film about the Korean War, but I decided that I needed a little time before beginning such a huge project.  A few days later, producer Jo Min-hwan, who had just set up Nabi Pictures, showed me Please Teach Me English which was one of the many scenarios he had in the works.   Looking back on it, I don’t think I had any specific kind of movie in mind. I was just looking to try something different.  I think I chose this scenario because I wanted change.


Are you happy with the finished product?


Who on earth is ever satisfied with his own work? (laughs) I do have one regret though, that I didn’t go into the characters a little deeper.  I should have examined and fleshed out Yeong-ju and Mun-su a little more.


Despite the title of the movie being about English, the movie focuses much more on the romantic comedy aspect than on the English theme. Maybe you could have included more episodes based on learning English to make it even more entertaining.


At first, I wanted to include more parts on learning English. But in the planning stage, others pointed out that the Korean audience would not appreciate the movie being filled with English. I agree now that it was a good idea to take it out. Viewers don’t like when English is used too much.  For instance, say that my foreign friends and I are sitting here.  While I am looking away or doing something else for a minute, they talk among themselves and laugh about something someone said. What should I do then? Look at my friends and ask, “What’s going on? What did I miss?” No. I would just pretend to be on my way to the bathroom.  It would embarrass me to ask what was going on especially if they explained it to me and I still couldn’t understand.  In a similar way, viewers are uncomfortable with movies which are full of English that they can’t completely understand. So we took most of the English parts out of the movie in the early stages.


Another thing I have to ask about is Mun-su’s adopted sister.  It seems to me that many recent Korean comedies discuss family issues.


I grew up in Itaewon so I have seen the kind of meetings that my movie describes. But these days are somewhat different than it was in the past.  Before, if a child who was adopted by an American met his or her parents, they would just sit together and sob.  But nowadays, people think that it is ‘cool’ to have a child living overseas. I have never thought that overseas adoptions were foolish or tragic.  In the movie, Yeong-ju is a woman living in a fantasy world so I tried to balance her character by making Mun-su more grounded in reality.  But by doing that, Mun-su became the one who would be discussing the adoption situation. Once we got into shooting the scene, I realized that Mun-su’s character would find meeting his adopted sister very emotional and everyone would be left sobbing.  That is not how I wanted to end the movie so it concludes with the romance of Yeong-ju and Mun-su.


Many directors of commercial films not only want to make movies that the audience can enjoy, but they want to give the stories a little deeper meaning and take the audience a little further. Is that what you were trying to do?


I don’t want to take the audience any further than they want to go. I want to make films that match the viewers tastes and expectations.  That has been my policy since I debuted as a director with Run Away.  I have always thought that people would find a movie fun if I found it fun.  I am no higher than any other movie-goer. I do try to do something new each time as I believe that viewers want to see new things.


I heard that this movie was selected as the first movie produced by Nabi Pictures because it was a safe choice economically.


It wasn’t that. We were considering other movies besides this one. Right now we are making My Mother The MermaidDirector Park Heung-shik was preparing a movie for us and new director Jo Dong-ho was planning to make a science fiction movie set in the Gobi Desert. However Park wasn’t able to obtain the copyright of the original Japanese animation that his movie would be based on and Jo also ran into trouble.  I had been thinking about producing a big film with a budget of W500 million, but decided it would be much to big a financial burden.  For practice, I instead planned an omnibus of three short stories.  But the investment process didn’t go as well as I thought.  I was only able to gather W100 million.  I was depressed about that.  I thought that it would be best to give that money to the youngest of my director friends.  So I invested in one film.  I want to gather more money and produce two more movies.  Anyway, the next movie that came my way was Please Teach Me English.  I didn’t try to be especially careful with it or anything just because it was the first movie of Nabi Pictures.


You’re thinking about becoming a producer?  You have a long history of directing films, why would you be attracted to producing?


I am not looking to become a producer as a career but as a producer who continues to work in the fields.  I used to think that a movie would be mine if I directed it. But working on Musa made me think differently.  I worked closely with producer Jo Min-hwan while making that film.  I saw more of him than I did my wife.  While we were working on Musa, I realized that it wasn’t my movie.  It was Jo Min-hwan’s.  I came to realize that it was the producer who actually made the film and with that in mind, I thought that producing a movie would be fun. Also, these young directors today are great.  If it is possible, I hope to help them by investing in their films. When I think about Nabi Pictures, I think it would be ideal if Jo Min-hwan handled the financial and investment end of the business and I should manage the creative parts.  In that way, the system would balance out.


So in the past, you felt that it was the director who makes a movie, but now you realize that a movie is produced through a joint effort.


I haven’t thought that a movie belongs to a director for a long time.  When I went to Cannes the first time, I was so excited. I felt that all my dreams had come true.  I had just gone for pleasure, but I put my arm around Spike Lee’s shoulder and the whole wonderful movie world was there before me.  After some time, I went a second time. A friend of mine in France asked me to help his business.  I went there to do marketing.  I looked around and I was shocked.  I thought a movie came about from a director’s creativity, but that is not the way it is.  I realized that a movie’s life comes about from the people who invest in films. I felt that in the movie industry, being the director is a very small part.  That made me think more about the system of making films.  I am not saying that is how it has to be but it is what the current situation is.


As an experienced director, do you also think about helping newcomers?


I never though about that before!  But I think…. I think that I should be responsible for my own work so I don’t make trouble for other people. If I decide to help new directors, it will not out of any sense of duty.


How has your attitude towards movies changed as you’ve gotten older?


Hmm….


Is that a difficult question? (laughs)


It’s just that I have been thinking about that very question myself recently, especially after completing Musa. When I was young, I thought that movies were my life. But I have changed. How am I different now? I wish I could answer that, but I’m not sure I know. (laughs)  I still don’t know myself very well.


Are you worried about losing some of your audience since your film will be released on the same day as Matrix 3?


When I thought about the release date, I only took other Korean films into consideration. Movie-goers these days enjoy local films more than Hollywood movies. I thought that Untold Scandal and Once Upon A Time A Battlefield would offer strong competition. After looking at their scenarios, I thought that The Greatest Expectation, Spring Breeze, Oh, Brothers and Oldboy would be good too.  There was no possible date I could pick that would avoid being released on the same day as one of these.  It is not useful to have Korean films compete against each other.  I thought that I would rather go up against Matrix 3. Matrix 3 is more of a man’s film while Please Teach Me English is more likely to attract female viewers. I thought about the target audience when I chose the date.  If I am asked, “Why are you competing against Matrix 3?” I will say, “Why not? Isn’t it great?” (laugh) We were scheduled to open on November 5 and Matrix 3 was originally slated for November 7, but then it got pushed up two days to the 5th.  There was nothing we could do about it.


Do we get to see a new Kim Seong-soo film soon?  Will it be a new genre or will you be going back to your old style?


I might try a different genre.  I don’t only make action movies or romantic comedies. I’m not like that. But I might return to my former style. It was fun to make a romantic comedy but it’s hard for me to get used to filming this way. It’s too easy (laugh) I miss the hardships filming in the Gobi Desert.  I feel like doing a movie like Musa again.  I just needed a rest.  After the success of Musa, people started asking about a <Musa 2>, but it wasn’t possible at that time.  Now I would be open to the idea of making a film like that.  I am up to the possibility of making any kind of movie.

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Director Oh Sang-hoon

16th January 2010

oh sang-hoonOriginally posted October 17, 2007–In the course of making my exams this semester, I was going through my computer files when I stumbled upon a series of articles I translated years ago from the magazine Film2.0.  I had done them just for practice and had looked up every other word in the dictionary until I understood everything. This first interview was originally conducted by reporter Lee Ji-hoon and appeared in Korean in the October 31 issue of Film2.0.  If you wish you can view the original article here: http://www.film2.co.kr/people/people_final.asp?mkey=1761  It was written at the time when his debut film, The Greatest Expectation was released in 2003. Oh has since gone on to release Cracked Eggs and Noodles in 2005. 

I know that you began your career as the assistant director of <Man With A Gun> in 1995, but what did you do before working on that and how did you get into movies?

When I was a high school student, I decided that I was going to make a movie.  I started writing a scenario when I was in my first year at Gwangseong High. I would work on it right through some of the more boring classes. One day, in my final year of high school, my classmate, Park Shin-yang(1) asked me about majoring in movies and the performing arts. I asked him, “Why? Are you going to be a director, too?” But he said no. I suggested that he apply to Dongguk University and that’s where he ended up going. I had heard that Jungang University had an excellent film department so I applied there, but I failed to enter. I felt terrible. I decided to take a year off to rest and then try to enter Hanyang University. The next year, when the application period came around, I asked my mother for the application fee. It was only W8,400 (2). I will never forget that price because my mother refused to give it to me.


Did she think it was too expensive? Or was she against you majoring in film?


No, it wasn’t that. My mother sometimes has these prophetic dreams. She’s actually pretty good at making predictions.  She said that I would fail if I applied to Hanyang. It was partly that and partly the fact that my two older brothers and my sister had similar experiences when they re-applied to colleges after failing to enter the first time. Anyway, she didn’t give me the money and I was furious.  That same evening, my sister called.  She had a friend who was a sophomore at Jungang University and she had arranged a meeting for me with the teacher assistant in the film department. To this day, I don’t know why the teacher assistant agreed to meet with me. I was afraid of being rejected again, but I was told that I wouldn’t fail a second time. The next day, I told my mother that I wanted to apply to Jungang University and she handed over the application fee without a word.


It seems you had a hard time entering school. You must have studied hard once you were in.


I wasn’t so interested in studying. More than anything, I wanted to make a movie. Here’s the story. It was my first semester at the university and I learned that the school had a policy about not allowing the freshmen to use the school cameras or other equipment.  I was so bored because of that rule. The classes were boring too.  I wanted to make a short movie right away, but I had no money. I looked for a way around this situation. I heard that the Board Of Human Rights supplies three scholarships to students in the amount of W100,000 each. I went to the teacher’s assistant and said to him that I wanted to receive those scholarships but he told me that they were based on need and were reserved for poor students.  I told him that I was the poorest of the poor, I was so poor I couldn’t even eat…. Not only to him, but I told this sob story to each of the students who received the scholarship and I wound up with the W300,000. Getting the film was no problem. I told the teacher’s assistant that I was going to make a movie and needed film. The school had recently changed over to buying color film so there was this huge surplus of black-and-white film that nobody wanted. The camera was more difficult, but I kept pestering him until he let me borrow one. After making the film, I had about W30,000 left over so I used it to buy drinks.


You like to live dangerously!


I guess you could say that, but I always consider the circumstances.  I think the most dangerous thing I did was when I was in the army (3). Don’t tell my mom this story, she would go crazy!  I had to go to the army after my sophomore year, but to me it felt as if I had gone to prison. I was always thinking of some way to get out of there. Then, someone in my corps got TB so he was excused from boot camp. I thought to myself, “That’s how I will get out of here! I will catch TB!”  I had never been very bright but that was just crazy. Whenever I had a holiday or a leave of absence, I would go to the hospital dressed as a student and try to find a way to catch tuberculosis.


Are you crazy?


Well… I think so. Anyway, I couldn’t find anyone who had TB.  I realized I was being an idiot and gave up. But, just a few days later, someone in my barracks developed appendicitis and got a leave from the army so he could receive surgery. My superiors said that it was usual to get a lengthy leave when one had problems with their appendix.  I thought, “Ok! This is it!” From that day I began to pick up pebbles from the ground and swallow them to irritate my appendix. I would eat about three or four a day. Why didn’t I get appendicitis? My friend eventually came back to active service but by that time I had adapted pretty well to military life.


So, you started to make movies after you were discharged?


Of course I wanted to. However, most men have difficulty readjusting to civilian life after the army and having to re-enter school.  I was no different.  I decided I wanted to make a movie, but I was in the dark as to how to begin. I didn’t feel like I had any choices in my life and that things were beyond my control.  I was feeling very nervous; my pulse rate was always over 120.  As time went on, I couldn’t sleep, my head would be spinning and so forth. Then this day came where I was supposed to take pictures for my friend’s wedding. I was all set to go but my mother told me that we had to go to my hometown–in Haenam!  I said, “What am I supposed to do about the wedding? I promised my friend!”  But it didn’t make any difference and I went to Haenam.  There, my mother had arranged for me to be at the receiving end of an exorcism with a shaman(4)! Actually, I found it very interesting. I watched what they did very closely–they splintered branches, jangled some bells and spit a lot–it was a little weird but fascinating.  When it was finished, we returned to Seoul.  And, believe it or not, I felt like I had recovered from my nervousness. I was feeling positive about everything.  Before the exorcism, I was afraid of meeting people and I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I had felt that even beggars were better off than me.  But within one month of that ritual, everything was great. I was on top of the world! Life was wonderful! Anyone I looked at seemed joyful to me and I would think, “Ah, how happy he looks!”


So, after this turning point you joined the crew of <A Man With A Gun>?


No. After I graduated, I made a tv drama, a show called Global Music, and a few others. I worked at these for a few years but I felt like I was going crazy.  I really wanted to get out of that. I thought to myself that I ought to make a movie, but I didn’t know where to start and I had no plans. Then I remembered that directors Kim Ui-seok and Jang Hyun-soo had been just a few years ahead of me at school. By that time, director Kim had made a few movies so I looked him up. I begged him to take me on. He let me work together with him on <A Man With A Gun>.  But after we finished, I didn’t feel as if I had achieved anything.  At the end of the shoot, Director Kim went with Kang Woo-seok to Cinema Service and I was left to find my own way.  That’s when I saw the two Jangs. That is, directors Jang Sun-woo and Jang Hyun-soo.  Jang Sun-woo was in the middle of making his documentary <Cinema On The Road> so I could not join with him. I instead approached Jang Hyun-soo who was working on <Born To Kill> and I met director Song Hae-seong, who had a minor role in Jang’s film. Director Jang allowed me to join the crew, but I still felt frustrated. Why were other people my age succeeding and I was still stuck like this? So after the filming concluded, I left.


So you had nothing to do?


Nothing to do? I wouldn’t say that. I worked continuously. I just didn’t get paid! From that time until now, I was hungry and unemployed. That lasted for seven years. Immediately after <Born To Kill> wrapped up, I started working together with Song Hae-seong. He was preparing to film a movie set in Incheon and I had to move there. But the movie went bankrupt and I was screwed. I was not going to let that happen again. I would prepare in advance. I decided to write a book and began working on a melodrama called <The Second Autumn>.  I wrote it together with <The Greatest Expectation>’s producer Song Chang-yeong. He told me these stories about a taxi driver, but not all of the episodes were interesting. But then there was the time when I turned on the radio and caught one of the stories I sent in being read on the air. It was so moving! I suggested to Song that we bind together five chapters as a book. I thought that would be good enough . That Saturday, Han Seong-gu called me. He was Cha Im-pyo’s manager at that time working on the tv drama, <You And I>.  He had read my book and it had made him cry. He said that we had to meet the next day. I didn’t want to leave my house on Sunday, but he insisted that I had to meet him somewhere. I finally told him that if he bought me a drink, I would meet him. So we drank.  I took the best story of those five chapters and years later, Popcorn Film where Han works, made it into <Lover’s Concerto>.

But <The Second Autumn> was never made into a movie.


We couldn’t make it. Han Seong-gu wanted to produce the movie himself but he failed to gather investors although that didn’t cause the end of the project. Song had also gathered a line of investors but the two sides couldn’t see eye-to-eye and the production fell apart before it got started. However, during the year that this was going on, I grew very attached to that manuscript. I developed a habit of editing the book everyday, even if it were only one word. Even with all that, there was still one part of the scenario I was unhappy with. I just wasn’t satisfied.  One day, while sleeping on the roof, I heard thunder in my dream. I woke up with a start and went down to my desk.  I sat down and I wrote and edited. It was strange because everything was going so smoothly. I finished it all with no strain.  When I looked at it the next day, I thought that it was perfect. I was ready to push forward and make it a movie, but as I said, I failed again. Why? Because it was the late 90’s and melodramas had gone out of style.


You failed twice to get that book made into a movie. Do you continue writing?


Of course. There’s no other way for a director to get his debut. After <The Second Autumn> failed, I went to a certain production company so they could read my work. They came back with things like, this story is good, but you should lose this part. When I showed him my next draft, his expression while reading it was just lukewarm.  I lost my temper and swore. If they didn’t like it, then I wasn’t going to worry about it. I could work alone.  Around that time, someone gave me a script to read.  I looked at it and thought that it was the worst thing I had ever read in my life. But as time went on, it grew on me and I said, “Ok, let’s do it.”  We did have a problem though. Neither of us had any experience.  I was just a beginner and had only the passion of a novice to guide me. We read and studied the script for six months and then we finally gave up. Over those seven years I would often start projects only to abandon them before they got off the ground. Those seven years were a really long, hard time for me. Finally, though, I was able to put together my current team and make <The Greatest Expectation>. The original idea belongs to producer Song. I wrote the first draft along with Kim Hyeon-cheol who gave me the nickname ‘Booting Diskette’, and the screenplay was completed by brothers Lee Won-hyeong and Lee Won-jae.


Was it possible to live like that for seven years?


Absolutely. I had only bus fare in my pocket during two of those years. I starved all morning until I made my daily trek down to the Chungmuro movie studios. I would be so hungry but I couldn’t say anything directly. If my stomach rumbled and made noises I would laugh and say “What is wrong with my stomach.”  I survived this time only because I had no shame. One of the good points about Chungmuro is that there are many places where you can drink soju at night.  I ate more of the sidedishes that came with the soju than I did rice.  Alcohol became my staple. I lived like a drifter. Then one day, a friend told me that he was going on a backpacking trip to India. He asked if I could watch his house for him. So, I was able to stay at his house on top of a mountain. His original plan was to stay three months but then it became six months. I told him to take his time and come back whenever he wanted.  Finally he returned after a one year trip. Once while I was staying there and very hungry, I found a package of ramen noodles.  I boiled the water to cook the noodles and when they were ready, I just sucked them right down without even chewing. After finishing I was still hungry. I had so many difficulties at that time.   When I left there I went to live with my good friends Hae-seong and Kim Hae-gon. Hae-gon and I couldn’t be closer than if we were real brothers. We used to try to get jobs together. After Hye-seong left to make the movie Failan, the two of us continue to rent a room together.


So you’re not married yet?


Married? What are you talking about? I can’t afford to fall in love. In the 37 years that I have been alive, do you know how much money I’ve saved? All together about 1 million 500 thousand won. How can I get married on that?


Then let’s try talking about The Greatest Expectation. Tell me about the casting.


Actually, I didn’t handle that part of the project. That was done by Kim Tae-gu, director of <The Last Defense> and <Emergency 19>. How could I be entrusted with casting after I had failed so many times? Anyway, I was finishing up on the script and everything was moving so fast. At first, we thought Im Chang-jeong and Kim Jeong-eun would be best as the leads.  They are respected actors. We sent the scenario first to Chang-jeong and he agreed to do it immediately but he had one requirement. He wanted us to contact a large distribution company so we got in touch with CJ Entertainment.  Within a day after sending them the scenario, CJ agreed to handle distribution.  The company also suggested Kim Seon-a as the lead actress.  I have to admit that she has a very different image than what I expected. When we met to discuss a contract, I saw how thin she had become.  Afterwards, I sat down with the other writers, Won-heong and Won-jae to discuss what kind of humorous defect we could bring to her character. We wanted to make it something that the audience would feel comfortable with. What was there about Kim Seon-a?  Then it hit me.  We could compare her mouth with a butthole and once we give her that image it would be fixed in the minds of the audience.  Seon-a accepted the suggestion without protest and you can find these comparisons here and there in the movie.


It was funny when Kim Seon-a’s mouth was compared with an anus– and her acting in that regard was quite natural.


The movie was funny on that point. Even though I’m the director, I would often have to re-shoot a scene because I was laughing too hard.  We made a lot of bloopers but I never lost my temper with the staff. Then there was Seon-a’s first scene where Mi-yeong was eating noodles in the comic book shop.  It reminded me of that pizza commercial that she had made so I said to her let’s make this scene like the pizza ad. I told her to eat all the noodles at once and then realize that they are too hot so you spit them all out. So that’s how we shot the scene and we did it in one take.  It was as if she had been practicing it for a long time.  From then on, Seon-a was the mood-maker on the set.  If you’ve ever made a film, you know that most of the staff are embarrassed while they are acting, but while making this film, we all laughed all the time.  Actually, I think that sound is more important than image.  I spent about sixty percent of the time not watching the monitor and only listening to the scene.  That is especially true of the scene at Hwang’s house where Im Chang-jeong’s character Chang-shik goes to look for Mi-yeong.  I was seated far away and only listening to it through the headphones. The sound was wonderful. It was going so well. But at the end of the scene we made a mistake. So we shot four more takes and finally on the fifth take we got it sounding the same as the first. I asked Seon-a, “What do you think?” and she said “Isn’t it the same as the first one?” So I said, “Ok, let’s go with this one.”  Seon-a looks as though she doesn’t know what’s going on, but inside she is aware of everything.  Chang-jeong is really smart.  I often let him adlib his lines.  Not only him, but also Kim Su-mi and some of the other actors.  They did a great job. I don’t think that a director necessarily has to give directions, he just has to do the preparations.


I heard that over the course of the shooting, Chang-shik’s character changed from how he was originally written.


That’s right.  I had no idea that Chang-jeong would do such I good job. I didn’t expect it.  But he gave me the form and style I was looking for.  There was no huge differences but as things went on, we would have to make changes, it was often Chang-jeong who carried us through. He frequently helped Seon-a too when she was having a difficult time with her lines or acting. On the other hand, when a scene required sensitive emotions, Seon-a would take the lead.  In fact, there was a lot of give and take on the set of this movie and that is the way a good movie gets made. Through striking a balance between each others strengths and weaknesses.  There was one time when Seon-a was saying all her lines through clenched teeth. I thought she had gone crazy and asked what the problem was. It turned out that she was pretty sick and had to spend some time in the hospital.  The filming schedule ran pretty late because of her.  Honestly though, while their were many trying times on the set, they only made me appreciate when things went well.


As the director, you must have been pretty worried while you were filming.


Surprisingly, I wasn’t.  I don’t think I can be nervous. Some people ask me about my impression after returning to films after a seven year absence.  I tell them that I don’t worry about it.  Before the press screening, none of the staff were able to sleep except me. I slept soundly.  I remember though that I got into a fight in my dream.  I think I am unable to be nervous because of the way I lived my life during the previous seven years.  Did you hear what I said after the preview?  I told the reporters, “Please don’t curse me, I did my best.” That means, “I really did my freaking best and if you say anything bad about this movie, I’ll kill you!”  That’s what I meant.


Are any of Chang-shik’s episodes from your experiences when you were unemployed?


Yes. Of course they are.  You remember the scene where Chang-shik is going to collect the reward but in the morning he finds that his bags have disappeared. I had that same experience and some of what he says is exactly what I said.  Not only Chang-shik. There is some of me in his brother, Chang-hun.  So I said at that time, “Today I am Chang-hun, tomorrow I will be Chang-shik.” Actually this movie, there is not supposed to be a cross-section of an unemployed man. It is a movie which everyone can identify with.


I think this breaks a lot of the stereotypes found in other romantic comedies


I don’t think there is anything special about breaking out of a genre. A genre is just a kind of rule. It’s very easy to break. Just jump that wall and go the opposite direction. But I guess that most people have difficulty in doing that so you get a lot of stereotypes in a genre. A nice thing about genres is that they come in and out of fashion. If you like a certain genre, don’t worry, it will probably be back soon.


I heard that you originally didn’t like comedies.


I really love tear-jerking melodramas.  However, the popular idea about movies are that they are entertainment.  I was able to play around a lot in this movie.  For example, we did a scene where we placed actress Jo Mi-ryeong on a rolling board and pulled her across the set as Seon-a looked in a mirror as a spoof of many horror films. I asked my cinematographer if it was ok to pull off a joke like that and he said it was no problem.  That made me happy.  I was very lucky that I was able to work with many experienced people whom I respect and they all taught me a lot. Actually, the laughs in this film don’t come from outright comedy, but from the situation.  We all felt a strong conviction that was the way to go.


So if <The Greatest Expectation> goes well, you will be getting a lot of money?


Huh? I will just be getting a director’s fee.  If I have a little extra, then I will give it to help out other newcomers who want to break into the industry.  I didn’t get that kind of help.  First of all, though, I will change my apartment and get out of that small rental I have now.  And of course, a director’s job is not steady work so I should save something for my old age.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Footnotes:

(1) Park Shin-yang is now an actor and has made such films as <White Valentine> and <The Univited>

(2) The application fee was about 8 US dollars.

(3) All Korean men are required to serve approximately two years in the military unless excused for health reasons. While there is some flexibility as to when, most men serve when they reach 21 years old which generally requires them to take a leave of absence from college between their sophomore and junior years.

(4) Shamans are mystics who can communicate with the dead, tell fortunes, and perform a wide variety of ceremonies to appease the spirit world.  An excellent explanation of shamanism can be found in the documentary <Mudang: Reconciliation Between The Living And The Dead> available on DVD with English subtitles.

I should really thank my friend, Jin Yoon-seok, whom I remember as patiently answering all of my questions about grammar, idioms and vocabulary.

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Kim Yeong-ae

30th November 2009

After the mid-term exams, one student who was struggling in a class asked if she could do some extra work to improve her grade.  I pointed to a stack of Cine21 magazines on the coffee table in my office and told her she could pick any interview out of them to translate and submit to me before finals.  To my surprise, instead of choosing a more popular, hipper star, she chose Kim Yeong-ae.  I admit I hadn’t even read this interview prior to her choosing it.  Kim Yeong-ae had been in many movies in the 70s and early eighties but has done mostly television work since then.  She left tv for awhile to run a company selling cosmetics—most notoriously mud packs.  These mud packs were soon rumored to cause skin disease because of an alleged contaminent.  Although the rumors were proven false and she won the lawsuits against her, her business was in shambles.  Frankly, I almost did not post this articles.  Much of what Ms Kim says is so negative.   Here is the article as translated by my student.  (This interview in its original Korean language form can be found in Cine21 n. 720, Sept 8, 2009. The original interview was conducted by Lee Hwa-jeong and can be viewed here – )… (hmmm..it seems my student skipped a few sentences along the way…but it was a good effort otherwise)

kim yeong-aeWhy did you choose to act in the movie Goodbye, Mother out of all the possible roles you could have had?          When I was offered the role of the mother in Goodbye, Mother, my situation was quite difficult.  I wasn’t really feeling ready to work.  I was appearing in a drama here and there, but I didn’t feel I was ready to take on a film part. However, the scenario caught my attention and I liked the fact that it was the story of ordinary people. My favorite parts to play are of the people next door like I did in the dramas ‘Wave‘ and ‘Brothers’ River’.

The movie is the story of the relationship between Ae-ja and her mother…but it seems to me that Ae-ja is the larger role.     My part was large enough! I was worried about how my acting would be received and if I could manage the part.

Well, they say that once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you never forget. I think the same can be said for your acting skills.   No, that’s not true.  My acting is not improving as I get older and I am always so tired after wrapping up a shoot that I catch a cold.  I see other actor’s my age performing and I think to myself, “Her style of acting is so old-fashioned!” I think people might look at me the same way. I feel as if I have lost my ability to concentrate and think on my feet since my role in Hwang Jin-yi about three years ago.  And since I had been through so much since that part, I was worried that I would not be able to do as much as I used to.

Although I was excited to be on a movie set again, I was still nervous. I was worried about my reputation and the fact that I was rusty after several years of not acting. I threw up often and couldn’t sleep at all. I even suffered from a burst blood vessel in my eye–all because of high expectations of myself.

I’m not sure that director Jeong Ki-hoon knew that.  He referred to you as an ‘expert’ and that you were very helpful on the set. Everyone else was calling you ‘Mother’.    That’s natural considering my role.  There is somewhat of an age gap between myself and the director who often told me I was a ‘fox’.  He directed me well and got me feeling like an actress again in no time at all.

There are many scenes where you interact with your ‘daughter’ played by Choi Kang-hee. I was wondering what you thought of her as an actress…    She is more like a friend to me…but a younger friend. We have a lot in common and many similar interests. We both have some bold ideas and hate staying in one place.  And besides that, we are both anti-social!

I don’t understand that. With your long experience as an actress and your time as a CEO, you should be good at mingling with people.    No.  When I go shopping for clothes, my stylist picks everything out.  I have kept the same hairdresser since I was 28.  I have a person who is responsible for my makeup and nails.  I just follow the people around me.  I prefer to maintain my relationships with these people whom  I already know.

That sounds kind of scary.  It’s just that I want everything to be scheduled for me and to go smoothly. I actually keep myself in control.  It also means that I expect alot of my co-stars as well. Of course, I am not talking about making mistakes.  Everyone does that. However, I don’t want he or she to ignore me.  I cannot stand that!  I always try my best and give a huge effort with whatever task I’m given.  I have heard from many people over the years that I am too strict. However I don’t agree with them.  My character in Hwang Jin-yi was so strict that I was fed up with playing her.  One day my son told me that the character was just like me! (Laughs)  I guess I always try to be perfect.

The mother in the movie Goodbye, Mother really seems to suit you. She is also an upright person who always follows her principles.   I think I have a lot in common with her.

I heard that many people called their mothers right after watching Goodbye Mother. That must be because your role was special.  Although I played the mother, I thought of myself as the daughter while acting. My own mother passed away when she was 79.  I was stunned when she died. Even though I had been taking care of her for twenty years, I never expected that she would pass away suddenly. I thought she would always be beside  me.  I most regret what I last said to her on the phone. “I’m busy, tell me what you want to say.” And then I hung up

Tell me about when you were younger. Your photos are beautiful. You must have attracted many men.    When I was in middle school, the children in the village used to follow me around with sticks and call me very derogatory names.  They used a term meaning half-breed because my skin was so white, my forehead was high and my eyes were brown.  My father was very strict with me when he saw boys following me. He assumed I was leading them on and I was severely scolded.

It must have been difficult then to get your father’s permission to get into acting.   Well, I was quite spunky! I didn’t go back home for a month after submitting my application to a vocational high school. My mother suffered from his complaining that she did not raise me better.  I used to rebel quite a bit.  By the time I started to get into acting, he was too sick to prevent me and then he passed away a short time later.

Did you really want to be an actress? I think you were influenced by many people telling you  that you were beautiful.   In the past, men and women who were good-looking were asked if they were interested in acting. I’m from Busan and when I came to Seoul, my friend urged me to apply to an acting competition at MBC. So I applied.  I wonder what would I have done if I had not won. What would I have become? I used to dream of being a housewife.

When did you really start getting into acting? With my aunt’s support I set about learning everything I could about acting while I was staying in Seoul. I didnn’t know the first thing about it. But I was the eldest child and I did not want to bring shame to my family. When I look back, I think the reason I made it so far in this field is because of my pride and patience.  I had my first leading role when I was 25 and I loved it. At this time, Kim Ja-ok, Ko Doo-shim and I were very popular.

You were in a lot of movies in the 1970s but afterwards you seemed to switch to television parts.  I was in various kinds of movies in the past.  But always meeting new people on the movie set and shortly after parting ways only to meet another new group made me feel very uncomfortable.  I was also in some adult films but I stopped doing them because I was worried that my son would go into a video shop and find them.  That thought makes me laugh now.  Frankly, I was a terrible mother. I usually checked if he had done his homework with a phone call. I think now that I should have spent more time with him rather than working so much.

Your business venture ended quite messily. Although you won the lawsuit, it must have been quite stressful coming right after your divorce.   Owning a business was not for me.  I felt like a dog on a chain taking care of 80 or 90 employees.  After the rumors broke out, I wanted to die! But I couldn’t because I didn’t want people thinking, “She deserved to die.” I cannot tell you how much I suffered during that time.

How did you get through it?   Nothing could console me then and it made me very bitter towards my husband. I wanted to have it all–I don’t do anything in moderation.  I wanted to keep a generous mind toward everyone but I couldn’t do that within my own family.  I guess I can’t change who I am.

The movie Goodbye Mother has brought you back.  Yes but I was worried about negative comments because I am nearly 60.  Actors thrive on compliments.  I want to hear that my part was the best in the movie, not that I was the best.

As an actress, are you afraid of getting older?  Getting old is inevitable.  It is something people should just accept. No one can stay beautiful forever. However, age has its own beauty.  I think Meryl Streep’s wrinkles are beautiful, but not my own. If I had a calmer life, I would have taken better care of my skin.  But I am more interested in people referring to me as a good actress rather than a pretty face.

So are you going to continue acting?  Of course I will. I don’t think of myself as a star but while I was away from acting, fans kept asking when I would return.  I really appreciated that.  I appreciate all the love people have shown me and I am repaying that love by returning to acting.  However, I won’t rush into it and I will pursue it at my own pace.

Posted in Actors, Interviews | 3 Comments »

Director Lee Jeong-guk

16th October 2009

lee jeonggukOriginally posted November 7, 2007— Lee Jeong-guk was born in Boseong, South Jeolla Province  on August 20, 1957.  He attended Joongang University majoring in the Department of Film and Performing Arts. While in college, Lee made four short films. The best of these were Baekil Mong (1984) and A Day in the Life of Two Men (1986).  These screened at short film festivals and earned Lee a great deal of positive feedback and critical acclaim. He had high hopes when he was finally was in a position to make and release his first feature length film, the independently produced The Song of Ressurection (1990).

Unfortunately, this film which focused on a man caught up in the events of the Gwangju Massacre failed to attract audiences nor did it gain the approval of critics. Quite frankly, it was ahead of its time..so much so that no one wanted to film it for fear getting arrested. The facts about the Gwangju Massacre may have been well known to Lee who grew up in the area, but what happened in that incident was not generally known by the rest of Korea and most citizens at that time preferred to accept the government’s take on the event. Now, in the more open and democratic climate,this film would probably benefit from being re-evaluated by current critics and viewers.

After that failure, Lee waited three years to release his next film, The Story of Two Women.  This film was a great success. It depicted the lives of women from the end of the Korean War through the seventies–a time of extreme poverty and rapid changes that were not always easily assimilated. This powerful film won Lee numerous awards including Best New Director and Best Screenwriter in 1994. 

His next film was Channel 69 in 1996.  In this film, Lee chose to battle have his characters battle censorship as they struggle to create a porn website. Because of the nature of the film, it did not receive wide acceptance, but his next move The Letter (1997) became one of the most popular melodramas of its time. From its cute meet at the beginning to its heart-rending end, The Letter follows a formula set forth by many melodramas before it, but it does it quite well. It helped that the lead actors were Choi Jin-shil and Park Shin-yang.

This film was followed by yet another melodrama, The Promenade in 2000. However, while audiences were kind to the predictable nature of The Letter, they were far less kind in their evaluations of The Promenade and the film is considered a failure. (But I love the poster!)

After a three-year break, Lee returned with one a film I hate above all others, Blue. This horrible, ‘blockbuster’-style, action/melodrama left me extremely disappointed with direction his career seemed to be taking. Its a movie that doesn’t seem to know which way it wants to go…Lee speaks about the film in an interview he did with Film2.0 at the time of his release translated below.

Most recently, Lee co-directed The Resurrection of the Butterfly (2007) that received a limited release in an arthouse theater in Seoul. Currently, Lee is a film professor at Sejong University.  Even more recently Lee

 

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This interview, conducted by Jang Byeong-won was conducted on February 5, 2003

Doesn’t it seem a bit extreme to go from making melodramas like <Promenade> and <The Letter> to making a high-seas action blockbuster?


I suppose, on the surface, it might look like a ‘high-seas action’ movie but the central theme that I really wanted to express was the strength of friendship that can be found between men.  I personally feel that this movie is not a big change from what I have done previously.  Although the scale is a little larger, it is basically the story of <The Letter> moved out of the forest and onto the ocean.  Did you read the information about our shooting schedule running over and how much we spent, especially on special effects and computer graphics? That was the real change. Dramatically, there is hardly any difference.  And it was a great opportunity for me to learn about filming action sequences, and using the graphics and special effects that we needed for this film.


<Blue> was in production for a very long time.


This is the first time that it has taken me so long to make a movie. <Promenade> took exactly 21 days to shoot and it was released within 3 months of starting.  <Blue>, on the other hand, took about 3 years to finish.  That was partly because it was such a large scale movie combined with the fact that we had to adjust our shooting schedule daily according to the navy’s schedule.  Also, even though we had received permission from the Ministry Of Defense to shoot on the navy base in advance, we had to go through the whole process of requesting permission a second time when the head of the ministry changed.  We needed time to work with the actors, select the opening computer graphics and post-production required even more time to complete a lot of the computer graphics found throughout the movie.


The computer graphics, special effects and underwater photography all combined to make the scale of this film bigger. But it seems you had to be especially careful in doing all these things at sea.


I left all the problems of graphics, effects and underwater photography to the specialists. I devoted myself to depicting the drama in <Blue> in a manner I would be satisfied with.  Above all things, this movie is a drama. Maybe some directors who make art films can ignore drama because he possesses a sense of style, but I make commercial films. The main concern of any commercial film is the drama within. I wanted that to go without a hitch and that was my only focus.  I was satisfied with talking to the specialists before each shoot so I could tell them the image I wanted to create in each scene.


The underwater scenes looked great.


Back when they made <The Phantom Submarine> they used a ‘dry-for-wet’ technique. They used some kind of smog to create the feeling of being at a great depth.  Then 3D graphics were added.  The shots of the nuclear submarine were actually shot on a set and the rest was completed with computer graphics.  Several years have passed since that technique was developed and a lot of progress has been made on it since then.


It feels as if there is no clear antagonist in <Blue>.  Most of the disagreements are caused from difficulties in love, friendship, and authority.


When I first saw the scenario, I thought that it was a little stale and I considered throwing it out.  I thought out some more problems to draw out the drama and added some elements of danger.  Without those elements, the story had seemed disjointed.  The basic story is just two men in love with one woman, but the friendship grows stronger because of disaster.  I once made a movie called <A Tale Of Two Women>, this movie could be called ‘A Tale Of Two Men.’


With all the plotlines running through <Blue>, it seems like we are seeing several different movies.


I wanted to make a movie like <The Letter> where the genre is clearly defined, but it didn’t work out that way.  It became a mixture of genres.  These days, many Korean movies seem to have an identity crisis.  Melodramas are stuffed full of comedy and comedies are filled with action.  <Blue> is basically a melodrama which incidently contains comedy, action and suspense.  The story is mixed, not because I intentionally blended genres, but because it was difficult to separate those elements out.  In the long run, having various dramas helped in filming this movie.


What kind of movie do you think you’ll make next?


For the past two years, I have been working on a thriller. Korean film critics have indicated that there is a stagnation of certain genres and have said that if someone wants a challenge, they should take on a thriller.

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