Seen in Jeonju

Archive for the 'Directors' Category

Index of the 1970s: Directors Kim Mook to Kim Sa-gyeom

28th June 2013

This posts consists of next several directors in alphabetical order whose filmographies of the 1970s I have either almost nearly completed or who did not have very many films to begin with. Their films not listed here, and those of many other directors, can be viewed by clicking the tab marked “the 1970s” at the top of the page.

Kim Mook (1928-1990)– Born in Pyeongyang on November 21, 1980, Kim Mook spent most of his early life there. However, by the time war broke out in 1950, Kim was working as a newspaper editor on Jeju Island. After debuting in film, many of the movies Kim made were anti-communist in nature. Kim passed away in a housefire in March 1990. While we will be dealing with him again in earlier decades, Kim made a total of 13 films in the 1970s most of which I have already posted plates for. Only one remains to be done and that can be viewed by clicking the thumbnail below..
kimmook1974 undertheskyofsakalin

Kim Moon-ok- Kim Mook may have been finishing up his career in the 1970s, but this next director was just getting started. Born Kim Byeong-yeol in Nonsan on October 28, 1945, Kim Moon-ok majored in Korean Literature at Joongang University. After graduating, he entered into the film world as an assistant director starting in 1974. In 1979, he was given the opportunity to direct a film written by Choi In-ho. He directed only one film in the time period we are dealing with here, but his career continued into the 2000s.
kimmoonok1979 othersroom

Kim Myeong-yong was born on January 7, 1938. In the 1960s, he worked as part of director Jeong Cheong-hwa’s staff. Jeong was famous for action films and Kim followed in his footsteps, often co-directing with a director from Hong Kong to capitalize on the kung fu craze of the era. He had made 4 films in the 1970s, three are depicted below and one had been done earlier.
kimmyeongyong1974 dangeroushero, kimmyeongyong1977 fistsofbrucelee, kimmyeongyong1978 themagnificent

Kim Sa-gyeom was born on July 7, 1938 in Masan. He started out attending Hae-in University (now Gyeongnam University) not far from where he grew up, but he did not enjoy his major, Korean Literature and dropped out before he finished. He moved to Seoul and enrolled in an Art College where he majored in Film & Performing Arts. In the early 1960s, Kim was working as a reporter for the Arts and Culture section of a sports newspaper. It was there that he became acquainted with director Yoo Hyeon-mok and in 1965 he began to work under him as an assistant director. He debuted with his own film in the 1970s– and stopped directing after making just two movies. He did continue in the film world however, working as a Busan-based film critic. His debut film had been listed previously.
kimsagyeom1975 changsusheydey,

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Index of the 1970s: Directors Kim Jong-seong and Kim Joon-shik

22nd June 2013

Director Kim Jong-seong was born on September 16, 1935 in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. He attended Kookje University, majoring in International Literature and debuted as a movie director in 1977, making thirteen films by 1985.
kimjongseong1977punghyeob, kimjongseong1978rainbowinmyheart, kimjongseong1978superkungfufighter, kimjongseong1978thetrap

Director Kim Joon-shik was born in Imshil in North Jeolla Province on March 7, 1935. Immediately after graduating high school in Jeonju, Kim got a job working as part of director Ahn Jong-hwa’s staff before starting as a director in his own right in the mid-1960s. Kim was a casual director, more often working in the production area of films, and he only directed 9 movies by 1990, although his career in film extended further through the mid-90s. The majority of his movies dealth with family issues and his best is generally considered to be No More Sorrow depicted below.

kimjoonshik1978nomoresorrow, kimjoonshik1979letterfromheaven

To see more from the directors of this decade, click the tab marked 1970s at the top of the page,

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Index of the 1970s: Kim Jin-tae

21st June 2013

Kim Jin-tae (1940-1981) started working in the movie industry when he was just 19 years old. He worked under such directors as Ahn Hyeon-cheol, Kang Dae-seon, Seok Rae-myeong, Moon Yeo-song and Kwon Cheol-hwi for ten years as an assistant director. In 1974, he got his chance to direct his own film, Unforgettable, which unfortunately did not live up to its title. His failure inspired him to go to Hong Kong. At that time, Hong Kong films were enjoying immense popularity and Kim wished to learn what he could there. He wound up co-directing several films there, many of them starring Jackie Chan. However, Kim Jin-tae passed away at an early age but directed films right up until his death. Below are the films he directed and co-directed in the 1970s.

kimjintae1974 unforgettable, kimjintae1976 killermeteors, kimjintae1977 newbigboss, kimjintae1978 halfaloafofkungfu, kimjintae1978snakeandcraneartsofshaolin

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The 33rd Blue Dragon Awards

28th November 2012

The 2012 edition of the Blue Dragon Film Awards will take place on November 30th. I am listing all the candidates for the major awards in their categories ahead of the festival and will update this post when the results are announced. Care to choose your favorites?

Best Film

best film

Winner: __Pieta_____

Best Director

best director

Winner: ____Jeong Ji-yeong_________

Best Actor

best actor

Winner: _____Choi Min-shik________

Best Actress

best actress

Winner: ____Im Soo-jeong_______

Best Supporting Actor

best supporting actor

Winner: ___Ryu Seung-ryong___

Best Supporting Actress

best supporting actress

Winner: ___Moon Jeong-hee______

Best New Director

best new director

Winner: ____Kim Hong-seon__________

Best New Actress

best new actress

Winner: __Kim Ko-eun__

Best New Actor

best new actor

Winner: ___Jo Jeong-seok__

Other awards:  Best Screenplay: __Nameless Gangster <Yoon Jong-bin>__, Best Cinematography: __Eungyo <Kim Tae-kyeong___, Best Lighting: ____Eungyo <Hong Seung-cheol>_____  Best Music: __Nameless Gangster <Jo Yeong-wook>_ Best Art Direction: ___Masquerade <Oh Hong-seok>_____, Best Short Film: __Night___


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Korean Film Index: 1970s, Kang Dae-seon

8th April 2012

Director Kang Dae-seon was born on December 28, 1938.  He dropped out of university and started working for a Korean film magazine called World Movies. He worked as part of the editing staff and the connections he made there got him  a foot in the door when Shin Sang-ok established Shin Productions.  He did odd jobs there including a bit of acting, writing dialogue and planning of films.  He finally debuted as a director in his own right in 1971.  He made 11 films during this decade and continued directing films until the end of the 1980s.  I had previously posted information on the majority of his films from this decade, and only the three listed below remain. To see these, click the thumbnail and expand the image.  You can also access the plates of this other films by clicking the tab marked “the 1970s” at the top of this page and browsing through the directors by family name.  Up next, Kang Moon-soo and Kim Cheong-gi. 

kangdaeseon1974 cheonmashingeom, kangdaeseon1975 foolyongchil, kangdaeseon1976 nightschool

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Index of the 2000s: Ahn Byeong-gi

18th February 2011

ahnbyeonggiAhn Byeong-gi was born on November 5, 1966.  He graduated from the Seoul Fine Arts Institute where he majored in Film. He first worked in film under director Jeong Jin-yeong on such films as The Life of the Hollywood Kid (1994) and Naked Being (1998).  He debuted with Nightmare, but is best known to date for Phone. Ahn does not limit himself to directing. He wrote the screenplays for many of his films and he is the Executive Director of Toilet Pictures. Although he has directed only horror during the 2000s, he is currently working on a film listed as a drama about the Avian Flu with a working title of “Gamgi” (meaning ‘A Cold’)


2000-001, phone, bunshinsaba, apt

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Director Kwak Ji-gyun

29th May 2010

kwak ji-gyunThe movie industry was saddened this week at the apparent suicide of Director Kwak Ji-gyun. Born in Daejeon, Kwak’s real name wa Kwak Jeong-gyun but he altered it slightly after he began working in the film industry following his graduation from the Deparment of Film at the Seoul Arts College. He began working immediately after finishing school as an assistant director for Kim Soo-yong (The Loneliness of the Journey, 1978), Jo Moon-jin (When Sadness Takes Over,1978), Im Kwon-taek (So Close Yet So Far, 1978; Divine Bow, 1979; No Glory, 1979; Tomorrow and Tomorrow, 1979; Mrs. Spectacular, 1980; Tears of the Idol, 1981; Mandara, 1981), Choi Seong-ryong (As Firm As Stone, 1983) and Bae Chang-ho (Deep Blue Night, 1984).

With such mentors, perhaps it is no surprise that when Kwak was finally given a chance to direct his own film, it turned out to be his most successful. A Wanderer in Winter (1986) was Kwak’s debut film and it remains as the movie associated with his name.  He followed this with The Home of Two Women  (1987), Long After That (1989), Wound (1989), Portrait of Youth (1990), The Woman who Wouldn’t Divorce (1992), Rosy Days (1994), Deep Sadness (1997), Plum Blossoms (1998) and Fly High (2006). Several of these are readily available on DVD.

According to his brother, Kwak had been deeply depressed. Fly High failed miserably in the box office–less than 300,000 people saw it in the theaters and he was unable to secure another opportunity to direct. According to news, Kwak was unmarried and seemingly quite lonely. He opted to take his own life through carbon monoxide poisoning and left a short not which, when translated, states:  “I have no work and I am suffering so much.” He left that note with a 100-page autobiography.  He died on May 25, 2010.

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Director Kang Ho

24th February 2010

This has been a very busy week with preparations for the new semester that begins next Tuesday which is why I have been negligent about posting here for the past few days.  I will catch up though and will work on updating the ‘films awaiting release’ section later this afternoon.  In the meantime, here is a little something about a director during the age of silent films, Kang Ho.

kang hoKang Ho was born on August 6, 1908 in South Gyeongsam Province as the eldest son of a tenant farmer. When he was just 9 years old, he left his local school to get an education at a more prestigious school in Seoul. However, he did not have enough money and was forced to withdraw after not paying his tuition in full.

Unable to follow the path he wished, Kang Ho came up with a different plan. He had demonstrated a talent for drawing pictures  from a very young age so he decided to pursue a career in art. Without he parents’ knowledge or consent, Kang Ho stowed away on a ship to Japan. Once he arrived, he worked at any job a boy his age could–in a bakery, delivering milk, as a messenger and as a newspaper boy.  Eventually he had enough money to enter school in Kyoto and later was able to enter the Tokyo Art Institute.

When he returned home to Korea, he started studying moving pictures with the Joseon Movie Arts Association. There he befriended Kim Yoo-yeong and Seo Gwang-je, two other soon-to-be directors (more on them at a later date).  While studying art and set design at the Movie Arts Association, Kang Ho made a film entitled Be A Winner, Soonyi about a young girl who enters a footrace in the hopes of winning a magnificent prize that would assist her bedridden father.  The movie was released in 1928 and it may be the first film made with a target audience of children but, as no copies of the movie are known to exist, it is impossible to confirm this. But it is known that Kang had expressed an interest in writing stage plays for children.

His next film was released  in  1929.  A few years earlier, Kang Ho had become associated with KAPF (The Korean Artists Proletariat Federation). That organization operated between 1925 and 1935 and was founded to help spread some of the philosphies that had come out of the Russian Revolution through various forms of art. Kang Ho was originally involved as an artist, but as he was continuing to develop his interest in films, he would soon start working for KAPF’s production company, Namhyang Kinema.

In 1929, Kang Ho produced, directed and starred in The Dark Road. It was a film that tried to depict the plight of the farmers who were suffering terribly from a long economic depression. The film, which was very realistic and dark, split the opinions of film critics down the middle. Critic Yoon Hyo-bong, in the March edition of Movie Comments, tore into the film and the veiled communist philosphy behind it calling it a failure from start to finish whereas Seo Gwang-je writing for the Joseon Ilbo declares it an excellent attempt at filmmaking with no clear faults. Kang Ho was unsure how he felt about attaching his name as the director of this film and so he created the fictional Dok Go-seong and it is that name that appears in the credits.

His next film was called The Underground Village and it clearly reflected the ideals of KAPF.  It was about a society of laborers living under a city that was the epitome of capitalism–where wealth, production and pleasures of the flesh are all that is important. Among the laborers in an ironworks factory is Kim Cheol-geun who tries to organize his fellow workers into a union that would prevent the factory owner from carrying through on his threats to fire his employees whenever he is angry. Another character was the wealthy Hyo-seok who gets a lesson on just how many unemployed workers there are living beneath his feet and joins the cause of the poor after hearing an impassioned speach by the eloquent and charismatic Seong-geun, Cheol-geun’s younger brother.

This movie met with a wider aproval but it still had numerous critics, most notably the authorities.  The activities of KAPF were getting to be too influencial for the Japanese Colonial Government to ignore and they began cracking down on the organization, erradicating it completely by 1935. 

After Korean independence in 1945, Kang Ho moved to the north and became a university professor.  He stayed in what would become North Korea and was very active in helping to spread communist ideals.  He passed away on July 3, 1984.

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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:


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?


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:  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.



(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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