Minch & Films (민치 앤 필름)

Interview With Documentary Producer Kim Min-chul (김민철) – Part 2

Producer Kim Min-chul

Producer Kim Min-chul

For Part 1 of the interview with documentary producer Kim Min-chul (김민철), please click on the link. In this second part, producer Kim discusses his company Minch & Films, the current environment for Korean documentaries, and his acclaimed and powerfully moving filmography.

Q) Throughout your filmography you seem to be attracted to stories about vulnerable people who find strength despite adversity. Iron Crows (아이언 크로우즈), My Barefoot Friend (오래된 인력거), Planet of Snail and Captain Kang all display this. What is it about these kinds of stories that attracts your interest? Why do you want to make documentaries about these subjects?

A) To be cynically honest with you, I don’t believe that documentaries can change the world. I am also not interested in a “Let’s change the world” type of documentary let alone making documentaries about vulnerable people in unfair world. I also try to avoid the word ‘despite’ in any synopsis or treatment I write. As a producer, what counts for me the most in selecting a project is the ‘chemistry’ I have with the director. The same rule is applied for scouting production crews. I trust my gut feeling or intuition over a profile or CV. As every other producer does, I also make mistakes in selecting projects or scouting crews and it’s usually because I ignored my gut feeling and made decisions based on conditions and situations.

Having recalled how I got involved in those films, I can only say that it’s really a series of coincidences that my filmography looks like this. I want to work with only good people because I don’t separate my professional life from private life. I am not selective about a subject but about filmmakers. I don’t care much about the subject but how a director deals with the subject. To my understanding, documentary is a form of cinema after all so it must be cinematically entertaining.

My Barefoot Friend depicts the life of rickshaw workers in Calcutta

My Barefoot Friend depicts the life of rickshaw workers in Calcutta

Maybe I can put it this way; it’s not me who found the subjects but the directors who share certain values in life, and their tendency of filmmaking, and found me.

When Seung-Jun first pitched Planet of Snail – originally it was titled Hazy Journey of the Illuminating Tree – in April 2009, I showed my clear disinterest by saying, “Good luck,” because I was already depressed to hear how miserable life is for the deaf blind man and his crippled wife. I am not interested in making films I don’t want to watch. I didn’t see any charm in the character description or the subject of disability in the two-page proposal written by Seung-Jun in the very beginning of the project. What convinced me to board the project was the director’s vision I saw in the 10 minutes short film he made of the same protagonists he presented a couple of months after his first pitch. Seung-Jun somehow managed to depict the world of a deaf and blind poet without showing any pitifulness towards the characters. I watched his first feature The Children of God in the very evening of the same day at a film festival and I could almost visualize the film Seung-Jun was going to make.

As for Iron Crows, I was fascinated by the dignity of the characters deliberately depicted as heroes, then I realized that the director Bong-Nam Park’s own experience of living as a gas cutter for 3 years really made him see them as colleagues and working class heroes more than pitiful documentary subjects.

Iron Crows captures the hardships of shipbreakers in Bangladesh

Iron Crows captures the hardships of shipbreakers in Bangladesh

Captain Kang is a film that I put most efforts and am most proud of even though it’s probably not the most successful film. What impressed me the most besides his distinctive cinematography when the director Ho-Yeon pitched his story was his attitude toward the subject. I admire his dignity and humbleness as a filmmaker very much. When I decided to produce it, I was joking to the director that soon the industry would brand me as a disability specialized producer.

Q) There are an incredible amount of Korean documentaries being produced in the industry today, mostly by independent companies. These documentaries are often successful at film festivals, yet fail to reach mainstream audiences. What do you think about the role of Korean documentaries in contemporary cinema? Why do they struggle to become ‘mainstream’?

A) I am not sure what you mean by an incredible amount of Korean documentaries. In my opinion, there are far too little documentaries produced in Korea for the size of the population or the industry and compared to the number of fiction films. I am also not sure if you can say that these documentaries are “successful” in film festival circuit. Can you name 10 successful Korean documentaries in the entire history of Korean cinema without looking up your database? Despite the significant rise of current documentaries, I don’t think there are enough documentaries produced to make any meaningful market analysis in my opinion. And the documentaries are not diverse enough compared to the documentaries that are introduced at international documentary markets and festivals. It seems that most Korean documentaries come from either activism-oriented filmmaker groups or human-interest documentary groups who are often associated with TV documentary production.

Jeju Prayer (비념) mixes activism and human interest documentary conventions in exploring the 1948 Jeju Island massacre

Jeju Prayer (비념), by Indiestory, mixes activism and human interest documentary conventions in exploring the 1948 Jeju Island massacre

Activism-oriented documentaries often try to convey political agendas directly whereas most human-interest documentaries search for touching, often tear-jerking, human stories of vulnerable, and often pitiful, characters. Knowing how documentary has developed in Korea it’s more than understandable. Knowing how badly freedom of speech is practiced in Korea, I very much appreciate the role of activism-oriented documentaries that fill a niche in the mainstream media. However, I am missing ‘diversity’ here. Why are all the documentaries dealing with serious subjects almost always in a monotonously serious and direct fashion? Why is it hard to see cinematic documentaries? At film festivals and cinemas in Europe and North America I am seeing many diverse styles of documentaries screened and they are often successful these days. Many of them are highly entertaining yet still dealing with serious subjects such as social justice, war or human rights. Personally I would love to see comedy, musical, action noir genre of documentaries made in Korea by Korean filmmakers.

Poor production quality is another thing that makes Korean documentaries invisible in mainstream cinema. Audiences don’t seem to care much whether it’s documentary or fiction when making decisions to watch films in cinema. You can’t force or beg audiences to watch a documentary despite poor production quality while the ticket prices are more or less the same, and it’s their decision which film they choose to spend their leisure time on. We filmmakers need to work on diversity and production quality of the film we make but I also think there is a serious need for more subsidies from the public sector, not only because of its value for the public good but also because documentary is too weak to freely compete in the market. The government needs to have a long-term investment plan on documentaries in order to make it sustainable. Korean cinema is one of the strongest in the international film market and Korean filmmakers really make good films, but they take time and effort. I don’t believe documentary should be an exception.

Q) You have stated in prior interviews that you have co-producers in Europe, America, and Asia. What are the benefits of having international co-productions? Why are they important/significant?

International co-productions are a great source of funding, but aren't always easy

International co-productions are a great source of funding, but aren’t always easy

A) I like to work with international crews with diverse backgrounds. This is one my strengths as a producer and I very much enjoy seeing how the collaboration between filmmakers with different cultural backgrounds creates chemistry and influences the end result of the film. Providing that filmmaking is teamwork, I feel like a great alchemist when intended collaborations work out. I finance part of my films by international co-production in return for working with production crews from the country of co-production. Planet of Snail is one of the successful cases of international co-production as the collaboration with Finnish sound team definitely added a lot to the production quality of the film, and my Finnish co-producer raised the whole expenses spent in Finland. However international co-production is a double-edged sword when it comes to the conditions for spending. The budget raised by international co-production needs to be spent according to the regulations set by each funder. Usually the money needs to be spent in the country of co-production and often they ask to hire local creative talent. It can be very good if there is room for the talent and your co-producer has the right creative talent for your film to work with. What if there is no more room for creative talents? What if you don’t know how to communicate or work with international film crews? Nowadays I see many producers and film professionals who tend to believe that international co-production is a cure for all and blindly jump into the trap of bad co-production. What’s the use of raising international funds if there is no creative talent who can contribute to the film, or you don’t know how to work together?

Q) You have created your own company Minch & Films. What do you hope to achieve through the company? Does having offices in Seoul and Holland benefit Minch & Films in any way?

Minch & Film was established in 2011

Minch & Film was established in 2011

A)  Since 2011, I founded and own my own company Minch & Films currently based in Seoul.

I established Minch & Films to be a true story based production. Currently Minch & Films is based only in Seoul while collaborating with post-production talents in Belgrade (Serbia) and multiple co-production partners in Europe and North America.

Currently Minch & Films (or better as producer Min-Chul Kim) is more known internationally than domestically but we are not only making documentaries for international audiences but also for Korean audiences. We are not sticking to the documentary genre or film as platform but cross over genres and media such as game and comics.

(Please follow this link for Minch & Films facebook page)

Q) Can you give any details about any future documentaries and collaborations you are involved in? Will you use Minch & Films to help promote them?

A) State of Play is a feature documentary about what it takes to be a pro-gamer featuring the e-sports champion Lee Jae-Dong. This is a minor co-production with Visualantics, a emerging documentary production in Belgium. I brought Korean Communication Committee and Seoul Film Commission on board and it’s currently in the final post- production to be released in the summer. (See below for the trailer).

MotoSeoul is a feature documentary about young people living on the edge of Seoul dependent on the speed of motorcycle such as quick service rider, Chinese deliveryman and high school bikey gang in the style of Hong Kong noir movie. It has been developed with Seoul Film Commission’s international co-production development support in 2011 although I have been developing this project since 2006. I am expecting to start production in the summer with Ho-Yeon Won as director (Captain Kang’s director).

Scream For Me Sarajevo is a music documentary about heavy metal legend Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden’s frontman) and his band’s journey to war torn Sarajevo during the siege in 1994, and what a music concert meant to the people in the least humane living condition. It’s a music film, a road movie and a documentary about war, bravery and human dignity. I am currently visiting London for the pre-production meeting with Bruce and forming the production team. It’s in the early stage of pre-production.

Q) Finally, what do you think about the current environment of Korean documentaries on the global stage? Are they well received, or are there limitations? For example, how do you promote your films internationally to achieve a high profile?

Producer Kim discusses his projects

Producer Kim discusses his projects

A) Relatively more Korean documentaries are introduced to the international market since some of the documentaries achieved some level of international success. However global documentary markets are heavily dominated by European and North American productions while documentaries not only about China as subject but also directed and produced by Chinese are growing significantly in numbers as well as in quality. To promote my films internationally, I participate in pitch forums, film markets and festivals and work with international partners such as sales agent, co-producers, and publicists. I also experiment with multimedia platform. For example, I produced an educational app for learning finger braille language to promote social engagement of Planet of Snail. You can download the app simply by opening the site www.planetofsnail.com on any tablet device such as iPad.

In order for Korean documentaries to be better received, we need more supports from Kofic and other public sector. There are always supporters behind successful documentaries.

Hanguk Yeonghwa is incredibly grateful for Producer Kim for taking the time for this interview, and be sure to look out for his future documentaries on the film festival circuit.

Interviews/Q&As Producers
Minch & Films (민치 앤 필름)

Interview With Documentary Producer Kim Min-chul (김민철) – Part 1

Producer Kim Min-chul

Producer Kim Min-chul

Producer Kim Min-chul (김민철) has been quite a prolific figure on the film festival circuit over the past few years. Working hard to foster Korean filmmaking talent in conjunction with international co-productions, the documentary producer has been responsible for a string of acclaimed films that capture human endeavours in fascinating and thought-provoking ways.

His most successful film is the powerfully moving Planet of Snail (달팽이의 별) directed by Yi Seung-Jun (이승준), which featured in festivals worldwide as well as winning several notable accolades.

Producer Kim very kindly agreed to be interviewed about his history as a filmmaker, his perspective on international co-productions, and his thoughts on the future of Korean documentaries.

Q) Planet of Snail has been one of the most successful Korean documentaries in recent memory, achieving international acclaim in several continents. Can you describe how you achieved such success?

A) Planet of Snail has been screened at over 80 festivals so far since its national premiere at EIDF in 2010 winning a dozen of prizes including Joris Ivens award at IDFA and Best documentary feature at Silverdocs. It was theatrically released in Korea, Japan, USA, UK, Netherlands and Belgium and broadcasted over 20 countries. It certainly has become one of the most internationally acclaimed Korean documentaries and the film is still traveling around festivals even at this moment.

Critically acclaimed Planet of Snail has been incredibly successful

Critically acclaimed Planet of Snail has been incredibly successful

However, Planet of Snail began as a small project with a small local crew and minor indie subject of a disabled protagonist. As far as the subject or the production scale are concerned it was not meant to be this successful or popular. It was not easy at all to convince the people we need to have on board both locally and internationally. At local pitch forums, professionals didn’t understand why we need 2 years to finish a “human interest documentary” and advised us to lower down the budget that was already cut half to please the local standard. At international markets, no one questioned about the budget (the realistic one) or the production timeline but it was still not considered as a project to be this successful in the following year. A well-acclaimed professional even told us that this film is not sellable which was a real heartbreak for emerging filmmakers like us without much international experience. In the end we managed to get multiple national and international funds and broadcasters on board after all including EIDF (EBS Int’l Documentary Festival), BCPF (Broadcast Content Promotion Foundation), Sundance Documentary Fund, Cinereach Grant, Finnish Film Foundation, YLE and NHK.

Perhaps one of the keys to the success of this film is the development we’ve been through in an international documentary environment. I brought this project to Eurodoc, which is one of the European initiatives for educating international documentary professionals. I was lucky enough to be the first Asian producer among over a couple of dozen producers from all over Europe. The courses were divided into 3 sessions a week for each session over the period of a year. In different stages of production I was able to get feedback from various professionals including fellow producers, sales agents and commissioning editors and we also realized the potential of the film as a love story. While we pitched the project at several national and international pitch forums, we got to know the strengths and weaknesses of the project and evaluate the market potential of it. We also learned that a lot of people see the story as a love story which had never been our focus of the original dramaturgy. I must not forget to mention the benefit of having a colorful team of international crew. There were over a dozen members in the international crew involved in and out of the production with more than 10 different nationalities including a Lebanese editor, a Finnish sound designer, a Japanese commissioning editor, a Dutch poster designer, a US funder and a French sales agent etc. I am also almost proud to say that we formed the team not for the sake of international co-production budget spending regulations, but based on true artistic connections and the positive chemistry we had with each other.

Q) Why do you think this film resonates deeply with audiences?

A) What makes the film outstanding is not the subject itself but the film(maker)’s attitude toward the subject. There is almost no distance between the people in front of camera and those behind it in the film. The protagonists are vulnerable minorities who are usually protective against media but they act natural as if no one is seeing them. One could imagine that it’s impossible for a filmmaker to make such scenes without earning their trust with their whole heart. I have a huge respect for Seung-Jun for his sincerity and I believe that audiences felt it on the screen.

The unique world of Soon-ho and Yeong-chan is wonderfully conveyed

The unique world of Soon-ho and Yeong-chan is wonderfully conveyed

Director’s vision is another thing. The world’s most talented film crews would be useless without a visionary director. Filmmaking is teamwork and even the smallest documentary production involves a team. It wouldn’t have been possible to make such a unique film without a director like Seung-Jun who had been there almost invisibly for such a long time and captured the precious moments of everyday life and the special world of the deaf and blind and put them into screen as he saw and understood it.

We put a lot of effort in post-production in order to depict the sensitive, fragile and beautifully innocent world of the deaf and blind. Did I mention that Planet of Snail is edited by Lebanese filmmaker Simon El Habre who made One Man Village, the 2009 Hotdocs winner? Tom Fleischman, a five times Oscar nominated sound designer whose filmography includes The Silence of the Lambs supervised our sound post team in Finland.

Planet of Snail is one of the examples that show how a filmmaker’s vision is reflected in a documentary film. Among hundreds of different definitions of documentary, my favorite one is “creative interpretation of reality with personal view”.

Q) You have re-teamed with Planet of Snail director Yi Seung-jun for your latest documentary production. Can you tell us about the film?

A) Wind on the Moon is the story about a born deaf blind girl who can only express herself by crying, screaming, laughing and smiling and her devoted mother who struggles to understand her language like a secret code inscribed on the moon. We again took a poetic approach with the title. The moon is a lonely place where deaf blind girl Yeji may feel she lives in. There is no wind on the moon and no one else but the mother can feel the wind. Yeji in real life also loves to feel wind.

Director Yi Seung-jun's unintrusive, compassionate style has garnered international interest

Director Yi Seung-jun’s unintrusive, compassionate style has garnered international interest

So we have another deaf blind protagonist but the subject is not the same nor is it Planet of Snail II. As far as the level of disability is concerned, Young-Chan (Planet of Snail) has at least a language but Yeji (Wind on the Moon) doesn’t and this could bring us to a different level of philosophical question; what makes a human a human? Young-Chan was able to learn braille language because he gradually lost his vision and hearing in his teenage whereas Yeji was born deaf and blind.

However, the biggest difference is the perspective of the narrative. Whereas in Planet of Snail the deaf blind protagonist leads the narrative (or tells the story) from his own perspective, in Wind on the Moon not the deaf blind girl but her mother’s perspective leads the narrative. Whereas Planet of Snail focuses on the inner world of deaf blind poet and his love story with his wife, Wind on the Moon focuses on the mother’s devotion and her struggle to communicate with her daughter. The story is told from the perspective of a mother of a disabled child and I believe there will be more audiences who could sympathize with characters this way compared to that of Planet of Snail.

In Wind on the Moon, the camera is almost invisible but still very intimate and close (I call it ‘A fly on the shoulder’ approach compared to ‘A fly on the wall’ approach). Last week, Seung-Jun showed me some scenes selected from the footage he shot over the last couple of months and I said anyone could tell it’s his film. It’s so intimate and lovely yet deliberately captures precious moments of the everyday life of the mother and the daughter. I look very much forward to see the movie as an audience myself.

Q) Why did you decide to work with director Lee again?

Captain Kang follows a disabled ship's captain

Captain Kang follows a disabled ship’s captain

A) Since the triumph of Planet of Snail at IDFA 2011, both Seung-Jun and I became busier than ever. While I was busy traveling and sharing my experiences of producing Planet of Snail at master classes here and there, I was force to finish up my next feature Captain Kang (강선장) with post-production crews in Belgrade. Seung-Jun has been traveling festivals and representing the film almost constantly for over a half of a year so we didn’t really have a chance to digest all the impressions and talk about what’s next until we met in Sheffield (How global we are!). When Seung-Jun pitched Wind on the Moon to me, I said, “You seem to have found the right project.” Seung-Jun seemed very happy to hear that because most feedback he had so far have been rather negative as they were not interested in another story with the same subject. I knew he saw something very special and worthy to make a film of in the protagonists. He is a man who doesn’t say anything before he is sure of. I trust Seung-Jun’s deliberate personality. Seung-Jun wanted to be safe with the production side of it especially because now the world documentary community is watching him for his next film.

Please see below for the trailer for Captain Kang:

For part 2 of the interview, please click on the link here.

Interviews/Q&As Producers
Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기)

Q&A with Director Leesong Hee-il (이송희일) – Part 2

Director Leesong Hee-il (이송희일)

Director Leesong Hee-il (이송희일)

To celebrate renowned queer director Lee Song Hee-il’s (이송희일) 2012 film trilogy, Indieplus cinema in Gangnam held a special screening and Q&A event on the 12th of March. In February, feature length film White Night (백야) was screened – the Q&A of which you can read here – while the March event featured a double-bill of short films Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기) and Going South (남쪽으로 간다). All three films are connected thematically as each story depicts two gay characters and the events that transpire between them during the course of several hours.

Suddenly, Last Summer is concerned with a relationship between a thirty-something teacher and a high school student. The film is an intelligent and subtle exploration of psychology and morality, as both protagonist have desires yet are constrained by societal position. The performances are wonderfully restrained and poetic, making the film arguably the best of the trilogy.

Going South, meanwhile, explores homosexuality within the military. The short film employs nature and vibrant colours in conveying conflict between the two central characters, one who wishes to continue their relationship and the other who views homosexuality as merely a phase of military service.

Both short films have been well received – and notably invited to the 2013 BFI London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival – and following the screenings director Leesong fielded questions from the audience, kindly translated by independent producer Hwang Hye-rim (황혜림).

Going South (남쪽으로 간다)

Going South (남쪽으로 간다)

Question: Thank you, I really enjoyed both of the films. They are really touching and moving. With Going South, your sense of colour was really strong – the greens and the browns especially. Can you tell us what feelings you were trying to evoke? Why did you choose those two colours in particular?

Director Leesong: When I was thinking of these three films, colour was one of the things that I was really interested in. So I put a lot of focus on that and I tried to make certain differences between the three films in terms of colour. For example, White Night happens at night so I already had limitations, so I tried to put focus on the colour of the protagonists clothes in that film. And I used a 5D Mark II camera to try and make the lighting match and give focus. I tried to give the film a certain kind of colour and tone. And for Suddenly, Last Summer, water is one of the main images so I tried to show the clothes of the main protagonists like the teacher’s shirt or the white shirt of the school uniform which shows more clearly the differences between them. For Going South, the green colour is the most important colour in the film so I tried to find a location where I can show real green images like a lotus field and forest. I visited several forests to find the perfect green [for the film]. There wasn’t exactly a specific reason I chose green, but what I wanted was to go out of Seoul, out of the city and have distance from the city, to show the least [characteristics] of the city such as buildings. Therefore green became important. I shot this film in Yangsuri which is near Seoul, and is well-known by Seoulites, but I tried to shoot it as if it wasn’t Yangsuri, as if it was some other place. So I went deeper into Yangsuri, and tried to find different spots in the area so that it can look different from what people know. I tried quite hard to find these kind of locations and I really wanted to follow the psychological mindscape of the two protagonists, so that’s why I tried to focus more on their journey and their psychology, and to avoid a cityscape. I needed more [natural] landscape. Even the road when one protagonist kidnaps the other, that road is about 300 meters long and other than that it is surrounded by buildings. That specific spot was something I’ve had in my mind for 5 or 6 years and I was always going to use it in a movie one day, and I finally used it. I tried to remove other kinds of colour as I didn’t want to give you too many colourful images but to just focus on the two people, just the colour green and their emotional journey. If you can remember the character of Jun-young from the film, the man from the city who was discharged from military service, he’s wearing a white shirt so I didn’t want to mix too many more different colours. In the end, I only wanted their emotional development to be shown more than other features.

Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기)

Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기)

(The following question is quite offensive to the gay community, and is purely the opinion of the audience member. It in no way reflects the liberal attitude within Hanguk Yeonghwa).

Question: I think I can understand more about gay people through these films. I think gay issues are well received in American societies, for example, and economically and politically, and in the film market. But in Korean society, I think there is still, not taboo exactly, but more negative responses to gay issues than other societies. So I’d like to know what you are trying to say through your film to [Korean] society where more negative opinions exist. My second question is I’d say that it’s a personal choice, or sexual preference, if you are gay or not. But also there are worries that after two generations that if more and more people choose to be gay, although it’s personal preferences and choices, it’s probably possible that no-one would exist anymore. So some people consider being gay as a bad influence sometimes, so I’d like to know the director’s opinion on that.

Director Leesong: To answer your first question, there wasn’t a big or high intention. It’s just like if you are asking any non-gay filmmakers, or films with non-gay themes, you never ask them what their intentions were, what did they want to say to non-gay society. You don’t ask that, right? So I say, let’s be fair. But when you are facing a filmmaker who is making a film about sexual minorities then you always ask this kind of question, like what was your message to society. There wasn’t a big intention, just to make a film about love, where the main protagonists are sexual minorities. Let’s be fair, you wouldn’t ask that question to heterosexual filmmakers, so you shouldn’t ask me either. As for the second question, I don’t think it just applies to Korean society, it applies to most societies. Most gay people are raised by non-gay parents but they grew up as a gay person. Even if the parents are a gay couple, and they say to their children, “You should be gay”, they wouldn’t all be gay. If they want to love the other sex, then they will. I don’t think it’s a bad influence. As many of you know, the Mayor of Berlin is gay, and at the city hall there are rainbow flags but that doesn’t mean that Berlin is necessarily the only gay-friendly city. It’s embracing gay culture more, but that doesn’t mean everyone in Berlin is gay. I think that by having more sexual minorities speak out helps to develop a more democratic society, so therefore we need to hear more voices, minority groups should have more voices to make a real democracy possible, and make people embrace other people’s differences and opinions. In those terms I think that Korean society still has that kind of tedious democracy, we are still getting there, to have a more developed democracy.

Suddenly, Last Summer explores the relationship between a teacher and student

Suddenly, Last Summer explores the relationship between a teacher and student

Can we lighten up the atmosphere a little bit? Do you have any lighter questions? I think I will sink into a grave, the atmosphere feels like that.

Question: I’m really curious whether the actors in your films are really gay or not.

Director Leesong: What answer would you like?

Question: Just say it [the truth]!

Director Leesong: They are all not gay in real life. But I have to say I can’t really be happy to answer like that. It’s really hard to find anyone, actor or actress, who has freely come out of the closet and said that they are gay or lesbian. There are almost none who have been open about their sexual identities. So it’s not that I searched hard for non-gay actors, it’s the other way. It’s hard to think of anyone who is as beautiful as the actors who are in the films who are gay, that’s why we were laughing. But I should add that there are differences compared to ten years ago, there are younger generations who have more courage to come for an audition for my films, so that’s a big change.

Question: In Going South it was separated into ‘acts’ with the letters. I was wondering if that is more a stylistic or tonal choice, or did you choose that style for a structural choice in telling the story? Or to separate the different moods of each act?

Going South explores homosexual issues within the military

Going South explores homosexual issues within the military

Director Leesong: Well for Going South we shot for six days, so the whole production was like a short film. It was really difficult to show their past with images, it would have taken me a lot of time to show what they have been through together. So I wanted to show their past history together, not through images, but through their letters. I wanted to reveal their past history as the movie moved on and on, but I didn’t want them to talk about it, so the letters revealed their relationship. I don’t think it was necessarily to make an ‘act’. In Korea, serving in the army is compulsory, it’s an obligation. So if you are old enough, an a man, you must go to the army and serve for two years. It’s been like that for a long time. The things that were depicted in the film are happening quite often in the army, and that’s the basic idea. Nowadays I heard that they are doing several kinds of things such as planning sections differently to ‘prevent’ certain kinds of things – the exact expression is ‘anti-gay’ kinds of things. For example, before all the men used to sleep in one big room, but now they have sections so they are separated from each other. Because before they were all sleeping in the same section, and, well, a lot of things happened there. In those terms, this film Going South is quite a cliche. Whether they are gay or not, the army is a huge group of same sex people, and things happen. I just wanted to show the cliche that people know about, and make a story about it. I should tell a funny story because the atmosphere is so serious. I’m actually quite a funny guy! Having this kind of situation in Korea, and having gay men going to the army, creates two different responses. One is like a man sent to a place full of women, so a lot of gay men have a hard time because of the showers and life is difficult for them. But on the other hand there are gay men who are very happy to go to the army, they use the expression, “I’ll be among the flowers,” “I’m in a flower field.” After their army service they brag about things from the army like sex and lovers, stories they tell to their friends.

(Director Leesong then began to discuss about his next project).

Director Leesong: Night Flight‘ is inspired by a real story that happened about two years ago in a high school. There was a student who confessed his sexual identity to his teacher, which should be discrete. It was during a session with the teacher, and he was having a hard time telling him about what was going on in his mind. But the very next day the teacher broadcasted [the student’s sexuality] throughout the school during a broadcasting program. He just said the boy in class ‘B’, for example, is gay and you shouldn’t choose to be gay. It was a really violent response by a teacher, it shows the reality in Korean education, I think. I was thinking whether I should make a film about it or not, and then we had a person who was the education director for Seoul. Before his election we had an act about student rights which prohibited discrimination against students because of their sexuality and gender. But as soon as this new person got elected as the director of education, he said he was going to exclude and eliminate the article about prohibiting discrimination against gay people. That really pissed me off. It really shows the violent reality in Korean schools these days, Korean schools are showing the violence within Korean society. So I decided to make a film about it, dealing with school violence and also living as a gay [student].

Sincere thanks to director Leesong Hee-il for taking the time to answer the questions, to Producer Hwang for translating and to Manger Kwon Mi-hui and Indieplus Cinema for hosting the event.

Directors Interviews/Q&As
Courier Tae-jun sports an iconic orange jacket, revealing much about his character

White Night (백야) screening and Q&A with director Leesong Hee-il (이송희일)

Director Leesong Hee-il (이송희일)

Director Leesong Hee-il (이송희일)

At the Indieplus Q&A special event on February 19th, director Lee Song Hee-il’s (이송희일) latest film White Night (백야) was screened followed by the director graciously fielding questions posed by the audience. White Night has been a mainstay on the festival circuit since its premiere at the 2012 Jeonju International Film Festival, appearing in Vancouver and more recently featuring as part of the ‘Panorama’ programme at the prestigious 2013 Berlinale Film Festival.

The film, which was originally intended to be screened as part of a trilogy of short films, is based on the real-life event of a homophobic assault in Jongno, Seoul. White Night follows the victim of the attack, air steward Won-gyu who is visiting Korea for the first time in two years since the terrible ordeal. As he spends the night retracing the steps of the assault, he is joined by handsome courier Tae-jun who, for a reason he can’t explain, is reluctant to leave Won-gyu’s side. As the two men accompany each other throughout the night, they discover alternate experiences of being a gay man in contemporary Seoul.

Following the screening, film producer Hwang Hye-rim (황혜림) translated the queries posed by the audience. Before beginning, producer Hwang gave an insight into director Leesong’s history as a film maker.

Producer Hwang: Since his (director Leesong’s) first short film, which was made in 1998, up to his third feature White Night, his main concern was social prejudice in society. It’s a special opportunity to chat with him, as we (Korea) don’t really have a gay cinema, or films about sexual minorities or these kinds of issues. It’s not just about their struggles, but also about the melodramatic setting and that’s one  of the interesting things about his films too. How did the project start?

White Night (백야)

White Night (백야)

Director Leesong: As I said about 50 times in Q&A sessions, but just to give you a brief idea about the film, this film started as a shorter film. Actually there were 3 films released last year in 2012 in November, which were White Night, Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기), and Going South (남쪽으로 간다). Before that I made No Regret (후회하지 않아) which was shown in Berlin which was also a queer movie, and Breakaway (탈주). I was preparing a feature film but while waiting to make that, because that film wasn’t in winter season, I had some time and some funding form a cultural organization to make a short film, which became Suddenly, Last Summer. It was like a part-time job for me in the beginning, it was short-term work. So I finished it in one month. And I decided to make another 2 films which became White Night and Going South. The original plan was to release the 3 films together as 1 feature, but they all became longer than I had expected so altogether it’s around 2 hours and 40 minutes which was almost not acceptable in cinemas. So it was changed into 2 films. Because I started with Suddenly, Last Summer which is about 2 men who take a walk through different kinds of ‘space’ during 6 hours. That was the basic concept that runs through all the films. So they are about the relationship between 2 men during a 6 hour period. [The film is based on a homophobic assault in Jongno, Seoul]. The incident took place in 2011 and the film was released in 2012, so it was a recent incident. I was preparing a scenario when it happened and the basic idea was based on a short story of Dostoevsky the Russian writer which is also in the title White Night. But while I was trying to write the script I didn’t really like the draft I had at the time. Then I hear the news of the assault and it was really surprising even to me. I’ve been a activist for gay rights, and I thought I’d seen everything, but even for me it was very shocking that it happened in 2011, when I thought that Korean society had become much better. It wasn’t what I expected. These kinds of incidents are like what happened in the late ’60s and ’70s in western and European society, but it happened here, now, and it was really alarming. Recently I had been focusing more on my film work, but the event changed that. I wanted to give the main character Won-gyu a feeling of a refugee, or of being in exile, so I took the incident as part of the inspiration for the film.

Question: Who is watching this film? By that I mean is it Korean women, men, foreigners, who is his audience? And how are Korean people reacting to this film and what kind of feedback is he getting? When he’s making these movies, what kind of audience does he usually get? Who is responding, and how is he expecting people to respond? Is tonight’s audience representative of people who generally watching his movies?

No Regret (후회하지 않아)

No Regret (후회하지 않아)

Producer Hwang: Maybe I should mention that his previous film which was made in 2006 called No Regret was the biggest hit of the independent film scene at the time, with an audience of 60,000 people. But he has been making films for over a decade, so let’s ask him.

Director Leesong: I’m not that old, it’s not that long! I think it’s quite a complicated, but very important question. I think there has been a remarkable change since I made my previous queer film No Regret. At the time it was a huge issue because it was the first feature film made by a gay director who had come out of the closet, and that in itself was quite an issue at the time. The film was quite popular and drew a lot of 20-something female audiences, they were like 90% of the audience, and they formed the fandom of this film. But it’s been 6 years since No Regret and remarkable changes have been seen in queer cinema and the market for queer cinema. Before it was mostly 20-something female audiences who were interested, and I think it’s an Asian phenomenon so it was quite popular among young women in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. In Europe and America there is a big gay audience, but in Asia 90% of the audience, at least in the case of No Regret, were young females. Also some women in their 30s, and mothers in the 40s and 50s who came with their daughters were there, but it was mostly women in their 20s rather than men. But when I released this film, I realized the audiences numbers were more reduced than before. I think the reason is that these kinds of issues are not rare anymore, you can see much more of them in TV dramas and other kinds of media which deal with gay issues, or using them as a subject. So queer film is not a rare item anymore. The second reason is that 6 years ago, not many gay people would come to the cinema because they were afraid that by watching the film, they may reveal their sexual identity. So many gay people were afraid of that. But I think probably from last year, because there were many gay films like Miracle on Jongno Street (종로의 기적) and Two Weddings and a Funeral (두 번의 결혼식과 한 번의 장례식). You could see more gay audiences coming to the cinema, which indicates there has been changes in the Korean cinema and queer market. Personally I don’t want to focus on films for gay audiences only, like camp films in America. I don’t want to focus on films that are only consumed by gay audiences, or be confined to that specific area or issue. I want to focus more on universal stories and feelings that appeal to other audiences as well. That’s why I tried to make a story like White Night, that focuses more on their emotional sides that can appeal to a broader audience. I think I’d like to continue like that. I’m thankful if gay audiences like my films, but I’d also like to have a non-gay audience as well.

Courier Tae-jun wears an iconic orange jacket

Courier Tae-jun wears an iconic orange jacket

Question: Can you tell us about the character of Tae-jun? With his orange jacket he’s similar to James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, so I just wondered if that was what you were going for, like a rebellious gay character who is out and proud?

Director Leesong: That’s a question I’ve never had during my Q&A sessions with the audience, and it’s a very accurate question. Personally I really like Nicholas Ray’s films. I saw Rebel Without A Cause a lot too, and I think it’s not just me but it’s also noted that certain bi-sexual elements are shown in Nicholas Ray’s films. I really like the colour and the tone of the movie. I saw this film shortly before I made White Night, and because the film is quite a low budget film we had to shot almost all of the film at night and we couldn’t spend much on lighting. So I had to figure out how I should show the difference between these two characters, light and darkness. Not just for the atmosphere and environment, but in their personalities. That’s why I thought that I should use the orange jacket, to show his character a little bit. My team tried hard to find an orange jacket that I would like, for almost a month, but the jacket you can see in the film is not the one that I like 100% but I had to compromise, it’s the restrictive environment of film making. The jacket was sold in an auction. It was really refreshing question, thank you.

Question: I saw the character of Won-gyu is chewing gum all the time. I was wondering if there was any specific meaning to that action?

Director Leesong: This is a popular question during the past 50 Q&A sessions. I really liked Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris and I wanted to shoot the scene where the character takes the gum out of his mouth and puts it on the wall of the toilet. When I saw that film a long time ago, I decided I wanted to have that in my film as well, and I finally did it. And then I thought, why the gum? Basically the character of Won-gyu came back to Korea and is recalling his memories of the incident, and is going back to the past, and as I have shown through other techniques such as when the character gets the zippo lighter, and when he smokes twice, it indicates that Won-gyu might have been a heavy smoker when he was younger. And he might feel the urge to smoke when he comes back to Korea, so he chews gum to stop himself smoking. Also in my other film Going South one of the main characters eats medicine for headaches habitually, which indicates that he is depressed.

Won-gyu expresses himself through gestures and mannerisms, rather than dialogue

Won-gyu expresses himself through gestures and mannerisms, rather than dialogue

Question: You were talking about your films, and I was curious to known if the queer scene in Korea and Asia was primarily based in gay cinema, or if there was any lesbian cinema?

Director Leesong: It’s kind of a complicated question to answer, but I have to say that in Korea not many lesbian films are made – or almost no films made, up to now. Because there are no lesbian directors who have come out. I know there are many lesbian directors, but they have never said, ok, I’m a lesbian. It’s part of the reason why lesbian cinema isn’t prolific in Korea. I sometimes get requests that I should make films about lesbians too, but it’s quite tricky for me because even if I make films about lesbians it will probably make it more difficult for female directors to make films about lesbians. The second reason is that I’m kind of a loner, so I don’t really know about gay communities in Korea – I do know well, but I don’t know very well. As for lesbian communities, I don’t have any idea about them. They are the two reasons why I haven’t made any lesbian films so far. I think it is also based on the structure of Asian society, which is based on patriarchy, so I guess it’s an Asian phenomenon that lesbian films are difficult to make. It’s much more difficult for a woman to come out of the closet and say that she is gay than a man, because if you are a man and if you are economically independent then you have less social disadvantages than a woman. It’s kind of trickier for Asian women to come out and say openly that she is lesbian. So it’s difficult for them to make films about lesbians. There are not many lesbian film makers in Asia, maybe some in China and Taiwan I know, but almost none in Japan or Korea who act openly as lesbian film makers. Another reason is that gay films can be consumed by female audiences, so women come to the cinema to see gay films but men don’t go to the cinema to watch lesbian films, I think, in general. Of course, pornographic films that feature two women can be consumed by male audiences as well, but it’s totally different when a lesbian film is made by a lesbian director who is the main force behind the film, it’s about her identity, then I think male audiences become less interested, or not interested at all. That’s the basic reality we have here in Asia.

Question: Why does Won-gyu always hesitate before he speaks? He’s always playing with things in his hands, like opening and closing the lighter, before he speaks.

Director Leesong: I didn’t want to give lines to the character of Won-gyu. Actually the actor who played Won-gyu, Won Tae-hee, he is quite a talkative and lively character. So I thought that if I didn’t give him any lines, that situation would already create a conflict within himself. We can see in a lot of dramas that the main character who has been hurt is saying they are in pain, asking people to recognize their pain, so we are kind of used to that, characters that speak about their situation loudly. That’s not the style I like, I don’t want to show it so obviously. I think in the films it’s much more appealing if you show these kinds of feelings in silence, sometimes. That’s why I choose to give him less lines. Tae-jun, the other character, is kind of the opposite, he speaks out at the moment about what he feels, that’s the contrast between the two characters. I also wanted to show Won-gyu’s little habits, like everyone has, for example I rip paper into little pieces when I meet people, and for Won-gyu he opens and closes things. This is how he shows his feelings, that’s how I chose to express his feelings.

Sincere thanks to director Leesong Hee-il for taking the time to answer the questions, and to Producer Hwang and Indieplus Cinema for translating and hosting the event.

Directors Interviews/Q&As
The tributes for Lee So-seon following her death are moving

Mother (어머니) screening and Q&A with director Tae Jun-seek (태준식)

Mother (어머니)

Mother (어머니)

A special screening of independent documentary feature Mother (어머니) was held at Indieplus in Gangnam, on the 29th of January. Director Tae Jun-seek (태준식) was also in attendance, and very kindly answered the questions posed by the audience following the screening.

Mother (어머니) is a documentary that follows the final two years in the life of activist Lee So-seon (이소선), a powerful figure in the battle for human rights for workers. Her late-son, Jeon Tae-il (전태일), is a legendary figure throughout Korea and other Asian nations for his dedication to improving rights for laborers. His protests against the abuses and of the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee (박정희) during the ’70s actually had the opposite effect as the government brought further exploitation, and as a result the then 22 year old set himself on fire. Jeon Tae-il’s death galvanized the workers’ rights movement, and since then Lee So-seon has tirelessly campaigned in his memory. Rather than focus on her efforts however, director Tae Jun-seek explores Lee So-seon’s final moments on Earth and her indomitable will in the face of ailing health.

Following the screening, the Q&A was translated by independent film producer Hwang Hye-rim (황혜림). Producer Hwang began by asking about the background of the film, and how director Tae began the project.

Director Tae Jun-seek: Well first, as producer Hwang explained, Jeon Tae-il is really one of the most important figures in modern South Korean history to the extent that he’s almost like a myth. And he’s a very important figure not just in Korean history, but also he was an inspiration to other countries in north-east Asia. He’s like a figure that symbolizes struggles for democracy in these areas. That’s one of the reasons you can see the director of the play (within Mother) is from Taiwan. That’s part of the reason why he was willing to do a play about him. I think the reason it was possible, the whole journey that Jeon Tae-il had, was because of his mother and even after his death Lee So-seon was very faithful to what her son believed and she tried very hard to keep those principles throughout her life. And that made me curious about her. What could make her strong like that? What could make a person like her? That was the start of the journey of this film. In this film you can see just a part of her life, but I thought it would be meaningful to show that part of her life, to understand Jeon Tae-il and also to understand Korean democracy. So I met her in 2009. I visited her, and told her I wanted to make a film of her. That was the start of the film.

Lee So-seon's everyday life is revealed during her final years

Lee So-seon’s everyday life is revealed during her final years

Producer Hwang Hye-rim: I should also give you a little bit of information about director Tae. He started his film making as an activist and a documentary film maker in Labor News Production, which was one of two of the earliest film documentary companies in Korea. The other was Documentary Pureun Audio/Video Collective. These are the two companies that started making productions back in the ’80s, on the scene of the struggle. So he started as one of the members of Labor News Production and produced a lot of documentaries and newsreels, and feature documentaries as well, which included mostly the scenes of struggles, and depictions of real life.

Question: Because Jeon Tae-il is already very iconic figure, and his mother is also a big figure, it must have been quite a challenge to start a story and make a story out of it. What kind of concerns do you have when you started?

Director Tae: Well it’s been a while since this film was released, it was released last year (2012) in Spring. I kind of thought afterwards, “Gosh I really chose a really really big figure for my film.” It was probably almost impossible to tell her story in a feature documentary. And also I had pressure from time as she was dying at the time and she passed away during filming. So I was running out of time, and I had this pressure of having to finish as soon as possible. So that was the limit I had, from nature. But the idea arose from the first meeting I had with her. I knew about this person from documents, I read a lot about her, I thought I knew about her, but from the first meeting she kind of gave me this inspiration on how I should tell her story. Because she was even back then, in her last days, still very funny, very interesting, and a very strong person. And I thought maybe it would be ok to tell her story from the present, to start the story from now, and not giving too much information ahead, but telling the story from her present and make a story out of it. I thought she was a beautiful person and strong enough to be in the film as she was. That was part of the intention, to make the story like this. Also I thought that I definitely need a long time to film her, and after a while I thought it would be effective to have a structure to go back to the past [and show her history] from the present.

Question: Were you able to distinguish any of the main influences on her life? Her parents were no doubt dead already, but what did you think were the really important factors that made her the strong personality type that she was?

Director Tae: I think that there were a lot of influences that made her who she was. She spent her childhood in Korea when it was a Japanese colony, and it was a really hard time. She couldn’t live with her parents when she was young, and she also had the experience that she was almost dragged away to be one of the ‘comfort women’ for the Japanese army. But luckily she escaped and she had to live in the mountains for about a month by herself. It was a time of hardship for all Koreans, so she had to live all the tragedy of modern Korean history by herself. So I think that’s part of the reason that made her as strong as she was. There was also the big influence from religion. She was a Christian and she always believed from a very young age about love for humanity, and to love and take care of your neighbours, and she also taught that to her son Jeon Tae-il. There were part of her principles from a very young age even after she lost her son in that tragic event. That was part of the influence that made her strong, I think. It’s not just about religion, but also her basic nature, to take care of her neighbours, people who share the world with her, people who suffer more than her, and she wanted to take care of these people. And she taught her son like that too. Also you can see in the film, when she was telling the story of her childhood she was saying [to bullies] “Beat me if you can.” She was that brave, and always against unreasonable power, and she always stood for justice. She did resist as much as she could, and they all influenced her into being strong.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your history? You said you worked for one of the first documentary companies. How was your work used? Was it used to help the democracy movement, or did the government try and use it to strengthen their position? How did your history influence this documentary?

Director Tae: At that time I started working at Labor News Production I didn’t really think – not just me, but all of us – we didn’t really think we were documentary film makers. We started it as a labor movement, that we were taking part in the movement at the time. So we thought of ourselves as activists. So that was the start. I thought of myself as an activist taking part in the movement for 6 years, and I worked there as a documentary maker for that time. That’s quite different from thinking of yourself just as a documentary film maker. It was always about the real scenes of struggle, and I learned about making a documentary and the reasons why we need this fight for certain issues. And I also go to know Lee So-seon. So all these experiences led me to this film, I think, after all these years. Also I learned several techniques to actually be able to make a film, which became sometimes a survival technique. Making films is a difficult job sometimes. All those years at the Labor News Production became the influence for this film.

The tributes for Lee So-seon following her death included marches

The tributes for Lee So-seon following her death were incredible

Question: I really enjoyed the film. What is the importance of this film, and these types of films and history, for young people in Korea? And are they aware of these things in public schools, or just in history books?

Director Tae: I don’t think we have any public education or records for students in elementary, middle and high school, or even in university that teaches about Lee So-seon. But there are several books in the public education process that tell about her son, Jeon Tae-il. He is known to a certain extent, and there are also documentaries about him, and also a fiction film about him. So I’d say her son is well-known, but the mother not as much. There have been many efforts made to let Jeon Tae-il and his work more widely known to the public, but I think it’s never enough. There are still many ongoing efforts. The reason that this is important is that there are still many struggles over human rights, especially for workers, laborers. Lee So-seon was a person who spoke throughout her life about human rights and solidarity and the struggles we have to go through to achieve it. That’s why I thought her story was inspiring. There is still not enough consideration about the human rights of workers. It’s not really reflected in the process of public education. I think we need more records and films that can tell the younger generation about the importance of human rights. That’s why more and more films are coming out of the independent film scene which deal with these kinds of issues. It’s still never enough, and we are living in a country where a dictator’s daughter is president, so as you can guess it’s more difficult and more tricky to make these kinds of films now, but there are still efforts by independent film makers.

Question: I was really touched by the film, I thought it was better than other dramas and soap operas. I thought from the poster it was a film about an old woman, but I realised it was about the ‘Mother of Workers’ and it was really interesting. You put a lot of focus on her ordinary life and behaviour. I’d like to know why you choose those kind of tactics to portray her.

Director Tae: Well I think in Korea, people think of the labor movement as too serious sometimes and too violent. A lot of people think of the labor movement with those kinds of stereotypes. I think that’s the basic background I had when I started this film. As you can see in the film, the director of the play from Taiwan, he says, “It’s always about big action, or red ribbons and violent actions and demonstrations.” So people connect the image of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police when they think of the labor movement. They think of the images first, and it’s the big preconception about the labor movement here in Korea. Why it’s like that is another question. But Lee So-seon also thought it would be better if we can change that preconception and those images of the labor movement with this film, and I was trying to say that I don’t think these people are more violent or more organised or skillful in fighting. They are not those kinds of people. Fighting for your human rights is your basic right, that’s why they are fighting. It’s not because they are specifically violent people, that’s part of the report I wanted to make. Rights to work and for survival are your basic human rights. That should be natural. Lee So-seon was a person that symbolised that kind of idea. As long as you are human, you need to fight for your rights when they are threatened. I thought because she’s a person like that, I thought it’d be more effective to show her charm in everyday life, to show trivial things, to reveal her strong message. I tried to use those things to approach those ideas in her life, and to show you that. I also tried to depict the events backwards in the timeline, from the small to the big ideas, that’s why I didn’t want to put specific focus on the promise [to her dying son], or talk too much about it. I didn’t want too much melodrama out of it. I tried to leave Jeon Tae-il out of it as much as possible, although it’s impossible to leave him totally out of the film. I tried to show her as ordinary as possible, just as we are and her that her fight is not something too noble or too difficult, but a fight that has to be done for human beings. I wanted to show her life.

Lee So-seon continually displayed her strength of character

Lee So-seon continually displayed her strength of character

Question: You mentioned Park Geun-hye earlier. Now that she’s in power, do you think making these kinds of documentaries will become more difficult? She quite famous for being sensitive about anything bad said about her or her father, so how will you go about making future documentaries? Will you change anything?

Director Tae: Well I don’t think I will change anything under the regime of Park Geun-hye, as we already survived the Lee Myung-bak era. It will be difficult, but we already know about the difficulties so I don’t think I’ll change anything. At least, when it’s concerned about making films. I hope and believe that as we’ve achieved a democracy it wouldn’t go back as far as the old days when we had a fascistic dictatorship. Of course I can guess that there will be certain kinds of pressures on people who are making these kinds of films, and who are not afraid of getting their voices heard. So there will be that kind of suppression. But I don’t think people who are making those kinds of films are too afraid, whatever may come. The more difficult thing is everyday survival. We have achieved a democracy in terms of politics, but not as much in cultural aspects. There is still less and less support for public art, like making documentaries or independent films, so I think there is not enough support for independent artists these days. I think I’ll spend these 5 years under Park Geun-hye to try and make things better for independent artists.

Thank you to director Tae Jun-seek for generously answering the questions, and to producer Hwang Hye-rim and manager Kwon Mi-hui for translating and hosting the event.

Directors Interviews/Q&As
Stateless Things (줄탁동시)

Stateless Things (줄탁동시) screening and Q&A with director Kim Kyung-mook (김경묵)

Director Kim Kyung-mook at the Q&A

Director Kim Kyung-mook at the Q&A

A special screening of Stateless Things (줄탁동시), followed by a Q&A with director Kim Kyung-mook (김경묵), took place at Indieplus in Gangnam on the 15th of January. Stateless Things is quite a rarity within Korean cinematic culture as experimental queer art-house films are few and far between. The version shown was the two hour ‘uncut’ edition, featuring the sexual scenes that had to be edited in order for general release.

The film explores the concept of alienation within Korean – or, more specifically, Seoul – culture from the perspective of an illegal immigrant and a young gay man. While the immigrant, known as Joon, experiences alienation through exclusion, homosexual Hyun struggles against confinement. Director Kim Kyung-mook explores his protagonists employing various cinematic techniques, primarily non-linear editing and alternating cameras, for a highly unique production that prompted several questions from the audience.

Before the Q&A began, translator and independent film producer Hwang Hye-rim (황혜림) began with an introduction.

Producer Hwang Hye-rim: As it is quite a ‘different’ kind of film, even considering it is an independent film. It is unique, bold, shocking and too ‘obscene’ for some people. At first it was rated ‘R’, a restricted rating, which is like a XXX film in America. It means when you get this ‘R’ rating in Korea you can only screen the film in a certified cinema which is approved for screening ‘R’ rated movies. Which doesn’t exist in Korea at all. There is no cinema which is certified to show those kinds of films. It means if you get an ‘R’ rating, you can’t get it on the screen. So you have two choices. You can either delete or modify certain scenes and get an NC17 so it can be shown in cinemas, or you can have screenings only for specific kinds of events like festivals. That’s the fight that it had to go through to be in the cinema last March. It got NC17 after certain modifications. Not just because of the ratings, but you can also see it’s a very rare kind of film. So we can start with how he made the film, and how it started.

Stateless Things (줄탁동시)

Stateless Things (줄탁동시)

Director Kim Kyung-mook: My first film was called Faceless Things (얼굴 없는 것들) in 2005. This story (Stateless Things) evolved from one of the characters of my debut, which is a story of a young gay boy. From Faceless Things and from that boy character I tried to tell a story about this boy, what would happen to him when he goes out into the outside world, what kind of things would happen to him? That’s how I started to make the story. I wanted to make a coming-of-age story of this young gay boy, that’s how Stateless Things started. The English title is Stateless Things which is named in relation to Faceless Things, but the Korean title is quite different. The Korean title can be interpreted like a hen pecking inside and outside. I don’t know if you’ve read ‘Demian‘ by Hermann Hesse. It’s a story like a bird fighting its way out of an egg by pecking. ‘줄탁’ means pecking from inside and outside and ‘동시’ means at the same time. So it’s an idea of zen. Which means like if a chick is trying to come out from an egg it’s pecking from the inside, and the mother hen hears the sound of the pecking and pecks from the outside. So it’s normally used as an expression to show the relationship between a parent and child, or a teacher/mentor and student. That’s the process of giving birth to life, or realizing a truth. The Korean title has that meaning. But in this case it’s obviously the relationship between the two boys, one boy from inside, one boy from outside. So it’s like they are pecking the shell of an egg to come out to the outside world in a sense. As I mentioned about ‘Demian‘, in the film the expression was used to show the divided identity of this boy – these boys can be one boy or two boys – but he has two different kind of egos inside him. That’s why I used this title, to show that kind of idea.

Question: There’s a very strong feeling of alienation in the movie. And it seemed like a conflation between personal and social or national. Can you tell us anything about the influences that brought those two senses of alienation together?

Director Kim: Like most other directors this story also comes from my personal experience. So that was one of my influences. And it’s kind of related to my experience from when I came from Busan to Seoul. I moved to Seoul when I was about that age. And that’s why there’s a feeling of alienation, one of the main atmospheres you felt when watching this movie. I’ve heard a lot that the depiction of Seoul, or the scenes that have the landscape of Seoul, looks very different and strange. I’ve heard that a lot from Korean audiences. It’s probably because I felt like that when I first came to Seoul, like an alien or total stranger. So that’s how I looked at Seoul when I first came. Of course it has changed now as I have been living here for more than 10 years. So it’s not exactly the same, I don’t feel the same way I did before. But still it has a certain kind of strange look, Seoul has that kind of face when I look at it and that’s why it’s in the film. The feeling of space and moving, that’s how alienation becomes one of the main feelings in the film. That’s exactly the feeling I felt the most at that age when I came to Seoul. The alienation is about social alienation but it’s also the kind of feeling about being alienated from yourself, because you feel the chaos at that age. And you are often confused about who you really are, thinking about your identity and who you are and searching for yourself. So it was that kind of time for me. And that’s why they are feeling lonely as well, it’s not because they have no girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s because they have no answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ They are still searching for it. That was my experience around that age, and that’s how the story evolved from that experience.

Some of the gay sex scenes were deemed controversial

Some of the gay sex scenes were deemed controversial

Question: In the end credits, there were actors that played two characters. Was it because of lack of money or budget, or was it intentional?

Director Kim: Well it’s kind of intentional, it wasn’t because of lack of money. I wanted to give you the feeling of when you are seeing the same faces but in a different kind of feeling or story. So the first part of the film, and the second part, you see these people but they are not main characters. But you see the same faces in very different situations. For example you saw the women from the labour office, she was spanked in part 2 by the gay boy so it’s completely different kind of character played by one actor. That was my intention, to give this different kind of feeling from the same faces. There is other male character as well who played two roles, but it was cut out during the editing process. The film was already quite long enough so I had to remove it in editing.

Question: You showed a lot of different perspectives of having a gay lifestyle in Korea. A man with a double life who has a wife and a boyfriend, a young gay man who is trapped, another who is forced into homosexuality through poverty. But Korean movies are quite popular, the ones that have gay themes, like The King and The Clown and Bungee Jumping of Their Own. Why are movies with gay themes very popular, but it doesn’t translate into society? Why do you think that is?

Director Kim: I think one of the biggest reasons is the generation gap. I think the younger generation are much more open to gay culture and gay themes, or having gay friends. And the films you have mentioned are quite young at heart, in a sense, and there are a lot of dramas and soap operas and comic books which deals with gay issues very openly. A lot of young people are ready to embrace it, they don’t have any problems with that. But I think the older generation, maybe over 40s or 50s, they have lived a totally different life in a different era. So for them it’s still quite difficult to recognize this kind of culture or embrace it. That’s probably why. But they are the ones who still have the power, social status, and authority, to change things legally or politically. That’s why you cannot see as much difference in terms of law or social changes. But I think we have seen very big changes in recent years with young people and culture.

Joon and Soon-hee traverse the unwelcoming Seoul landscape

Joon and Soon-hee traverse the unwelcoming Seoul landscape

Question: I have two questions. The first is, how did you do the casting of the actors? How much was scripted, and how much did the actors do themselves? What was their feedback and input into the characters? And the second question is, I’m sure it’s probably often asked but why is the title so far into the film?

Director Kim: To answer the first question, except for some adult actors, most of the actors who played the main roles were first time actors. I found them through an audition. For most of them it was their first feature film experience. I was trying to find appropriate actors for the characters. Most of the scenes, especially the scenes with exposure, were written in the script already. So most of the actors who came to the audition said no to those scenes, it was too much for most of the actors who auditioned. So I had to find actors amongst those who wouldn’t say no to the script. I also tried to talk a lot with the actors, that’s how I work usually. I also tried to research a lot about North Korean defectors and gay people. I visited the gay clubs in Itaewon a lot. I also talked a lot to Korean-Chinese people with my actors. That’s how it happened. And the second question, about why the title came so late, I thought putting the title at the beginning of the film doesn’t really fit with this film. That’s what I thought. I didn’t want to start the film with a title. The question was then, where should I put it? I thought the scene when the two boys are meeting each other is kind of a beginning of the story for me, so I chose to put the title in front of that scene. But right before that scene, you remember the long sequence where Joon is walking down the street, it feels like an ending scene so I wanted to put a little bit of atmosphere of an opening scene as well. It looks like an ending, but it’s also a beginning at the same time. That’s the feeling I wanted to create. It’s like the end is the beginning is the end, in a sense. I thought that’s a better fit considering the whole rhythm of the film.

Question: When you started telling the story of the boy in the apartment, why did you decide to play with time? What was the symbolic reason for that?

Director Kim: Actually I tried to play with time throughout the film at first, but I thought maybe it would be easier if I reduced that a little to make it easier to understand the whole story, if I made it more chronological. So I reduced, or focused it more, on the apartment scenes. But as you can see in the opening scene when they are on the bike and running by the street, I also played with time a little bit there as well. The reason is that I was trying to show the story as if it is remembering something. It’s like telling a s tory about your past. The story is like the past of these two boys. And if you remember they are burning a diary at the end of the film, and I was trying to give this feeling, of getting rid of your past, and it’s time to move on to another future, in a sense. So that’s why the story is going backwards. Whenever you feel hard or difficult times in your life you go back to past memories. That’s why the movie has the structure of playing with time. It’s like telling a story by looking at the past and their memories. The structure, or frame, of memory was the main structure I was thinking of when I was making this film.

Hyun lives a life of containment and isolation

Hyun lives a life of containment and isolation

Question: I have noticed, in the past year especially, quite a lot of Korean films have dealt with issues that are usually very taboo to talk about in society. What I have noticed, which is quite exceptional, is that they have been dealt with full-on without any hidden facets, and very truthfully and realistically but at the same time very sensitively. What special attributes do Korean directors have that enables them to make films that are so frank and honest and extremely good? It’s very much appreciated.

Director Kim: Thank you! I’m not sure if I have the right answer but I’m going to try it anyway. I think maybe it’s because we had a history that changed very very quickly. Our society has gone through fast changes in the last few decades. So in the process a lot of things were suppressed and there was a lot of pressure in every aspect of society. Culturally, socially, politically. We went through this in a very short time compared to other societies in other continents. That’s probably why we end up having this power or strength against it, from that experience. I also feel the same way when I see some of the films from South-East Asian countries, and China. And I would like to say the same comment that you said about Korean films. In those countries, they are going through a change as well from a not very democratic society to a hopefully better society, so I think that kind of status of being more suppressed means you have more will and more energy to express. Resistance. You’re more willing to resist.

Question: It’s slightly related to structure. There were two scenes before Hyun and Joon meet that quite surprised me because they were unexpected scenes from each others lives. And they were both scenes of prostitution. The way that I picture it in my head is like kind of a yin and yang. It’s one persons story, but then there’s this punctuation of sex as a commodity in each of them. I think as far as I remember, those are the only two scenes in each others stories that appear. I was wondering about those scenes.

Director Kim: To me, as you said it can be like Yin and Yang, or like two different egos in one character. But for me these two boys were connected as one. Its like they’re behaving the same way, but have two different faces, for example. They are having paid sex, doing the same thing, but have different faces. For me those two scenes were related in that way. I wanted to create a feeling that they might be one person and not two. Also the scenes with the diary, some parts were shown in different parts of the movie. That was to give the feeling that they are from one diary, and that these boys are the same person. So the diary and the sex scene were devices for me to show that they are one. I also used several bridge sequences, like the video camera and hidden camera images, to show their mindscape being connected. It’s not consistent, but that’s how I wanted to show their minds were connected.

Director Kim addressed the audience in English, thanking them for attending

Director Kim addressed the audience in English, thanking them for attending

(Director Kim then spoke in English to address the audience) It’s a really rare chance to have a Q&A in English here. I haven’t actually had a chance to talk in English in a theater in Korea, so it was kind of surprising. I actually didn’t know that before coming here. I feel like I should of asked where you guys came from, but I missed it. Maybe after the Q&A I can maybe ask you, if you guys come to me.

Question: Are you making any new projects these days?

Director Kim: I’ve been working on a documentary for 2 years but I think I’m screwed! I’m not sure if I can go on. I’m just kidding. I’m still editing and I think I’ll be finishing the editing process by the end of this year. It’s about prostitution, women prostitutes. This time it’s about women, not men.

Sincere thanks to Director Kim yung-mook for graciously answering questions, and to Producer Hwang Hye-rim and Manager Kwon Mi-hui for translating and hosting the event.

Directors Interviews/Q&As
REALIES Pictures (리얼라이즈 픽쳐스)

Interview with President Kim Ho-sung (김호성), CEO of REALIES Pictures

On Friday the 11th of January, President Kim Ho-sung (김호성), the CEO of REALIES Pictures, very kindly agreed to have an interview. The young production company has been behind some impressive hit films, including box office smash Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) and romantic comedy 200 Pounds Beauty (미녀는 괴로워). For a profile of the company, please click here.

Ever gracious, President Kim Ho-sung gave a great deal of insight into REALIES Pictures

Ever gracious, President Kim Ho-sung gave a great deal of insight into REALIES Pictures

Question: 2012 was an incredible year for REALIES Pictures, with Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) performing exceptionally well. What were the highlights of the year for you?

President Kim: Well, so many things happened last year. We started production (on Masquerade) last February, and then we had almost five months of production, and then three months of post-production. Then we released the movie in the middle of September. We had success at the box office and we won a lot of awards at the Korean Film Academy, the Daejong Awards, but that doesn’t really matter to me. Actually the highlight was the production I guess. We had a really great time with the actors, and the crew, and the director, and all the staff we worked with. So that was my highlight. We really really had the same kind of feeling when we finished the shoot. We were satisfied with the scenes and we talked with the director, “this is good, this is bad,” then if we try one more time then that’s the whole production process. It’s really good. I have made 5 or 6 movies before and this was the first experience to have that kind of feeling in the production process. I can say this is my highlight of the year. Getting the awards and people watching the movie is the result, because of our highlight.

Question: What about the London Korean Film Festival? Masquerade finished the festival in quite spectacular fashion. What did you think about that?

 President Kim: Yeah we went there, we were invited as the closing movie of the film festival. We were surprised because so many people were there and they already knew about our movie. And another additional thing is that so many movie stars like Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malcovich and additionally the great producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura were there. They enjoyed the movie just like a normal audience, and they approached me and cheered me up saying, “you did a good job!” So I was so happy about that, so I had a lot of conversations with the ‘big cheese’. And fortunately di Bonaventura talked to me and said, if you have a good project we can work together sometime. So that’s my prize. So it was really good, we had a really good time with the director and actors. Byeong-heon Lee was there too, and Ryoo Seung-ryeong was there. And a Lady invited us to her house. Actually she was Lady Rothermere, the wife of Lord Rothermere, and we had a really good time at her house. Personally it was a really happy time. And at the same time, the audience really enjoyed the movie. And they understand Korean culture quite well. I was surprised because there were so many foreign members of the audience there. I expected about 90% of the audience to be Korean, or Japanese, but I think half of the audience were foreigners, so that was a shock to me.

One of the many Golden Bell (Daejong) awards for Masquerade

One of the many Golden Bell (Daejong) awards for Masquerade

Question: You mentioned the Daejong Awards. Masquerade was incredible, it had the distinction of winning 15 awards. Every category it was nominated for, it won. Congratulations. However, some critics felt this was controversial. What are your feelings about the ceremony?

President Kim: Yes, err, that’s not my problem. That’s the Daejong Award’s problem, because they changed their politics. Before, they gave their awards by if one movie has got a lot of awards, they only give half of them, and give the other half to another movie. Make them equal, kind of thing. The critics always said, “that’s not a true award.” If one good movie is there, then all the awards should be for them, just like the Academy Awards where some movies won 12 awards, there are so many movies like that. So they changed their selection process, and their committee people, and included normal people, and then they voted. They concealed it, and then at the last minute they opened it and gave the award. They changed it. And it all went to Masquerade, and we won 15 awards. So the critics changed to the opposite of last year, complaining “How can one movie get 15 awards?” So I don’t understand, they changed their policy but unfortunately for them we won everything and that was the problem. Critics are always critics. Something happens, and they always talk about it. So I don’t care about that. So I’m watching next year to see what happens, are they going to change their policy or keep doing it like this past year? But after that, there was another Korean awards ceremony, the Blue Dragon Awards, and we won only one because of the Daejong Awards. That’s ridiculous. Movies are movies. Just like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, if a movie is given a lot of wards in the Golden Globes then there’s a possibility it’ll get one in the Academy Awards. I don’t get it.

Question: I’d like to talk about your past, if that’s ok. You studied at Hanyang University. When you were studying there, where did you develop your passion for movies? How did you develop it?

President Kim: Actually it goes back to my middle school years. It’s kind of a personal secret, but I can tell it now. One day I found an envelope in my mother’s box. So I found it and opened it, and I read it, and it was from my father. It was from the time they were dating. It was a kind of movie review, not a love letter. My father saw a movie and got an impression and wrote a letter to my mom. It was The Sound of Music. There were 16 pages of letters. So he wrote the entire story from beginning to end. I read the letters and I realized I wanted to see the movie. It was around the end of the 1960s. And 15 years later I saw the movie, finally! When I read the letters, the young me wanted to see the movie, and then I guess from that moment in my mind, movies were there. In Korea, there is a very tough exam system for entering university. I wasn’t a very academic guy, just a normal guy, and my test results were not really good. There are a few schools I could get into and I went there fortunately. After that, the seed in my mind grew.

The offices of REALIES Pictures, located in Chungmuro

The offices of REALIES Pictures, located in Chungmuro

Question: So then you went to Hanyang University. Did you start script writing? Directing?

President Kim: No, I studied dramas and plays. I did all the crew jobs, floor director and that kind of thing. Finally in the last year of my school days I translated two scripts. One was Hedda Gabbler by Henrik Ibsen. It’s a feminist play. And the other was The Green Bay Tree. That’s a British play, it’s a gay drama. It was very radical compared to Korean culture. Gay stories were very rare. I was too advanced. So I translated two plays and I produced the plays and put them on stage. After that I quit that kind of thing because they weren’t successful. So I lost interest. So I moved into the advertising industry.

Question: How long did you work in advertising?

President Kim: More than 15 years.

Question: What experiences did you learn through advertising?

President Kim: Many. That’s where I learned the basic concepts as a producer from that period. Fortunately I joined a foreign advertising agency called McCann-Erickson. That was the first foreign advertising agency in Korea. That year, 1991, the Korean government opened the advertising market to foreign agencies, and that was the first foreign agency to come to Korea. Because I could speak a little English, I could fortunately join the company and I worked as a producer there for 6 years. I produced some really good and interesting productions and everybody was jealous of them, because my products were really good like Coca-cola, Levis, Nike and Nestle. There were so many good products that I produced TV commercials for because in Korea there was only one foreign agency, and all the good products came to that agency. We were the agents for all those companies. I handled all the good products, and did more than 20 commercials a year. That was good experience for me. I learned all the basic skills and concepts as a producer, it was so lucky for me.

Question: You produced so many advertisements over those years. How did you move from advertising into movies?

Siren (싸이렌), President Kim's first foray in film production

Siren (싸이렌), President Kim’s first foray in film production

President Kim: I really enjoyed my time, for 10 years, doing TV commercials. But then suddenly I felt sick and tired of it. Not because it was boring, but because they were not mine. I put in all my effort and worked really hard. My wife calls this the lost 10 years between a husband a wife. I always went home around 2 am, stuff like that. I devoted myself into that area. I went to the Cannes Advertising Festival and we won awards but I didn’t go up the stage – my client went up the stage. It wasn’t mine. It’s true, because all the advertisements were for the clients, it’s theirs. I was just a serviceman. So there was no credit. I’m not disappointed about getting awards, they’re nothing, just that it wasn’t mine. Yeah I can earn money for living, that’s ok. But I’m a creator, so I wanted to do something myself, something that’s mine and that I can put my name on. Because of that I changed my mind and produced a movie. Luckily at the time I had a good script, and I had an investor because I worked really hard as a TV commercial producer. Some people wanted a new approach with a TV commercial producer, with special effects and everything. That was lucky for me. So I produced one movie while I worked at Seon-woo Productions the biggest TV commercial company in Korea. So I actually begged the president to do this movie and he accepted it because I worked very hard, it was my reward. So I produced the movie Siren (싸이렌), it was my first movie. It was very lucky. But it ended up that we were ruined. I was ruined. It had a bad box office result. Because of that movie I learned so many things. It’s a totally different approach to TV commercials. TV commercials are like a 100 meter race, but movies are like a marathon. We need different muscles. I realized that. That was the first time I experienced failure in 15 years. After quitting the plays and working in advertising, developing myself to be successful, this was the first experience of failure in my life.

Question: Then after Siren did you decided to create REALIES Pictures?

President Kim: No, I went back to TV commercials. I built my own production company called Ink Spot. I worked with director Park Kwang-hyeon (박광현) who directed Welcome to Dongmakgol (웰컴 투 동막골). He was also a TV commercial producer for a foreign advertising agency. He had the same kind of mind as me, so I asked him to join me and we worked together and we built the company together. We did a lot of good commercials together. That was in 2002, 10 years ago. We did a really good TV commercial, we won so many awards. As we are both from advertising we understood each other – he wanted to direct a movie and I wanted to produce a movie. So we developed a lot of stories. One of them was Welcome to Dongmakgol. He picked up the story from a play. We developed the story together, then I rented director Park to producer Jang Jin (장진), who is like a genius, and it was successful. And then when director Park came back we tried to produce and direct another movie but things changed. He was a big director, I was just a TV commercial company president. The industry needs just directors, not producers like me because there are so many. So we separated. I was desperate at the time, so I really thought about what I was going to do next. I wasn’t interested in producing TV commercials anymore. I made a phone call to Mr. Won Dong-yeon (원동연) because I hired him as a producer of the movie Siren and after that failure he kept doing his movie business and made two movies, and I went back to TV commercials. 5 years later, in 2006, I called Mr. Won and told him what I wanted and he accepted me and said let’s do it together again. At the time he was developing the movie 200 Pound Beauty (미녀는 괴로워). So I joined that production.

Posters of the films produced by REALIES Pictures adorn the walls

Posters of the films produced by REALIES Pictures adorn the walls

Question: So in 2006 you joined together and you created REALIES Pictures. Then 200 Pounds Beauty was released and it achieved almost 7 million admissions. How did such success affect the company? Did it give you any new experiences?

President Kim: Yes. Because we had a big failure 7 years before with Sirens, we both grew up and got a better understanding of the industry and stories, producers, directors, actors, everything. Mr. Won and I always tried to do better, to understand better. We tried really hard. When I did the first movie Siren, I didn’t understand people, it wasn’t my concern. Just as a producer I gave people money to do something, and they did it, that was the attitude. A TV commercial attitude. But I totally changed. I tried to understand my crew, I tried to understand my director. That was the huge differentiation between the two movies. I realized that making and producing a movie is not manufacturing something, it’s understanding people and the story. That is the first step in producing a movie.

Question: Did you always think 200 Pounds Beauty would be successful?

President Kim: No. No, because I had a kind of trauma with Sirens. I never removed that feeling from my heart. I was nervous. But I didn’t say to anyone about it, but we shared that kind of feeling together. We were very happy when we released the movie in theaters. When we waited outside the door of the theater we just found people were really happy when they were going out, so we were relieved. This is it, we did it! It’s kind of our habit now, we put a movie in the theater and then we wait outside the door, then look at the first expression of the audience. Then we can imagine, “yes, this is good” “this is bad.”

Question: In 2008 you released Marine Boy (마린보이), which was similar to a Hollywood blockbuster with a story involving drug trafficking and ambitious action sequences. Yet for some reason the film didn’t resonate strongly with audiences. Why do you think this was?

President Kim: I can say that it was too advanced, I guess. I think Marine Boy is a well made movie, the picture is good, everything is good, but story-wise it’s different from Korean movies. The Korean audience wants to have an emotional achievement when they watch a movie. This movie is so cool, like a Hollywood movie. So they were not moved. They were not touched. “It’s a cool movie, but I don’t like it” – that kind of attitude. I was too advanced. I wanted to make a Hollywood movie after 200 Pounds Beauty, so I learned another thing. Producing movies, I always learn something. A big success or big failure doesn’t matter, I always learn something.

The Influence (인플루언스)

The Influence (인플루언스)

Question: After that, in 2010, your next production was The Influence. The film is really interesting as it blends a variety of genres and is visually stunning. How did REALIES Pictures become involved in the project?

President Kim: I already mentioned about my resume, doing advertisements. I always did that kind of thing. I was sick and tired of making 15 second TV commercials, they always push that the product is really good with exaggerations and stuff like that. Throughout my years, my attitude for treating that kind of advertisement changed. In 2006 when I created Ink Spot, during that period my TV commercials totally changed. I put some story and emotional things into the commercial. Before that period I always tried to make them look good, just very visually good. I wondered how to touch the people, and I developed. I had an article from a magazine, and there’s a good reference to something BMW did called Hero. They hired 8 good directors and they made short stories, focused on BMW driving, it was really good. So I got a hint from that. I suggested it to an agency and a client. The product was Windsor Whiskey, a Scotch whisky from Diageo. It was really hard to put something like that in advertising because there are so many restrictions. All they can do is a billboard. They wanted to contact people from different areas and use the internet. So we made the product into a story. This is the first time we tried it, and we called it ‘branded entertainment.’ So we made 20 minutes – 4 stories – into a series, with director Lee Jae-gyoo (이재규). We worked together. And Lee Byeong-heon was there as a model for the commercial, and we used him holding a whiskey cup and he was very vivid and lively. From now, we produce a movie at the same time as doing branded entertainment. I planned and developed the iphone 4 film festival, that was the same level of branded entertainment. I suggested it to KT when the iphone 4 was newly launched in Korea so we had to make brand awareness. So I said let’s make a movie with iphone 4. I had a good director and cinematographer. We hired 5 directors and 5 cinematographers and they made 5 6 minute short films We put it in the Busan Film Festival. There’s a section for the iphone film festival. So that’s also branded entertainment, just a different form.

Along With The Gods: A Visit From A Stranger (신과함께: 낯선이의방문) is to be released in 2014

Along With The Gods: A Visit From A Stranger (신과함께: 낯선이의방문) is to be released in 2014

Question: Bringing us back to the present, your next production is going to be Along With the Gods: A Visit From A Stranger (신과함께: 낯선이의방문). Can you tell us about the movie?

President Kim: Yes, it’s a movie about the afterlife. I picked it up from the webtoon, it was a really big success 2 years ago. It has 3 different stories. There is Heaven and Hell, Earth, and mythology – 3 parts. So we contacted the writer and bought the copyright to make a movie. The reviews were really good, people really loved the story. The story is about a man after he died. Heaven and Hell are just like the normal world, there is a ‘Hellbucks’, just like Starbucks, there’s a coffee shop and a court. The man who died goes to the afterlife and he meets a guy who is holding a panel with his name on it. The man asks, “who are you?” and the reply is, “your lawyer.” That is the start of the movie. What? Is there a lawyer in Heaven? That concept is really cute and amazing, so I picked up the story. It’s the journey of a man who died, for 49 days. You know in Korea, in the traditional funeral ritual people always do 49 days of praying for the person who died. The relatives who live in the real world are praying for the dead person to go to a good place. That period of 49 days is the dead man’s journey, and his life is judged in all areas. Being a dad, stealing, violence, these things are judged from what he did in the real world. But he also has a lawyer, it’s a really interesting concept in the story. It’s going to be very fun.

Question: When will it be released?

President Kim: I guess we are aiming for a release around July 2014. It’s going to be a huge production.

I would like to sincerely thank President Kim for taking time out from his busy schedule to conduct the interview.

Interviews/Q&As Producers