Having watched and reviewed CHOI Seung-ho's controversial, moving and I feel deeply important 2013 film 'Norigae', I desperately wanted to discuss the film with the director himself. On receiving a message from director CHOI thanking me for my review, I decided to ask him directly for an interview to discuss 'Norigae'. CHOI Seung-ho graciously agreed to my request and the following is a transcription of that interview.
I'm deeply proud that CHOI Seung-ho was so open to answering my many questions.
I sincerely hope you'll enjoy reading the interview and that it will encourage you to watch 'Norigae'.
You can also read the Hangul Celluloid review of 'Norigae' by clicking here.
Hangul Celluloid: What originally led to your decision to make and direct the film ‘Norigae’?
CHOI Seung-ho: In 2011, during the editing of my previous work, I had a chance to listen one episode of "Nakkomsu", which is the very cynical podcast talk show about Korean current affairs and issues. In that episode, they reported on the ongoing trial process relating to the tragic suicide of an actress, JANG Ja-yeon who killed herself in 2009 and left a document claiming she was forced to give sexual favour as bribes to many ‘big names’; including the CEO of one of Korea’s top newspaper companies, TV producers and others.
However, the prosecution of the trial very much shrunk when compared with the mass media and national attention right after her death. Even the names of those under suspicion of taking sexual favours were not prosecuted. That irony made me decide to make the film 'Norigae'.
Hangul Celluloid: ‘Norigae’ is fictional but was your film majorly inspired and the story itself influenced by the tragic real-life story and suicide of actress JANG Ja-yeon? (I would understand if you prefer not to answer this question)
CHOI Seung-ho: I think I have to admit that I got inspired with JANG Ja-yeon's real life. But what I tried to reveal was the irrationality of Korean society, which is described as the court in my film. My concern is not the real names of those who got sexual favours, but punishing those who deserve to be blamed.
Hangul Celluloid: What were the reactions of companies and the film industry when you approached them for funding for ‘Norigae’ (especially considering the fact that the film details severe problems experienced by some actresses within the entertainment industry)?
CHOI Seung-ho: Due to the expected hardship of funding and film making, I and the production company decided not to open our project to the mainstream investment companies or distributors. So we had to make the film with a relatively low-budget. That gave us freedom from any external pressure and unwanted attention about our film.
Hangul Celluloid: ‘Norigae’ is very different to your previous work. Did you ever hesitate about whether to make a film with such a serious and controversial subject?
CHOI Seung-ho: I think every filmmaker questions his projects, even in shooting sets. I also asked myself at some points whether I was heading in the right direction. But I felt somewhat of a responsibility about "Norigae", in some points. That made me finish this film.
Hangul Celluloid: ‘Norigae’ discusses sexual coercion within the entertainment industry and also the less-than-severe sentences often handed out by Korean law to perpetrators of sex crimes. Which of these issues do you feel needs to change most urgently?
CHOI Seung-ho: Both are the serious problems that need to be changed. But in my opinion, the latter is more urgent than the former. I think that social justice is realized with the right reward and punishment.
Hangul Celluloid: Can you tell us more about how the script evolved into the final filmed story? And what specific meaning did you want to convey by using ‘Norigae’ as the film’s title?
CHOI Seung-ho: The original script had more cynical humour and two musical sequences. As the film-making process flowed, my attitude to the film was more careful and cautious, so I chose the heavy tone & manner I felt was appropriated to "Norigae". And the musical sequences could not be done due to our humble production budget.
"Norigae" is the Korean word which is used to describe to the traditional ornaments worn by women. But it also has the negative meaning of '(sexual) plaything'. I think, in my film, the men who took sexual favours see the actress who killed herself as a "Norigae", which means plaything.
Hangul Celluloid: ‘Norigae’ has both big-name stars and lesser known actors. How did you go about casting the film?
CHOI Seung-ho: Casting was one of the hard obstacles of my film. Due to the humble budget and relatively short pre-production period (8-9 weeks or so), we had to find the willing and available actors or actresses rather than ‘big names’. In that sense, we met the main actor, Don LEE (MA Dong-seok) and we very much appreciated to his decision to appear our film. And so it was to our other cast members.
Hangul Celluloid: In choosing MIN Ji-hyeon to play the character of Ji-hee, was your decision to cast her partly because she is better known for her television work than for films?
CHOI Seung-ho: It was very hard to meet the actresses who might play the role of Ji-hee. Because none of the actresses wanted to play the role of a character who might be portrayed as JANG Ja-yeon, the real tragic actress’ name. One day in our pre-production, my first assistant director recommended MIN Ji-hyeon for the role of Ji-hee. I found her innocent image made Ji-hee more pitiful. Eventually, MIN Ji-hyeon did great job in my film and I really appreciated it.
Hangul Celluloid: Lighting and music both play important parts in ‘Norigae’. What cinematic elements were most vital to you, from a directorial point of view?
CHOI Seung-ho: I think both the Lighting (I'd like to add the concept of 'Color' to it) and Music are the important to my film. I used Lighting (and color) to show the specific feeling needed and make time feel different. And music intensifies sad but passionate emotion in a given scene or sequence.
Hangul Celluloid: There are some fairly graphic scenes (in terms of both subject and imagery) towards the end of ‘Norigae’. How did you decide on the level of ‘adult’ content used in the film? And was that decision entirely yours or did you take the opinion of others into account?
CHOI Seung-ho: Due to the subject of my film, 'sex scene' content was inevitable. However, I intended that the sex scenes in my film wouldn't be sexual, because they are not consequence of love, but are rather brutal or sadistic.
Hangul Celluloid: Did any of the cast question the amount of adult imagery they were asked to portray?
CHOI Seung-ho: Before shooting, every cast member understood my intention about the sex scene. I had told them my film's sex scene wasn't for masturbation or sexual fantasy.
Hangul Celluloid: How important, and how effective, do you feel films are in raising awareness of social ills and issues?
CHOI Seung-ho: I am not sure it is right to answer this question by myself. But it should not be underestimated that ‘Norigae’ received much public attention.
Hangul Celluloid: ‘Norigae’ is an important film that is both meaningful and deeply moving. How did you set about balancing the serious issues depicted with the moving, heartbreaking elements? Did the Korean Cinema trend of including melodrama in the concluding sections of films play a part in how you approached this?
CHOI Seung-ho: I think there are two different possible endings in my film, which are a sad ending (as the film shows) or happy ending (finding the villains guilty in my film). The reason why I chose the sad ending was to describe the current injustice. In that manner, I had no choice but to make an ending with a heavy tone & manner, with the appropriated cinematic style.
Hangul Celluloid: What would you like to say to someone who is about to watch ‘Norigae’ for the first time?
CHOI Seung-ho: I'd like quote one of my favourite pop album titles: Please watch "Norigae" without prejudice.
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my many questions.