The following interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on Thursday, November 7th 2013, prior to the London Korean Film Festival 2013 Opening Gala screening of Huh Jung's 'Hide and Seek'.
Hangul Celluloid: ’Hide & Seek’ is your directorial debut and it is screening as the Opening Gala film at this year’s London Korean Film Festival. What does it mean to you to have ‘Hide & Seek’ not only screened at the festival but also shown as the opening film?
Huh Jung: It’s a huge honour for me to be invited to the London Korean Film Festival and in fact this is the first time I’ve attended an international film festival as a director so I was very worried at first about how foreign audiences will receive the film. I guess I’ll finally find out tonight when the Gala takes.
Hangul Celluloid: When you were making ‘Hide & Seek’, did your objectives focus solely on the domestic Korean market or were you even then considering international audiences eventually accessing the film?
Huh Jung: Honestly speaking, the sets used in the film – the apartments, the surrounding areas etc – are extremely Korean in nature and, I guess, so is the story. Since this was my first feature, I really only focused on that and tried to make sure everything appeared authentic and realistic to Korean audiences and though I’m extremely happy that the film is being screened internationally, audiences outside Korea weren’t really in my mind. I feel that Korean audiences are far more likely to notice inaccuracies in Korean set design, setting and even the Korean nature of the film than many of those from other countries.
Hangul Celluloid: I’ve spoken to a large number of first-time and short film directors about the difficulties of securing funding for their productions and even having their films screened in Korea. How difficult was it for you to secure funding for ‘Hide & Seek’, subsequently get the film made and ultimately released in cinemas considering the fact that Korean film companies are increasingly focused on big budget blockbusters, some would say to the detriment of smaller independent productions?
Huh Jung: Before I made ‘Hide & Seek’, I had a few scripts that I attempted to get film companies and the industry as a whole interested in. It was at that point I realised the difficulties you speak of in finding an idea that sparks any interest whatsoever within an industry with very set ideas and objectives. When it came to ‘Hide & Seek’, it was from the outset seen as a commercial film and enterprise so there were far fewer problems relating to getting funding to go ahead and make the film but I am very aware that many other films have incredible problems both in securing funding and getting films screened in Korean theatres.
Hangul Celluloid: You mentioned your belief that the overall story of ‘Hide & Seek’ is specifically Korean in nature. Do you feel that the narrative subject of the film in particular also helped regarding industry interest and backing?
Huh Jung: Yes, I think so. ‘Hide & Seek’ is essentially a horror genre film and I think that’s something that people are generally more interested in and I think there’s an assumption that this type of film will be more entertaining than some other genres. Certainly I believe that assumption played a part in the interest that allowed the film to be made.
Hangul Celluloid: You also wrote the screenplay for ‘Hide & Seek’. What was your original inspiration for the story and film?
Huh Jung: At the time, there was a trend of spooky horror stories going on with noticeably realistic elements. That is really what interests me as well and I felt that taking something realistic and making it incredible frightening would be an interesting task.
Hangul Celluloid: To my mind, in terms of Korean cinema as a whole, ‘Hide & Seek’ appears to fit in incredibly well with the output of many other directors as a result of the film’s apparent social commentary: Family, consumerism, the idea that property and ‘having’ is everything repeatedly speaks out from the story. Were you consciously endeavouring to add that social commentary to the narrative or did it just come as a result of attempting to add the realism you referenced earlier?
Huh Jung: Home is ideally the one place of complete safety within a person’s world and I thought a lot about the idea of safety being threatened and as such threats to the all important home environment and instability where there should be complete stability really spoke to me. Threats to property and possessions are almost extensions to each other and seemed to fit together perfectly as the story unfolded.
Hangul Celluloid: Not to give any spoilers away, but one of the main characters who plays a pivotal part in ‘Hide & Seek’ is female. Over the years, depictions of women in Korean cinema have gradually changed and progressed with strong, feisty females characters who are 'in control' increasingly focused upon. Did those changing depictions play a part in your decision to make your character female?
Huh Jung: Yes, in previous films there have been many female characters who have been incredibly strong but personally I didn’t really think about that when I was creating ‘Hide & Seek’; I really just concentrated on the character and the traits and relationships I wanted to depict. There is more than one reference to mothers and daughters in the film and the choice of a female as that main character really came from that.
Hangul Celluloid: The majority of the cast of ‘Hide & Seek’ have had long careers as character actors, with a number having worked as much or more in television dramas as in films. How did the casting of the main characters come about?
Huh Jung: I really wanted to give viewers a feeling of familiarity in the hope that they might think “This could be my story”. So, I largely chose actors who had worked in a lot of TV dramas to increase the chances of giving viewers that feeling. If they have been in dramas, they have in a way been in people’s homes and are therefore almost as familiar as real people. In fact, Son Hyun-ju who played the main male character had at the time been in an incredibly well known drama in Korea and that increased my desire to have him in my film, all the more.
Hangul Celluloid: Speaking of acting, y6ou yourself have acted in an independent film called ‘Big Good’ which is listed as being released this year in Korea. Can you tell us a little bit more about the background to your appearance in the film and do you see yourself both acting and directing in the future?
Huh Jung: [Huh Jung blushes and laughs] I’m almost embarrassed. My role in that film came about when myself and a group of friends were all studying and creating short indie films and getting people we knew to star in them. One of my friends was the director of that film and he asked me to play a part in it. ‘Big Good’ was incredibly well made and has since got really famous and now people have begun to ask me about it, but personally I only did it to help out a director friend and colleague and I think I did an incredibly poor job of acting. So, yes, definitely I’ll be solely focusing on directing from this point on.
Hangul Celluloid: You’ve said you feel your acting was poor in ‘Big Good’. How does the fact that the film is becoming famous and being watched, possibly by some of the same people who have watched ‘Hide & Seek’, make you feel? Does it make you want to shout out that you are now a director only?
Huh Jung: Playing the part in the film thankfully wasn’t stressful, the director was from an acting background and he helped me a lot and above all the film itself is really good to the extent that I would recommend that you watch it if you get the opportunity. Yes, I feel my acting wasn’t good but I’m happy for people to watch it; I just wouldn’t want to watch myself in it. There again, I think a lot of actors have trouble watching themselves in their own films.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you already have plans for your next project?
Huh Jung: There has been so much happening in my career that I feel that the things I was previously considering I need to re-consider. There are a lot of ideas going around my mind at the moment and with many things to take into account in the final decision there isn’t really one thing I could point to, at this stage. While I was making ‘Hide & Seek’, I talked to a lot of people about a lot of things and I think the project ideas I was considering previously began to change from that time.
Hangul Celluloid: Last night you attended the London Korean Film Festival VIP Gala where there were a lot of press and a number of ‘big names’ including Korean film director Kim Jee-woon. When you gave a short speech you said that you were rather nervous. Having got through the VIP Gala, have your nerves been replaced with excitement about tonight’s Opening Gala?
Huh Jung: I have to say that my nerves haven’t gone away at all and the excitement is building all the time. At this point I’m honestly not sure if I’m more nervous or excited so I’m going to say that I’m both [Huh Jung laughs]
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you for taking the time to answer my many questions
I would sincerely like to thank the London Korean Film Festival and the Korean Cultural Centre UK for allowing me to interview director Huh Jung.