Hangul Celluloid: Your previous films [‘Paradise Murdered’ and ‘Handphone’] are set in fairly contemporary time periods, from the 80's to present day. What led to your decision to make a period film [‘Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon’]?
Kim Han-min: I'm not a slave to genres, and my priority is focusing on the subject I want to discuss and what I want to say with a film. Only then do I look at the genre which will compliment that subject. With 'Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon' I wanted to talk about Korea's ordeals throughout history and the suffering that the country has faced, and I wanted to show how man's noble and determined spirit emerges from the suffering he has to endure. It was important to me to make a film that would resonate with the everyday man and one that he would be touched by, and that was the starting point for the film.
Hangul Celluloid: With Korea having historically suffered so much, there are many events which you could have based the film on. Was there a specific reason why you chose to detail the Manchu invasions of Korea in the 17th century within 'Arrow'?
Kim Han-min: Yes, there was a reason why I chose this. The use of the arrow and bow is very significant to the film and it's a very iconic reference to the Korean spirit, as well as the struggle to overcome the ordeals, the pain and the suffering faced by the Korean people and the country itself. The story of one man trying to save his sister, and ultimately sacrificing his own life to save her, mimics the struggle of Korea as a whole and points to that spirit, and I hope that this will resonate with people all over the world, not just in Korea.
Hangul Celluloid: When you were in the process of making 'Arrow', was your hope that the film would resonate with audiences around the world already a factor? Did you make the film with a global audience in mind or were you mainly focusing on the Korean market?
Kim Han-min: If I'm being honest, I'd have to say that I wasn't thinking of any of that when I was making the film. The story of the arrow and bow is quite moving, and the idea of being so repressed and in such a powerless position that even your own country can't save you, I thought that the story of this brother trying to save his sister against near impossible odds would help to make this resonate with the everyday man and the everyday person, and though that person could be anywhere in the world, that aspect wasn't in my mind. I felt that the use of an historical event, which actually did happen in Korea, would add to the realism of the story and the significance of the arrow and bow, which seemingly looks like it's about to break, but never does break, is representative of the spirit of the brother. That's really what I wanted to express as the starting point of the story.
Hangul Celluloid: As well as the individual heartfelt story within the discussion of the larger historical events, there seems to an underlying reference in ‘Arrow’ which is also present in your previous films: That of the status quo being threatened by an outside malevolent force. Was the referencing of this idea in all of your films deliberate?
Kim Han-min: Oh yes, definitely. In ‘Paradise Murdered’, a highly intelligent individual succumbs to his obsession and crosses a line, or a boundary, because of his desires, so it’s kind of a cautionary tale, and, I’m not sure if you know, but quite some years ago there was a Korean scientist who got funding for stem cell research from the government, which actually wasn’t true, and there was a huge scandal at the time in Korea. So, that was one of the things I had in mind when making the film and I think it’s something we can all reflect on. In 'Handphone', I wanted to elicit a reaction of “That could be me” or “I could be like that if I was in that situation” and gauge a reaction from audiences from that, as well as carrying through, as you said, the idea of the disruption of the status quo.
Kim Han-min: I’d actually like to ask you a question too: As you’re obviously familiar with my previous films, can you sense any difference between ‘Arrow’ and my previous films and other Korean films in general?
Hangul Celluloid: From my perspective, the mixing of the genres of action; comedy; heartfelt, moving drama; and melodrama, within a single film is prevalent in both ‘Arrow’ and Korean films in general. However, I would say that the melodramatic aspect of the film is far less than I would have expected. Certainly it’s there, especially towards the conclusion of the film, as is so regularly the case in Korean Cinema, but it is to somewhat a lesser degree that in many other cases. I’d also say that, despite the mixing of genres, the film feels much more “world cinema” than specifically Korean and could easily be compared alongside output from other Asian countries and territories. Likewise, I would say that your previous films are of a much more typically Korean feel overall than ‘Arrow’. Considering the fact that ‘Arrow’ traverses far more genres than either ‘Paradise Murdered’ or ‘Handphone’, I would also assume that the balance between these was much more of an important issue for you in ‘Arrow’.
Kim Han-min: Yes, yes, yes! That’s what I wanted! For me it was so important to both balance the genres within the film and also find a balance between what the audience wants and what is needed to convey the story. I also agree that ‘Arrow’ could be widely considered as World Cinema as much as Korean Cinema. I’m very happy about that.
Hangul Celluloid: Sound is obviously a hugely important element of ‘Arrow’, both in the sound of the arrows and bows themselves and also in the incredibly rhythmic musical soundtrack. At what point in the film-making process was it decided to have sound and sound effects play such a major role?
Kim Han-min: From as early as the script writing process, I was aware of how evocative the sound of bows and arrows are, and that really comes from my memories of youth. Then after editing, we sat down and discussed the best ways to focus on it within the film. I also felt that the quality of the music was vitally important and needed to convey the feeling of percussive, Eastern instruments within a rhythmic soundtrack, to create an energetic power which would lead the tone of the film throughout. I really wanted the music to convey the feeling that I am being chased to create empathy with the main character and his struggles.
Hangul Celluloid: I’m being asked to wrap things up, but I have one more question: ‘Arrow’ is performing phenomenally well in Korea as we speak. Has the film’s success brought renewed interest in your previous work, or has that yet to filter through?
Kim Han-min: I do think that the success of ‘Arrow’ is slowly raising awareness of my previous films and confirming them to the public again, especially in the case of ‘Paradise Murdered which was far more successful on its release than ‘Handphone’. ‘Handphone' was less of a commercial success, which was quite unfortunate, but hopefully the media and reviewers will now start talking about it again and bring some renewed interest. I’ll also be looking forward to you reviewing both films on your website and raising awareness of the films outside Korea too (Kim Han-min smiles and sticks both his thumbs in the air). However, I completely understand that now may not be the right time for that renewed interest to take place and, probably, when a retrospective, as part of my work, occurs, it may be far more likely. All in good time…
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.
I would sincerely like to thank Elizabeth and Caroline at Margaret London (PR), and Paul Korean of the London Korean Film Festival, for arranging for me to interview director Kim Han-min.
Cine Asia will release the UK DVD and Blu-ray of 'War of The Arrows' (aka 'Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon') on May 7th 2012. Both are available to pre-order on amazon.co.uk:
The official UK trailer is attached below: