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LKFF2017 INTERVIEWS:


 

Kang Yoon-sung
Kang Yoon-sung began his career in the Korean film industry as an actor, starring in Baby Alone (2002) and Please Teach Me English (2003) – now considered to be an almost classic example of New Korean Cinema wave romantic comedy – as well as working in the directorial department of the latter. Quickly tiring of acting, Kang stepped back and began planning his move to full-time directing. 2017’s The Outlaws (previously known as Crime City) is his first feature; a film that is, at the time of writing this bio, taking the Korean box office by storm
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The following interview took place on 27 October 2107 at the KCCUK prior to a London Korean Film Festival screening of 'The Outlaws' + Q&A with director Kang Yoon-sung.


Interview:

View of the Arts: ‘The Outlaws’ is your first film. What were your creative thoughts when you first conceived this project? Were there specific things/ ideas you wanted to explore?

Kang Yoon-sung: First I got to hear about this story was through a detective back in 2007 or so; it was a true story as well. I decided to make a detective story, as realistic as possible. It is a story that happened in 2004, a story about detectives and the crime squad who were investigating and arresting violent criminals at that time. And rather than focusing on the investigation process, I wanted to focus more on those who were becoming actively involved in arresting the criminals. I wanted to show the detectives that actively overcame those criminals. That’s were I put more of the film’s focus.

Hangul Celluloid: You said that your film is based on a true story; and if you look at the Korean cinema, in the last couple of years, there have been other films that are based on true events: Roaring Currents, A Taxi Driver etc.; they have consistently broken box office records, to the point where Korean cinema became popular again. What do you feel contributes to the popularity of the Korean cinema? Do you think it’s that people are interested in true life stories or are films becoming better?

Kang Yoon-sung: In my opinion, the Korean audience is much more interested in real life stories rather that the ones that are pure fiction. They like stories that they can believe in, the tales that are true. That’s probably why those films are much more successful.

MyM: Was there anything that was particularly challenging about trying to transfer the story, the actual events that happened, to change them and put them on the big screen?

Kang Yoon-sung: In terms of portraying the detective, we did a lot of research and interviews through which we got a lot of information and factual details. Those were easy to convey in the film, but on the other side, for the gangsters or mobsters in the film, we weren’t able to get much information, so we had to rely on our imagination.

The 405: The characters were portrayed on screen without much exposition at all, there wasn’t a backstory to them. It was like: this is our detective and he is this way, for no reason, expect that to be him as a character. I am wondering if this was a conscious effort as you were writing, you were like, I don’t want to fill it with fluff, I want action, action, action?

Kang Yoon-sung: Generally, in films you will see characters’ histories and their backstories; their past actions. But in my film, I eliminated all those elements deliberately, for the good and the bad guys.  You focus on both the detectives and the villains as people. In terms of the villains, I wanted to emphasize the evil they were doing rather than their backstories.

View of the Arts: The film is full of interesting characters, Ma Dong-seok’s and Yoon Kye-sang’s in particular. What was the auditioning process like for these roles? 

Kang Yoon-sung: In the film, the protagonist is played by Ma Dong-seok, who is actually my friend. Four years ago, whilst planning the film, we decided that he will be playing the protagonist, and we discussed together how to create the best character possible for him in the film. In terms of the villain who is portrayed by Yoon Kye-sang, well, he never played an evildoer in the film before. I wondered what it would be like for him to play one. I thought that it would be a very different image from the characters that he had played before. The villain role might come across to the audience as quite a shock, but at the same time, it might also impress the audience.

Hangul Celluloid: Talking about Ma Dong-seok – if you look at the roles he played over the years, the humour he brings to the characters seems to be very much his personality, which also shows in your film. Was Ma Dong-seok involved pretty much from the outset? How involved was he in the humorous parts of the screenplay and how much of it was written by you?

Kang Yoon-sung: From the beginning of the film, we decided that the detective character will be much more humorous, whereas the character of the villain will be much more tense and thrilling. And that was our goal that we had right from the outset, and that was how we filmed it. So in the terms of Ma Dong-seok’s persona, half of the humour was written prior to the filming, but whilst we were on the set, we would discuss it further.  Ma Dong-seok also improvised.

MyM: There was a really good balance between the action scenes, the violence and the humour. Why was it important to have the intense action scenes, but also to keep it light-hearted as well?

Kang Yoon-sung: My view of commercial films and their entertainment value is that they really need to contain a range of human emotions, from sadness and happiness to sorrow, and if they are not playing with people’s emotions, then the audience does not find them entertaining. That’s why it was important for me to balance those emotions, and to have all of those elements present in the film.

The 405: Action sequences are great in the film. As it is your first film, having done such good choreography, with some long-shot action scenes, I imagine it must have been challenging. Which scenes did you find particular hard to film, what was the biggest challenge to film?

Kang Yoon-sung: In the film, there is lots of action, and during every second of the filming, I was very tense; I was afraid that we might have some accidents happen. When we were designing the action scenes and the long shots, we found them to be hard, as the actors were tired – we shot certain scenes 5 times. Fortunately, the last cut turned out good and everything went well.

View of the Arts: Films evolve through a creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. How was that for you? Are you satisfied with your final product?

Kang Yoon-sung: What I did was that on every day that I filmed, I also edited on that day and I finished editing on that day. I must admit, I spent a huge amount of time on that. The edited cuts that we got from each day weren’t that much different from our final cut, apart from that the film’s length was a bit shorter in the final cut. I really did invest a huge amount of effort on the set editing, and I am happy with the final product.

Hangul Celluloid: Over the years, I think we have all talked to directors about the difficulties they face in making and funding their films. Could you tell us of your experience in getting the film funded?

Kang Yoon-sung: In the beginning, we have decided that the role of the detective will be played by Ma Dong-seok, and eventually, we got to cast the villain and that wasn’t easy in itself. But the two actors who played the two main characters in the film aren’t big stars so getting the funding for the film wasn’t very easy. Big film studios and major film companies in Korea all rejected to fund the film. We eventually went to a young, brand new film company to get the total funding, which was around 670,000,000 Korean Won (approximately $44 million dollars). We had a very difficult start to make the film and nobody expected much from it, but fortunately, the film came out well, it got a good response and it did very well in terms of the audience number. Now the situation has reversed (laughs).

MyM: I read in another interview you did that ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is actually one of the films that influenced you to become a film director. Why has that film inspired you and did it have any influence on ‘The Outlaws’?

Kang Yoon-sung: The first time that I watched Reservoir Dogs – before that I of course really enjoyed watching films, and I watched a lot of films – but when I watched that film, I really felt the way the story unfolded and developed, and the style of directing were very different; that’s when I really became determined to write myself and to become a film director. So that film became a standard for me in a way, to practice writing in a different way from the stories in other films; in that sense, it influenced me to write my own film.

The 405: The writing is tight, the editing is good, everything is good. I really want to know about the colours in your film. I have noticed that each gang had its own colour, and when they were fighting together, there were multiple colours on screen, was that intentional? Could you tell me more about the design of the film?

Kang Yoon-sung: Right from the beginning of the script stage, it was pointed out that there were too many gangs in the film and that it might be quite confusing. Rather then trying to overcome that, we tried to have a different sense and atmosphere for each of the gangs, and one of the ways to achieve that was to use different colours; one of them was green, the other one was yellow – depending on which scene it was, the colour would slightly change.

View of the Arts: How long did it take you to write the script and how long did the pre- and post-production take?

Kang Yoon-sung: Writing the script in total took 3 years, to get that story structure. At the beginning, I actually had three characters; there were to be two detectives against one villain. Partly for casting reasons, so that we would get mid-level actors, sort of bright new stars to join, but because of the funding reasons, we didn’t go ahead with that idea; we killed one off, and decided to have one good guy and one villain. The pre-production didn’t take as long as I thought it would; it was a total of 4 months, the filming took 3 months, and the post-production about 4 months. So it took about a year in total to make the film.

Hangul Celluloid: Everybody has been talking about your film and talking about your directing that is fabulous. I am obsessed with the new Korean cinema from the late 90s. You were an actor in ‘Please Teach Me English’, which is a classic rom-com; now that you are a successful director, a very successful one, what are your thoughts about your acting career?

Kang Yoon-sung: Of course I am very embarrassed (laughs). I really wanted to be an actor in the past, but I knew that I had no talent in this area. I did appear in this film, but I think that I was edited out (laughs). I said in some interviews in the past that, because I said that I wanted to be an actor, people would ask me if I was preparing to be an actor in the future, but that’s not the case and I am just going to be fully focused on directing in the future.



Many thanks to Maggie Gogler and Sanja Struna of View of the Arts for transcribing and editing the interview.

On behalf of all those involved, I'd sincerely like to thank The London Korean Film Festival 2017 for allowing us to interview director Kang Yoon-sung.


 

 


 

Lee Wan-min
Lee Wan-min has directed several short films, including Chima (2006), The Sun that Sets in Bamako (2006),
Mensrea (2008) and Sang (2009). Her short Mock or Die (2010) was invited to the Independent Film & Video Maker’s Forum and the Shorts Competition Section at the Jeonju International Film Festival.
Jamsil is her first feature film.

Kim Sae-byuk
Kim Sae-byuk is an up-and-coming, increasingly popular acctress who has starred in a number of small independent projects as well as somewhat larger commercial films.
Filmography:
The Day After (2017), The First Lap (2017), Jamsil (2016), Queen of Walking (2016), A Midsummer's Fantasia (2015), Tazza-The Hidden Card (2014), The Whistleblower (2014), Futureless Things (2014), Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits (2014), Stateless Things (2012)

The following interview took place on 2 Nov 2107 at the KCCUK prior to a London Korean Film Festival screening of 'Jamsil' + Q&A with director Lee Wan-min and actress Kim Sae-byuk.


Interview:

Mini Mini Movies (to director Lee Wan-min): I saw 'Jamsil' twice last year and I was really struck by the film's colours, the political elements used and also the friendship of the two girls. I'd like to talk about the colours: You chose to make flashback scenes vibrant with colour while present day scenes are almost black and white. What was the reason for that choice?

Lee Wan-min: The reason the present day scenes are almost black and white with low colour saturation is because that's how I remembered them, and the reason the past is so vibrant is because the colours speak of nostalgia. During the film-making process, I realised the past era is like a dream or rather somewhat of a fantasy and that's why I wanted this production to have elements that actually seem artificial in a way, in the way the main character remembers. I ultimately wanted to say that our dreams are our fantasies.  


Hangul Celluloid (to director Lee Wan-min): Considering the continuing and increasing hold that large corporations and film studios have on the Korean cinema industry - which is still very much male dominated - I'd like to ask: As a female director of a small, independent film, what were the main difficulties you faced in making 'Jamsil', securing funding and ultimately getting the film screened?

Lee Wan-min: The thing about independent films is that a lot of the filming and editing is managed by the director and you're not regulated in how you are going to express core aspects. That's why in the future I'll continue to shoot and make independent films. In terms of funding, well, because of that it's really important that there is a public structure to fund these types of films but as you may know there are a lot of problems within that structure presently. There has been a blacklist of certain artists in Korea for the past few years and while I'm not specifically saying that I have been disadvantaged by it personally, it has been there and affecting everyone in the industry, nonetheless. Also the funding structure means there is the problem of how independent film-makers can continue to earn a living when they're not in production and that is a problem that continually affects both me and my colleagues as well as my fellow artists. This film I undertook without any outside funding, and I raised the minimum amount required to go into production myself beforehand. As such, there were aspects of the production that had to be adapted to keep in line with the film's minimal budget. However, the most difficult part of the whole issue is trying to ensure the minimum wage can be paid to the staff and indeed the actors. There were yet more things we had to cut down and cut back on to be able to do that. Because independent films tend to strive for a certain goal or go in a certain direction, the difficulty in funding almost creates a self-paradox. That I have to say was insanely difficult, as was trying to make sure that neither I nor the film fell into, or suffered because of, that self-paradox.


Hangul Celluloid (to actress Kim Sae-byuk): With independent films facing such problems in being made and screened, how important is it for you as an actress to be involved in, to push and promote independent cinema? You star in three films that are screening at the 2017 London Korean Film Festival and all of them are independent productions, so independent Korean cinema is obviously important to you, but what are your personal thoughts on the subject?

Kim Sae-byuk: So, I chose to take roles in the three films that are screening as part of the LKFF not specifically because there were independent but rather because they created stories in a way that I liked, they had people in them whom I wanted to work with, they were stories that I wanted to tell, and that's the way I tend to choose my films in general. However, they are indeed independent and it's true that as you continue to make such choices you do start in some way to distance yourself from so called popular cinema and the commercial film industry and because there are such budget limits to independent films it can ultimately be difficult to make a living out of being an independent film actress. I would say that right now I'm in the process of finding a balance between the two and personally it would be nice to see more good stories coming out of popular, commercial cinema - that's my personal hope - but moreover for independent films because I've seen so many directors who have had to put in so much time because they didn't have enough budget or enough money. It would be such a step forward if those issues lessened so that people like me can choose what they want to film with a lighter heart.


View of the Arts (to director Lee Wan-min): On the subject of feminism within 'Jamsil'. What were the main feminist ideas that you felt you wanted to convey with this film and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

Lee Wan-min: I'm going to put my answer in two different ways - first of all simply and then in more depth: Simply, I wanted to show that friendship between women is possible [Lee Wan-min laughs], because although such relationships exist they are not often portrayed or represented in film. Many films show male machismo with female characters just being shown to be jealous of each other. My film is I guess my way of fighting against that in the depiction of these two women influencing each other. To go on to the 'principles' terrain of the film, I didn't want to have a specific objective because I wanted to be honest and I felt an objective could derail that honesty. Nevertheless, the film shows a lot of the female gaze and female relationships and combined with the fact that the film's producer is female and most of the cast was female I feel that even without a specific objective such ideas naturally manifested because that was what was in my mind's map from the outset. In answer to your second question: Yes, I am a feminist... I am a feminist director, but in the way I make films that's not the primary objective I go for.


MyM (to Lee Wan-min): The film's strength really is in the relationship between the two female characters and it is true you don't see many such portrayals in film. So, how did you feel about making a film like this, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and how do you feel it should be changed to include more female stories?

Lee Wan-min: That's a difficult question. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't have a specific objective in mind and as a woman in her 30s I think I've been able to touch on and cover the issues that I feel and to talk about the oppression that I face in my relationship with my parents, as well as in relation to society and feel that it's all encompassed in the film. In terms of my feelings, I would say I feel relieved and in terms of your question about the industry I wouldn't necessarily say that there is direct discrimination against female directors but it does have to be said that the panels that decide on funding mostly consist of men. As such, I feel there are indirect forms of discrimination going on. We are really trying and in fact demanding that the male/female ratios of these panels' members is made more balanced. The environment of the shooting and the site is also very male-oriented with a huge hierarchy and that too needs to be more balanced.


MyM (to Kim Sae-byuk): Similarly, how did you feel being involved and being a part of 'Jamsil'?

Kim Sae-byuk: The film touches on a lot of topics but when I was reading the scenario the part that really stood out to me was the relationship between people because it is a constant problem in our lives and I feel it's almost a personal homework that I have to do. I really like the way in which this film addresses the issue through line, through dialogue and through situation. When I met the director I felt that she was very like her scenario an I soon felt that we had reached a point not only where we could connect but also where we were very similar. It really is difficult to find people to relate to so closely and I believe I've found a very precious relationship and as such the film is very precious to me, too. Making this film allowed that precious relationship to develop and in fact the director and I were walking in London this morning discussing how we might work together in the future and what we might want to work on.


The 405 (to Lee Wan-min): Earlier, you mentioned that there were some compromises made as a result of budgeting and that things had to change because of the circumstances of making the film. Looking back, with those changes do you feel you made the same film you originally planned to make and were there perhaps any elements that changed that you wish you'd kept in or things you wish you'd had the budget for?

Lee Wan-min: I wouldn't say there is anything I'd change ultimately because we all put in a tremendous effort every step of the way. That all fed into the film, the final product, so I'm happy to see it stay as it is.


The 405 (to Kim Sae-byuk): What is your happiest memory of making the film and starring in it?

Kim Sae-byuk: At any point during the making of the film if I thought it was too difficult or I didn't understand, the director always, always showed sincerity and tried to explain, showing me what the situation was. All of the production was really good but if I was to pick one moment there was a scene in which my father berates me, the room was very dark and the director was monitoring in a different room. In that room discussing the scene we talked about our pasts and how we're quite similar - things that we had talked about before since we first met. I wouldn't say it was a joyful moment because we were filming a very dark, heavy scene but it was definitely a very thankful and memorable moment.


HanCinema (to director Lee Wan-min): The film's narrative feels quite complex at times with fragmented space and time. Why did you take that approach?

Lee Wan-min: Again, it didn't come from a particular objective but more from having a map in my mind. I tried to work with a sense of comfortable discomfort in the process of trying to depict and portray these images that have solidified in my mind. Rather than present a series of statements, I almost chose to present questions. I feel I must look at things from a different perspective and films that are to my mind over-explanatory - that tell you everything up front - are I think too prevalent.

 

On behalf of all those involved, I'd sincerely like to thank The London Korean Film Festival 2017 for allowing us to interview Lee Wan-min and Kim Sae-byuk.