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LKFF2018 INTERVIEWS:


 

Choi Min-sik

Introduction:
Kim Yang-hee graduated in Filmmaking from Korea National University of Arts. She began her film career working as a scriptwriter, eventually moving to become assistant director on films such as Wonderful Radio and Days of Wrath. Her directorial debut feature is The Poet and the Boy. 

Yang Ik-june was born in Seoul in 1975. He graduated from the Department of Entertainment & Acting at Kongju Communication Arts College, subsequently training at the Actor's 21 institution. Following roles in more than ten mainstream films such as Les Formidables, Maundy Thursday, and Viva! Love, Yang Ik-june turned his hand to directing, both starring in and helming Breathless - his semi-autobiographical feature directorial debut. His latest starring role is in director Kim Yang-hee's The Poet and the Boy.

The following group interview took place at the KCCUK in London on 4 November 2018 as part of the London Korean Film Festival:

Interview:

Hangul Celluloid: If we look back at the new Korean cinema wave of the late 90s and early 2000s, same-sex relationships in films like Yellow Hair and Lies were often and almost routinely banned. Considering the fact that the relationship in The Poet and the Boy is much more spiritual than physical, would you say that if we step back 10 or 15 years, you’d have been able to make such a film as this? Or do you feel that, even though it is spiritual, it have been banned the way those films were? And how do you feel society has moved on to allow those films to be made?

Kim Yang-hee:
When the two films Yellow Hair and Lies came out dealing with homosexual relationships, and this is purely my opinion, homosexuals were oppressed in society and the films were trying to show the desires of this minority that have been heavily suppressed and oppressed in society, and just showing their desires in a minor way, like the sadomasochism that comes out in Lies that’s depicted this way. Whereas, for me making this film, I think nowadays there’s a sense that you can’t simply just deny the existence of homosexuality, you can’t just say that it doesn’t happen anymore. Gradually there’s an increasing sort of atmosphere where it is impossible to take this stance. So, very slowly I think there’s an emerging and changing gaze that homosexuals are just ordinary human beings that are living on this Earth, and in comparison to previous films that shows them in this very radicalised way, nowadays they’re depicted as much more ordinary people living life, and the stories around that. When my film was released there were two responses, one being that ‘thanks for making me in a much more gentle and softer way understand homosexuality’ and the other response was ‘I still very much dislike homosexuality’, so you can see that these two different attitudes still co-exist.


MyMBuzz: Given there’s an increased representation of LGBT characters in Korean cinema, do you feel that films like this, including yours, are able to help change and evolve LGBT rights in the country?


Kim Yang-hee:
So, previously calling a person a ‘homo’ was a swearword used to degrade [LGBT people], however, nowadays, while people might carry homophobic attitudes internally, they understand that it’s wrong for them to say this to people. There’s also a societal awareness that this isn’t appropriate anymore, so although people might still carry homophobic attitudes inside, they understand that it’s not acceptable to voice those attitudes out loud. In that sense, I think it’s promising for improving human rights, however from [LGBT people’s] point of view, I’m sure that it’s very insufficient and nowhere near enough.


View of the Arts: My question goes to [Yang Ik-june] as an actor taking on a homosexual role. Did you face any challenges taking on this role, and what was the response to you as an actor doing it? Was this the kind of role that can damage or further one’s career in Korea?


Yang Ik-june:
For me, I don’t think I played a homosexual, I just simply played a man. He was a fat man who loves poetry. I also told the director once that there’s this famous Korean actor who at one time said something very insulting to me and he was incredibly rude. It stressed me out, the way he treated me, and I thought wow this actor must be under a lot of stress and mental duress for him to have treated me in this way. Once I changed my thinking in this way I started to really like him, he’s a very famous star, he’s very tall and good-looking, and I thought that we just have these sorts of moments in our lives. The director was previously paying a compliment to the translator and it’s simply being able to kind of acknowledge someone else’s beauty. I think for the poet, as well, with his struggle to seek beauty in his life he just happens to discover this young man who is the same gender as him, this boy, so I don’t think it’s that necessary to label this poet as an LGBT person, he’s just someone who finds the beauty in things.
Kim Yang-hee: It wasn’t very easy to cast this character because actors, especially those working in commercial films, can see it as being damaging to their public image so they considered it very carefully.
Yang Ik-june: I don’t really care about my image.
Kim Yang-hee: Because he could think about the character in this way I think it was possible for him to play this role, join this film and approach the character like that.


Hangul Celluloid: As an actor is preparing for such a role, because the Poet is such a complex character with a lot of issues even aside from the gay aspect, would you say it’s harder to prepare than for example a role completely different to your personality, such as the character in Breathless? Or the voice animations you’ve done like King of Pigs or The Fake for Yeon Sang-ho? The reason I ask is because director Yeon has said he often gives his actors a lot of leeway away from the script. Does that make your job as an actor easier or do you more often than not have to adhere to a script? What are the difficulties in terms of these characters you played, and which was easier?


Yang Ik-june:
Starting with Breathless, I’ll just do this per film, I wrote the script and I played the lead for that film, but I couldn’t learn all the dialogue because I didn’t have enough time as an actor to prepare because I was so busy preparing to direct the film. So, the motive of the story came from my own experiences which became fictionalised and came into their own in the film, so I understood that in a very broad sense, but I couldn’t remember every single line in the dialogue. But, since I knew the overall story and the arch of it I had that in my mind and I could improvise when I couldn’t remember, and thankfully that didn’t cause too much disruption when performing with the other actors because I had a deep level of understanding of the story.
In terms of working with director Yeon Sang-ho, we were friends for over a decade - from around 2004 or 2005 - when we were doing King of Pigs, and even before that I did a voiceover for his previous short film, and he really does trust the actors entirely. There’s a certain character that I was playing, who is a particular type of character, and I thought that another actor in the cast, Oh Jung-se, would do a much better job at this character, but director Yeon gave this role to me. I asked him why he was giving it to me when the other actor would do a much better job, but in the director’s mind the way he understands an actor and the role, and the way he thinks about the film, he has a very firm conviction that it is this actor that must do the voice, who can also convey the personality of this role, and it’s right that only Yang Ik-june does it, and it’s only right that with the other character that actor Oh Jung-se does that. He has a very clear sense of who is going to play which role and do it right in his mind. In King of Pigs, the character I was playing was in his 50s nearing his 60s, and I literally couldn’t do the voice of somebody that age because I was in my 30s and I don’t have a particularly thick or low voice, and director Yeon said that it really must be me that did it. I heard that he considered other actors, like Choi Min-sik, but seeing his conviction that it had to be me really soothed a lot of the anxieties I had about playing this role. When director Yeon is making these animation films he directs from outside the glass booth while we’re doing the voice-over, and we’re watching this animation, and he really does an excellent job. We did another short animation together called Sayip which is roughly translated as a ‘fake Christian’, I did a voice for it as well and when we were working together I thought he would be a really excellent director to make feature films as well. So, when he made Train to Busan and his other films that really became acknowledged widely, he proved his skill as a director who can do feature films.
Lastly, speaking about The Poet and the Boy, like I said earlier, the script was really good and I really don’t think actors choose projects based on characters they’re going to play. I really liked the feeling of the story, and the emotionality of the story, so when I read it I enjoyed it. It wasn’t just based on the character that I was making these decisions, but also as an actor it’s not always best to play the same roles that you’ve done before but to be challenged, in order to portray new feelings, different feelings, so that you can grow and really challenge yourself. In real life I may not feel able to confess to a beautiful woman who I feel is superior to me and whom I want to meet, that’d be unrealistic, but in a film setting I can attempt that, and I find that to be a real privilege as an actor. So, for this role I had to gain a lot of weight physically but also prep emotionally for this character. I don’t think I did as well as I could have. It’s not that I didn’t try hard enough but rather it was because there was so little time in between the previous film I was making and the shooting of this film, there was just a brief period in between. I tried my best, but I don’t think that it was enough, or what the director needed or what the film production team needed, and, of course, it wasn’t enough of what I wanted.
I was the one who was under the most amount of stress, and whilst we were filming, I commented on not being as well prepared as I thought as I should have been. But thankfully this is not something that you do on your own, as an actor you have a whole team around you so listening to the director’s advice, the staff, or individuals involved in parts to make this character, and watching the final film and seeing the positive reaction from the audience I feel like it wasn’t such a terrible character or job that I did, that people enjoyed it and as such I could enjoy coming here and talking to the audience as well.
Kim Yang-hee: So yesterday I saw a clip from director Yang’s film Breathless after a very long time since seeing the film. There you have a young man in his 30s exploding with rage and a sort of social rage, and then ten years later you see him in The Poet and the Boy where he gives way for this younger man to live his life. For me personally, I felt that we are seeing a very different phase of Yang Ik-june that could only come through time passing by, and that was my personal impression yesterday.


MyMBuzz: This is a little off-topic, but [Yang Ik-june] starred in a Japanese film called Wilderness which was one of my favourite films that I’ve seen this year, and you gave such a powerful performance in it. What is it like for you to work in both the Japanese and Korean film industry?


Yang Ik-june:
When working in Korea as an actor there are times that you feel limitations as an actor trying to make films, whereas in Japan there is a little more space and leniency so I’m very happy to be working in Japan. I’ve been working there since 2011, 2012, as an actor I’ve been in Judge! and Our Homeland so whilst I was working there I met people in the film industry there, and being able to participate in the film industry, and I do consider at which points Korean and Japanese cinema can connect, when I said that I was going to act in Japan I decided that I wasn’t going to play a Japanese character because I wasn’t going to be able to portray the nuances of a Japanese character, so I play Koreans, North Koreans, and mixed race characters, but if you’re very pleased with this and if a director has a character that they think I’m needed for then I will choose it. It’s also easier to choose foreign projects in comparison to Korean films, because foreign films don’t get shown in Korea as much, so it’s kind of like having your dessert. Whereas for the main dish in a Korean film you have to be very cautious and consider very carefully, because if I choose to be in a Korean project and it shows [in cinemas] but doesn’t do well then there’s a sense that I would get annihilated, so I take much caution and consider it more seriously. The production system is very different in Japan, the system in Korea hasn’t been going very long, it’s not very long or continuous, whereas Japan has 120 years of history, so the system is in a way very well organised and there’s no major stressors as an actor, and it really helps with your sense of self confidence or self-worth, so I do have a sense of making Japanese films as an actor or director once every year or two if possible.


View of the Arts: The poetry in the film is very beautiful, and since you wrote and directed the film were any of the poems yours? And how did you decide which poems to use?

Kim Yang-hee: I had a general sense of which direction and how I wanted to use the poems throughout the film, at the beginning there was more about the beauty of nature or the beauty of people you’re praising around you. But, as the film progresses, there’s more poems that have these desperately sad, loving feelings which is more about the rough side of human nature that you see more of, so there are more of those types of poems that I chose for the latter half of the film, including ones that I chose for myself. So, before the climax of the film there’s a montage where the poet is longing for this boy and there’s a poem that I had in mind always while writing the script that I wanted to use in that scene. Also, for the child’s day poem that was one that I had written myself because I couldn’t find one. In the very last scene there’s a poem by the poet Ki Hyong-do, his poem called Hope, it’s an unpublished poem but just to explain something briefly about him, he met a very sudden death and he was a genius poet. He also was a homosexual and met a very tragic ending in his 30s, as a homosexual there was a meeting place in this part of Seoul called Jongno, and in this very old theatre there was a group of homosexuals who would meet and touch each other, and in this place, he was found dead, so it was very tragic. His poems convey something that was desperately sad and painful, so at the end of the film, despite the Poet not intending to, after going through all this love and experiences, I thought that what he would write would actually be something quite simple.

 

On behalf of everyone involved, I'd sincerely like to thank the Korean Cultural Centre UK for allowing us all to interview director Kim Yang-hee and actor/director Yang-ik-june.

* Many thanks to Roxy Simons of MyMBuzz for transcribing the interview *


 
 

 

Jeon Go-woon

Introduction:
Jeon Go-woon was born in 1985 in South Korea. She studied at and graduated from Kunkuk University's Department of Cinema, subsequently studying at the Korean National University of Arts. She has made a number of short films, and in 2013 she produced the feature film Sunshine Boys.
Microhabitat is her debut feature-length production as director.

The following group interview took place at the KCCUK in London on November 2nd, 2018, as part of the 2018 London Korean Film Festival:

Interview:

Hangul Celluloid: You’ve spoken about the difficulties faced by directors, and especially by female directors, in being able to make films. Was it those difficulties that made you want to creative a collective group of artists to make producing your films easier?

In truth, it’s not like I created this collective because I had difficulty in making films as a female director. It was just a group of students and friends, it just naturally got formed and now we are making films together, so there’s a different chronology.


MyMBuzz: Miso is such a lovely, selfless person, she wants to take care of everyone around her and all she needs in life is her whiskey, cigarettes and to be with her boyfriend. Why were you interested in featuring a story with someone like her as the lead?


I think that I’m very different to Miso, I’m the sort of person who would give up my tastes and my quality of life in order to maintain my own home. So, I wanted to see the opposite kind of character, someone who is giving up her comfortable place in order to pursue the things she wants to have in her life.


MiniMiniMovie: I think it was very easy for the audience to define the characters, and who they were, how much of that was in the writing, and did the actors bring things to the characters themselves?


My script was relatively loose intentionally, because I wanted to be open and after I casted the actors I wanted to develop the characters with them.


Hangul Celluloid: As each of your characters are introduced they are assigned a musical instrument, there’s a feeling that they’re ex-musicians who have moved on with their lives. As an ex-musician Microhabitat resonated with me on a deep level, because of those changes. Why did you personally choose to have ex-musicians be the focus for your characters? Why musicians rather than anything else?


Everyone sort of aspires to be in a band, especially teenagers, because of the energy that comes out of being in a band together. It’s an aspiration that almost everyone has, I wasn’t in a band myself but given the amount of time that people give to this passion, and the fact that they have the most fun playing music together, I thought that being a band could be a symbol of youth.


MyMBuzz: Something that we don’t often see in cinema in general is men who can be vulnerable on screen, but in your film allthe male characters are going through a hard time. They are upset, and you do see them cry, which is quite refreshing. Why did you want to portray this in your film?


Men, especially in Korea, are almost expected and sort of forced to create this masculinity but they are human as well, perhaps it’s not visible externally, but I witnessed a lot of this weakness and fragility in men behind the scenes, so this was something that I wanted to capture.


MiniMiniMovie: There were a lot of subtleties in the film, but one scene that wasn’t subtle was the dreamy horror-like sequence with the parents of the lad, but the film still works afterwards. Was that a decision to keep that in and leave it there, or add another scene like that because it was very different to the rest of the film?


I don’t think it was so well calculated from the beginning, I just wanted to create a different situation for each band member and I thought that with this character who was a vocalist. His family situation was the most intense, and in a way directly violent so it just naturally formed in that way.


Hangul Celluloid: Miso is played by Esom, who I first became aware of when she exploded onto the acting scene in Scarlet Innocence with Jung Woo-sung. How did her casting come about, especially since she’s getting quite big and you’re a first-time director, how did that fit?


I had a relationship with Esom because she was in the third feature made by the Gwanghuamun collective The Queen of Crime, so I already encountered her before I started to make this film. I had a sense that she had a great mind and attitude as an actor, and I admired that. When I shared my script with her she was interested, and I had already built up a trust with her as an actor, so we worked together.


MyMBuzz: This film will speak to a lot of people around the world, not just Korea. In London, we also have extortionate rent prices, and alcohol and cigarettes also cost a lot of money. Did you expect the film to have such a universal appeal?


I didn’t have any time or energy to consider that at all, making an independent film was extremely difficult task so finishing it was my number one priority, and then I thought maybe I could release it domestically in Korea,which was my second priority. So, no I didn’t have any thoughts on that as I was making the film.


MiniMiniMovie: With Gwanghuamun collective, was there a reason that the group was called that? Some of the films that have been made by your group touch on politics and quite serious matters, did the name come about from the area or was there an underlying reason?


It came about out of necessity, we made our first film called The Sunshine Boys with a budget of under £10,000 and it was entered into the Busan Film Festival. I was informed that they needed a name for the production company, so we had to come up with some sort of name, and at the time I was living in Gwanghuamun, and we did a lot of work in this film at my house so that’s why!


Hangul Celluloid: The character that plays the somewhat overbearing mother of the musician is a hugely famous lady called Lee Yong-nyeo whose been in Park Chan-wook films year after year, like I’m A Cyborg and The Handmaiden and she almost always plays a nutty lady. How much of her character in your film was created because you cast her in the role, how much did she bring to it? And why did you choose her, was it because she always plays these weird characters?


I think when I think about the actors who are in that age group there are very limited choice in Korea so when I formed this character I couldn’t help but think about Lee Yong-nyeo very naturally. No one can replace her, she’s an amazing actor.


MyMBuzz: This is your feature film debut, were there any challenges that you had to face?


The most challenging part to me is this discrepancy between these two processes in filmmaking, when I write my script it’s the most artistic and creative moment and once that part is done and until you release the film the entire process is the opposite. You kind of become a machine, there’s so much admin so it’s the opposite of being creative, you have to think of all the practical bullshit, so to me this discrepancy was difficult.


MiniMiniMovie: There’s a lot of steps in this film, literally. The apartments that she goes to in the cheap area of Seoul are at the top of a lot of steps, and when we see her leaving her apartment we’re looking up at her as she’s on the stairs and you can see a conglomerate building behind her. Was this intentional, is there a bigger purpose to these scenes?


I mean the special contrast between Miso and these high-rise backdrop shows her situation very well. There’s no particular reason for the apartments being at the top of staircases, in Korea the cheap apartments are either below ground level, or it’s very high up and you have to take a lot of stairs to get there. So, when I was looking for a location it was just natural, and that’s how they became the areas that I filmed in.


Hangul Celluloid: After having watched the film, I’m not as young as I used to be and as a young musician I saw a lot of my friends move on and do the whole family thing. I related to Miso far more than the other characters, and I thought that if there is one character I would be proud to say I was it would be Miso because she stayed true to herself even if it’s through smoking and whiskey. What was your intention to put into general viewers minds about her? You seem to be very supportive of her, was she your favourite character and what did you want viewers to think?


Of course, when you make a film you want your main character to be relatable and to be empathised by audiences, in Korea it was interesting because there were two groups: those who identified with the band members, and the others that identified with Miso.


MyMBuzz: This film has been screened abroad, did you find the reaction was the same and that it was split between those that related to Miso or her friends?


I have a limited exposure to people’s reaction from outside of Korea, there are comments that I can see online and times that I witnessed it in person but in comparison I don’t quite know as much. But in Korea there were definitely two groups of people, those who thought Miso was great and those who were wondering what was wrong with her! When I screened this film outside of Korea I never witnessed very strong criticism against Miso, obviously they can’t do this in front of me, but in general it seems like foreign audiences are generous to Miso as a character. I’m actually quite used to strong criticism to her choices and lifestyle, so I am still getting used to this love for Miso, I’m not used to it!


MiniMiniMovie: Talking about whiskey and the character, are you hoping to go to the home of Glenfiddich in Scotland and get a bottle?


I don’t have time to travel to Scotland because I have to go to Paris straight away, but as I was walking around London today I came across this amazing whiskey shop which is almost like a museum. I was so happy, and I bought a bottle of scotch!

 

On behalf of everyone involved, I'd sincerely like to thank the Korean Cultural Centre UK and the LKFF for allowing us all to interview director Jeon Go-woon.

* Also, many, many thanks to Roxy Simons of MyMBuzz for transcribing the interview *