Hangul Celluloid’s one-on-one interview with director Kim Ji-woon, which took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on Saturday 6th November at 3.30pm:

Hangul Celluloid: ‘I Saw The Devil’ has been the subject of a lot of controversy since its completion, having twice been given a "restricted"/"limited" rating. As you have previously described the film as a hardgore revenge thriller, what were your expectations on submitting it for rating classification? Did you think that there might possibly be ratings issues?

Kim Ji-woon: As the film is a cruel and brutal hardgore thriller, there are obviously many violent and gory scenes, but I hadn’t anticipated that these would be problematic because I had standardised all my scenes based on references from commercial and imported films. It wasn’t made fundamentally just to be gory or shocking - the main central theme of the film is actually revenge and the utter extent and emptiness of revenge in humans - and the violence simply played a part in telling the story rather than being the focus. Within the film, I attempted to show the truthful emotions of the protagonists throughout their journey and since in England the uncensored version is being shown, and in Canada the age limit of 14 was given, I think that the problems in Korea arose because there are so many brutal scenes with some of the country’s major actors that they were seen as much more shocking there than they were in other countries.

Hangul Celluloid: Do you feel that the controversy has affected cinema attendance of the film in Korea, and subsequently abroad?

Kim Ji-woon: If anything, I feel the controversy will actually boost cinema attendances abroad but, in Korea, there were so many rumours of brutality and violence, and with so many female audiences in Korea, I think that they were somewhat put off seeing the film, so the rumours definitely had an adverse affect there. The ending of the film is, obviously, not happy and Korean audiences tend to like happy endings, so the film fanatics loved it but for the ordinary spectators, I think that the less than happy ending had an effect on sales as well. In film reviews in Korea, they have also mostly concentrated on the gore and violence, but there have been a couple of reviews which mentioned that there were some beautiful moments within the film and this was a very happy moment for me.

Hangul Celluloid: ‘I Saw The Devil’ stars Lee Byung-hun, whom you have worked with on ‘A bittersweet Life’ and ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’; and Choi Min-sik, who you worked with on ‘The Quiet Family’. Could you tell me about the casting of the film, and the decisions which led to the casting of the particular roles?

Kim Ji-woon: Yes, this was the second time I’ve worked with Choi Min-sik, but this time the scenario of the film wasn’t directly mine - it was originally based on a different scenario. Usually it’s the director who casts an actor, but in this case it was the actor who cast the director and Choi Min-sik proposed the scenario to me first, and from the first time that I read it, I loved it – it was so brutal and showed that innate human toughness – and I was compelled by how to show this in a cinematic frame. In Korea, Choi Min-sik is the most energetic and passionate actor and to find someone to match him I decided on Lee Byung-hun - who plays cold-hearted roles incredibly well - and it was interesting to me to see how these opposing poles would meet and what the results would be, and it turned out to be a great opportunity to show these great actors’ skills.

Hangul Celluloid: A lot of your earlier films, such as A Tale of Two Sisters and Memories, deal with psychological issues and the effect of outside forces on a person’s mental state. Did you also relate these ideas to your direction of ‘I Saw The Devil’.

Kim Ji-woon: I am particularly interested in the dark side of human nature and showing the darkness which humans are capable of, especially the reactions and changes caused when things don’t turn out the way we had anticipated, or the way that we wanted them to and I have always tried to use the genre of each film to show these changes, and this is also the case in ‘I Saw The Devil’.

Hangul Celluloid: It is generally believed that your next project will be directing a Hollywood film called ‘The Last Stand’. What are your feelings about working on an American project?

Kim Ji-woon: Making an American film is not a dream of mine at all, it’s simply that having made a lot of films in Korea, an appeal has built in Hollywood and the offer just came about. For me personally, I’m really thinking of it as a different take and a different perspective and since ‘I Saw The Devil’ had so many problems, it will be refreshing for me to try a different environment.

Hangul Celluloid: I think they’re asking me to wrap things up, but as a final question, I’d like to ask when you are directing a film, is the script pretty much set from the outset or do you allow spontaneous changes to occur? For example, in ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’ there are so many tiny, but incredibly funny moments, were they all decided in advance?

Kim Ji-woon: Nearly everything I direct features in the script from the very beginning. Even in my film ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’, which has easily the most funny moments of any of my films, all of them were set long before I started shooting it. In that film, I really wanted to focus on both the parodies and the action and therefore I wanted even the smallest humourous moment to be decided before directing began.


Hangul Celluloid: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.

I would like to sincerely thank Paul Koren, the Korean Cultural Centre UK and The London Korean Film Festival for giving the opportunity to interview director Kim Ji-woon.

A special thanks also goes to An Ji-yoon, who worked as the translator in the interview. She put up with my overlong ramblings, as well as my going off on tangents, and did an exemplary job.

Hangul Celluloid’s one-on-one interview with director Im Sang-soo, which took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on Sunday 14th November at 3.30pm:

Hangul Celluloid: Your latest film, ‘The Housemaid’, has regularly been described as a reimagining, or contemporary reworking, of the 1960 Kim Ki-young film of the same name. Are you happy to have the filmed described in this way, or do you prefer it to be discussed in its own right, without reference to its predecessor?

Im Sang-soo: I was always aware that comparisons would be made, and so I put in a line at the end of my film which says it was inspired by Kim Ki-Young’s ‘The Housemaid’, in order to reiterate that it’s not a remake necessarily, but whether it is considered as a totally different film or a remake is, I think, up to individual spectators to decide and I am happy to have it described in either way.

Hangul Celluloid: As you’ve said that your film ‘The Housemaid’ was inspired by Kim Ki-young’s film, did it affect your approach to your film in any way?

Im Sang-soo: Although Kim Ki-young’s legendary film was my initial inspiration, I wasn’t necessarily shy about it in any way, nor did I feel any kind of great honour, but they were some very positive aspects relating to my career that came from being associated with it.

Hangul Celluloid: Your films very often deal with sex, power and politics, with both your earlier work, ‘A Good Lawyer’s Wife’, and your current film, ‘The Housemaid’, being quite graphic and explicit, both in terms of nudity and content, but do you feel the themes of power and politics in the films relate to each other?

Im Sang-soo:
The themes do relate to each other, but it’s a rather difficult question for me to answer in such a short space of time. The majority of my work does relate to the themes of sex and politics, apart from ‘The President’s Last Bang’ which, because of the narrative, was wholly political. ‘A Good Lawyer’s Wife’ dealt with the politics within a family, inspecting the male and female relations and relationships within a patriarchal society, and the idea that breaking this patriarchalism is the most political and radical thing that can happen in our society. ‘The Housemaid’ does also deal with some patriarchal situations, but class structure is just as important a theme within it.  

Hangul Celluloid: With the explicitness of both ‘A Good Lawyer’s Wife’ and ‘The Housemaid’, were you concerned with audience reactions, in Korea, to the amount of nudity in both films?

Im Sang-soo:
Looking at myself, I feel I’m not really seen as a commercially accessible filmmaker in Korea. Of all my films, ‘The Old Garden’ was the biggest box office failure and many people say that’s because of the absence of a sex scene in the film. Because my films deal with such serious themes, if there is no sex scene, there is a joke that my films cannot survive the industry. But it’s not merely a joke, and as a director, the question of whether I’m using nudity only as much as is needed, or just for the commercial success is something that I am always very aware of.

Hangul Celluloid: In terms of the idea of power within relationships, there are two instances when Hoon [the main male character in ‘The Housemaid’] has oral sex: Once is while having sex with Hae-ra [Hoon’s wife], while she is pregnant, while the other is Eun-yi’s [the housemaid character] first sexual encounter with Hoon. Did these two scenes deliberately use the same sex act to discuss the power and structure of each relationship?

Im Sang-soo: As film is largely reliant on imagery, the image of a woman giving oral sex does imply a level of power, and whether it is male or female power depends on the specific situation. However, the idea started out because Seo woo, playing Hae-ra, had a contract stating that she would not do any sex scenes and it was only much later that I was able to see how well the scenes fitted together.

Hangul Celluloid: There are two scenes within ‘The Housemaid’ which show a large scar, or burn, on Jeon Do-yeon’s upper thigh, and even though I went back to look at some of her other work, I couldn’t find any other scenes showing it. As these scenes in ‘The Housemaid’ almost seemed to focus on it, and since Eun-yi also seemed overly preoccupied with seeing the dead body of the girl who committed suicide at the start of the film, I wondered if the scar was created using make-up to imply that there was something in Eun-yi’s past which viewers must draw their own conclusions about?

Im Sang-soo: I’m almost frightened to answer this question, but I will answer it very honestly. Jeon Do-yeon does, in fact, have a scar there, and before filming began, she mentioned the scar to me because she knew that there were many scenes involving nudity within the film. I didn’t have a problem, or filming issues, with it at all, but as shooting progressed, I felt that the scar matched ideas within the film very well, so it is true that I had a couple of scenes specifically focussing on it. We could have erased it with computer graphics, but I talked to Jeon Do-yeon about it and we both agreed that it matched the film so well that it should be kept in. There was no deliberate link between those scenes and the beginning of the film, but I am very happy for spectators to link the two together, and add to the character’s past, as that very much fits with the ideas of the film too.

Hangul Celluloid: To wrap things up, I’d like to ask how you feel about reviews in general and reviews of your films?

Im Sang-soo: In Korea, I’m not someone who receives very good reviews from critics, and even with ‘The Housemaid’, the reviews I received were not as good as I would have hoped or anticipated. As a result, I generally tend not to read them, and though some spectators pay attention to reviews, some also make up their own mind.

Hangul Celluloid: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.

I would like to sincerely thank Paul Koren, the Korean Cultural Centre UK and The London Korean Film Festival for giving the opportunity to interview director Im Sang-soo.

A special thanks also goes to An Ji-yoon, who worked as the translator in the interview. Once again, she put up with my overlong ramblings, as well as my going off on tangents, and did an exemplary job.