Friday, June 1, 2012

Remember O Goddess - Interview with Director Yoon Jung Lee: Part 1

I promised this was coming and here it is. The first part of my interview with ""Remember O Goddess" direct, Yoon Jung Lee. Part 2 can be found here.

Before that, I am glad to announce that their Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success and that they are now in the process of gathering additional funds and moving forward with this project.

You can still donate to the film through the official website and their Chip In! plugin.

Back to the interview now, when I made the questions, I tried to ask things that

a) are not the typical questions interviewers usually ask and
b) are things I want to know and think are interesting to hear about.

This is my personal blog so I did not exactly have a participating audience to satisfy, but I hope my readers like what I asked. I know the answers are certainly great and I personally got what I wanted.

Here, you can now find the interview of lead actor Kim Jung Tae.

After they are both posted, I'm thinking of making a post with my comments and thoughts on the answers. Just to wrap this up nicely.

Here is Part 1 then.

Orion: Having focused my attention on a couple of omnibus movies lately ("Camellia" and "Doomsday Book"), I have noticed that getting a unique work out seems to be very hard in Korea. In your experience, is that true and if yes, is that more due to the industry itself, the audiences or is there another cause to it?

Yoon Jung Lee: Honestly I haven’t spent enough time and energy to analyze the industry to be able to share my solid opinion for this matter because I thought that I was not in the position to change or influence on the situation. If I’m allowed to give you my impression, I would say that it seems that the decision for distribution and even making of the films are made by limited group of people after several companies dominated theater businesses and film investments. But I’m not sure whether those people rejected unique projects or there were little attempts to make unique works by filmmakers.

O: The inevitable question of you being a woman has to appear here. As simple fans of Korean entertainment and culture, we do feel that women in Korean society are still very much struggling for equality. As a woman and a director, have you found more acceptance abroad or are things not as scary as we imagine them in Korea?

Y: It is true that my previous films were embraced more internationally than domestically, but I don’t think it’s because I was a woman. “Remember O Goddess” is my first feature film, so my previous films are all short films. When it comes to short films or ‘art’ films, women’s films are not discriminated, I think. They may have even better chance to be shown because we have a strong women’s film festival and female critics/programmers in film festivals. Regarding mainstream film industry, I haven’t tried hard enough to say that I was rejected because I was a woman. I know it’s harder for a woman to become a first AD, which can be one way to prove one’s experience qualifying to become a mainstream film director. But it’s only one way, so I don’t feel that not having that option is a big deal. Again, I can’t explain why my films were shown more internationally than domestically. Maybe because the rest of the world is bigger than Korea? :)

O: Hollywood is quite a monster of an industry so the difference between art house and mainstream is usually quite visible and tangible, but what I find lovely about Korean cinema is that it has maintained quality and creativity quite well so far, even in mainstream works. As someone on that side of the "lens", so to say, do you feel there are differences in creative freedom between mainstream and independent film in Korea and do you feel the business part of film-making might threaten this freedom in the near future?

Y: I guess independent films and mainstream films in Korea have different obstacles to reach their creative freedom. Obviously for independent films, we have very limited financial sources, small audience and rare distribution opportunities, so we always have to fight against the possibility that the film will disappear without being known to the audience. That restrains from being as independent in making creative decisions as people easily assume. For mainstream films, it seems that those directors who obtained the audience’s trust have more freedom than Hollywood directors. So it becomes the biggest challenge for the first-time directors to make the good first film within the limited creative allowance and become trust-worthy for the audience and the investors.

O: Crowd-based funding is gaining more and more popularity with independent works and said works are also proving you can do great things without spending insane amounts of money. Take a recent example of the Finnish sci-fi film "Iron Sky", which can compete with any Hollywood movie and was made with a budget of less than €10 million (even "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" had a pretty low budget for its quality and success). Obviously, fans can't finance an entire production but certain movies which did cost a pretty penny to make seem like they could have been made with a lot less. Do you feel client-as-producer could become a more common way of getting certain films done or helping other films along?

Y: As you said, in many cases, it’s not possible for a film to be funded only by fans. However, since the public is now able to express their opinions in making decisions on which projects are worth to fund, the investors will need to listen to the voice of fans. I believe the bigger crowd-funding grows, the more diverse films will be made, which could have been rejected by the traditional investors. It’ll probably change the trend of mainstream films in the future.

O: Going to "Remember O Goddess" now, the lead character is quite a challenging one to act. A lot of actors are good with lines or with body language and some might lack talents, but have a strong on-screen presence. However, managing subtlety and expressiveness at the same time and having a natural charisma coupled with good skills is a very tough combo to get. When was that moment when you realized "Ok, this guy is the one" (Kim Jung Tae)?

Y: I usually write scripts with existing actors set in my mind no matter how expensive it’ll cost to cast them. It helps me to make the characters more actable. However, when I wrote the original story of Remember O Goddess 17 years ago, I didn’t have the habit. So as I rewrote the story into a screenplay, I went a bit unrealistic. To be honest, I had Bill Murray, Jim Carrey or Kitano Takeshi in my mind. So when we started to make a list of casting preference for the role, I had no idea who I had to work with. I wanted to work with an actor who had a long career but never played a role like our hero as Jim Carrey did in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I went over a blog that has a database of Korean actors in alphabetical order. As soon as I discovered Kim Jungtae, I stopped there and decided to contact him. I had no idea how he’ll create the character but definitely wanted to see it and believed that it’ll be great.

O: I would guess that making a "slower" movie would be often more challenging than making a high-octane one, because it needs to keep the viewer's attention without being fast-paced and loaded with happenings and characters. Do you feel that guess is accurate and was it a challenge to create that attention-grabbing and engagement in this film, which very much has it?

Y: I think each story has its own tempo, and it’s more important to find the right rhythm no matter how fast it is. I took a Jazz History class during my graduate study and vividly remember one lesson. The professor let us listen and feel that what made Duke Ellington the best arranger of Jazz History was his ability to decide the very best tempo of each music. I guess the job of a film director is similar to Jazz band master. We need to understand the story and discover the exact rhythm of its nature.

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