• Interview


When Finding Myself from the Antagonist's Face, Director Lim Sangsu of Drown

Aug 23, 2022
  • Writerby KIM Subin
  • View1580

"I hope the sharp emotions I felt when writing the script can reach the audience as they are."



Dowoo (Lee Joongok) runs an old motel in Hwacheon, Gangwon-do Province. On the night, when he is sleeping soundly, a murder takes place in his motel, and his elderly mother suffering from dementia goes missing on the same day. The villagers, who called Dowoo a filial son, suspect him first. In the meantime, even a young guest, who appears out of nowhere and hovers around Dowoo, makes him feel uncomfortable. The movie Drown is the directorial feature debut of Lim Sangsu from the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), which builds up a thriller mood by overlapping the suspicious characters and the snowy winter lake. The film was invited to the 51st Rotterdam International Film Festival and the 23rd Jeonju International Film Festival


- What is the momentum that made you write the script of Drown? 

Ahead of my 40s, I felt lots of fear and anxiety. I was trying to write something, but it didn't work out around that time. So, I went to Taebaek to write honestly about the shaky feeling that I felt. Looking at the motel I stayed in and the loneliness I felt from the surroundings, I thought the appearance of the motel being eliminated seemed similar to me at that time. Also, since I am the youngest child in the family, I am concerned about my mother's health condition. I wrote the story based on the feelings I felt around that time.




- Tell us how come you paid attention to the place Paroho Lake? 

At first, I wrote a short story, and it didn't have a lake as its background. As I expanded it into a feature film, I thought it would be nicer to have a dam and a lake in the story. That's mainly because I thought the main character Dowoon should have a haven. Paroho Lake is a place where Dowoo staying in the motel all day long can pop out briefly to have fresh air. Also, the image of the character and the lake seems similar in that a lake is stagnant and locked up. While searching for a place with the keyword 'lake,' I found the place named Paroho Lake. Looking at the explanation of the lake, saying 'It's the lake where the barbarians were driven out,' I hit on an idea of bringing a kind of barbarians to the place. While making the film into the feature version, Hoseung, the antagonist character was newly added to the story.


- What impression did you get from Paroho Lake when you visited it in person? 

It was in the middle of winter when I decided to write the script for the feature version after returning to Seoul and completing the short story. So, when I went to Paroho Lake, the water was frozen, and I heard a loud sound of artillery fire around it. I thought the people around the region could have some hysteria because they have to keep hearing such a dreadful sound. And while searching for the articles for reference, I found out that some local people opposed the relocation of the military base. I thought the ironic duality seemed quite interesting because they must've been suffering from the sound of artillery fire and hating it, but they also opposed the plan to relocate the military base at the same time.



- You vaguely expressed Hoseung (Kim Daegun), the antagonist character in the film. The character looks like a suspect in a murder case, but he also can be seen as an alter ego of the main character. How did you want to depict the character? 

I thought that the antagonist character could be rather boring if his identity was defined clearly. As you said, Hoseung can be portrayed as a criminal or an alter ego of the main character simultaneously. I thought Hoseung had to keep going in and out of the boundary in the film. The same is true in terms of the theme of the film. The main character Dowoo also seems to be a good person, but there is a devilish attribute inside of his heart. While being suspected by the local people, Dowoo is also anxious and confused, raising doubts about himself in a way. I wanted to make a film that even the main character of the story could be confused about. Making the character Hoseung, I thought of the mysterious character of the film Cure.


- Along with Hoseung's vague identity, it is not clear whether the situation Dowoo is facing is an illusion or a reality. Tell us why you decided to keep the vagueness to the end of the film. 

Many people around me said that the audience would love the film more if it had a clear ending. I fully understood such opinions, but I thought it would be less fun if Hoseung's identity became clear. Also, since the overall concept of the film is that something can be different from its appearance on the surface, I thought I should maintain the vagueness to the end. In addition, I hoped the sharp emotions that I had felt when writing the script could reach the audience.


- We can read the social context throughout the film. There are scenes that show the military culture, such as introducing Paroho Lake as a place where tens of thousands of the soldiers of the Chinese communist army were buried during the Korean War, as well as the scenes showing marching soldiers. It also includes scenes showing the demonstrations to prevent the relocation of a military base. 

I wanted to show the vibe of a military city and convey the ambiguous feelings of the violence and anxiety surrounding the border area. I also want to show that such a vibe and feelings don't match Dowoo's dispositions. Although Dowoo is a native of the region, he has suffered from the environment because it's not in line with Dowoo's tendencies. That's why I wanted to describe the place more as a town full of military culture. I also included protesting scenes to show the interesting dual nature of those who always shout for peace but say that there should be a military force when the military base should be relocated.



- Dowoo's face is important in this film. Tell us the background of casting Actor Lee Joongok. 

I watched Actor Lee Joongok's acting clip recommended by the directing team. His face in the clip enabled me to imagine Dowoo's image in the second half of the film. And I found out that he played a lot of villain characters before. Since Dowoo seems to be a good guy in the first part of the film, I thought he shouldn't be suspected as a villain at first. So I thought it would be difficult for me to cast him as the main character if he was imprinted on the public as a villainous character. However, when I met him and talked to him, I found out that he is quiet and considerate. Also, he's not the type who speaks out what he wants directly. That's why I thought he could successfully understand and express Dowoo's character. Looking at the results, I feel that the film owed Actor Lee Joongok a lot.


- You chose the thriller genre as your directorial feature debut. Are you a big fan of thrillers? 

I usually wrote drama scripts before that so I thought about the reason I came to write a thriller. I watched a lot of Korean films in the 2000s. There were many thrillers in Korean movies at that time, and I worked on twisting them somehow. I wrote a lot of dark stories in my 30s, and I think a dark story and a thriller met in this film.


- You started your career in film as a directing team member for Fly Penguin directed by Yim Soonrye. 

It was my first career in the directing team after graduating from college. After that, I worked in the directing team for Director Yim Soonrye's Rolling Home With A Bull. While watching how Director Yim communicated with actors from a distance, I could learn a lot, and it helped me do this work. When meeting actors for the first time, Director Yim tends to talk about how they have lived and what they like rather than talking about the roles or characters. In the meantime, she sees if there is a point where the actor and the character can agree. The more such points there are, the more comfortable they seem to talk in the field. I showed her Drown, and she just smiled at me once. Director Yim doesn't usually express her feelings to me.


- Since when did you like movies? 

I liked to watch movies in high school. I joined a club when I was in college, but I mistakenly joined the one making movies instead of watching movies. However, I couldn't quit it since I got treated to drinks a lot. (Laughs) It was a system that even the freshmen should make movies during the summer vacation. The experience of making a movie at that time was so intense, and when I edited the movie, I felt that it was the most fun of my life. That feeling lasted in my memory for a long time. After graduating from college, I worked in a directing team and wrote scripts, but I returned to directing again. Among the various areas of filmmaking, I think I could enjoy directing most in that I could talk about the stories in me.


- After gaining experience in the field of making movies, you entered the Korean Academy of Film Arts.

After writing the script for Drown, I entered the feature research course and filmed a feature film. There were not many routes to film independent films in Korea, and I thought the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) could be the most realistic system to make movies successfully. When it comes to KAFA, it's quite reliable to actors, and the education system is superb, too.



- What kind of work are you working on now? 

I am writing a script based on what is happening in the park. It can be a thriller genre, too. I want to do better because I can see the mistakes I made before and what I couldn't do in the previous work.


- How do you want the audience to enjoy this film? 

I think the style, rhythm, and atmosphere of Drown are a little different from previous thrillers. So, I think the audience can enjoy it a lot more if they consider such points while opening their hearts bit by bit toward the film.

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