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Ko - production in Busan
  • Master of Irony, Black Comedy and Action
  • by JEONG Han-seok /  Dec 11, 2015
  • WON Shin-yun of A BLOODY ARIA and 7 DAYS
    WON Shin-yun’s reputation as a film director first was established by a short film made in 2003, Bread and Milk, featuring his brother WON Pung-yeon as the main character.
    It is about a railway repair laborer who has been fired a few days prior with no notification at all. With no other way to earn a living, he attempts at a false suicide on the railway, in the hope that his death benefit will feed his children. However, things keep going wrong. First of all, he fails at the first attempt because of diarrhea, probably due to the milk that he just ate. Then a rock slips down onto the middle of the railway. If the rock is not removed, a lot of people may get injured. Then of course his fraud suicide will fail too. 
    From then on, this film changes phase and turns into the story of a man desperately trying to remove a rock, from a story of a fired man attempting suicide. It has become a black comedy of a man’s heroic struggle at a desperate situation, creating an irony of life.
    WON worked as a martial art director in the mainstream film industry. Based on such experience, he created bodily action in Bread and Milk, and depicted the irony of life. Bread and Milk was often talked about as the best short of the year and WON re-entered Korean cinema, this time not as a martial art director but as a very promising rookie director.
    A Bloody Aria, a Black Comedy of Hell

    WON’s feature debut was The wig (2005), a horror piece. This film was not so successful, as it lacked his typical traits including black comedy, irony and speedy action scenes. It had too many constraints to accomplish all these virtues. In other words, The Wig was within the old formula of horror cinema, which just would not fit WON.
    Learning from his first failure, WON made A Bloody Aria (2006) which may as well be called his real debut. Here, we find everything that we may call WON’s typical traits. Let us take a look at the characters first. A Bloody Aria is based on his real life experience, and it features the kind of people that one wishes never to meet in life.
    They look as though quiet and innocent people living in the countryside, but it turns out, as time passes by, they become cruel and merciless beasts. The village they live in appears as hell with no way out. A music professor and his student, in an extramarital affair, stop by this quiet village for a date and get in a lifetime trouble.
    HAN Suk-kyu, the main persona of this film, joked to WON after completion of the film, “Now I am done with CF offers.” HAN was among the best actors to lead Korean cinema in the 1990s, playing warm and kind characters. Of course he sometimes did play unexpected characters like the one in No. 3 (1997) but he had never taken anything so evil as he did in A Bloody Aria. In other words, the casting itself aims at irony: the casting strategy was mercilessly evil HAN instead of warm and kind HAN. And the film is full of murderous spirit when LEE Mun-sik and OH Dal-su, the distinguished supporting actors of our time, are added later on.
    Therefore, the irony that A Bloody Aria represents is clear and powerful. What is to become of the paradise, the place to escape to, when it is in fact occupied by the cruelest people? If the most humble looking people are in fact the cruelest people in the world, how are we to escape from them?
    A Bloody Aria triggered debates upon release, and WON was either criticized as a bad director making extreme genre movies or praised as a talented director making black comedy with a poignant irony. However, there is one more trait of WON’s that is not yet revealed by A Bloody Aria. And that is finally shown in 7 Days (2007), his next film and his other major film.
    7 Days, Where You Keep Running and Running
    A Bloody Aria was time-constraint. It was a story that happened within 5 hours or so during the daytime. In other words, WON is interested in telling stories set within a limited time. Similarly, Bread and Milk was also limited within the time frame of a few hours during the daytime. A Bloody Aria tells the events and tension within a constraint time with well-designed characters. However, in 7 Days, a new form is employed. The power of characters is not so strong here. Instead, speedy narrative and shots are the key in 7 Days.
    Ji-yun (KIM Yun-jin) is a single mother living with her little daughter and is also a lawyer who wins 99% of the cases. It was the field day at her daughter’s school but when Ji-yun finished a race, her daughter was gone. She was kidnapped, and the kidnapper sends a crazy request. Ji-yun is to defend a culprit by the name of JUNG Chul-jin, who has been condemned with rape and murder, and who is likely to be sentenced with capital punishment in the last trial that is to be held in 7 days. If she fails to rescue him, her daughter is to die, threatens the kidnapper. Ji-yeon tries all she might to save JUNG, with help from Seong-yeol (PARK Hee-soon), a friend of hers and also a detective. The given time for her is no more than 7 days.
    She who has to observe the law now has to break it for the sake of her family. Here, WON’s trait of ironical situation is present. However, in terms of narrative coherence, it is not so appealing. It is rather typical of American dramas of which 7 Days has been aware. Instead, what 7 days focuses on is the string of dynamic and hyperactive shots. It is ridden with more than 3,600 cuts in the 2 hours of running time, which drives the film ever so fast. And that is the charm of this film. 7 Days clearly detected WON’s ability as an action film master.
    Since 7 Days, WON has spent a long time trying to turn the animation Robot Taekwon V into a feature film, but without success. Or, it is not complete yet. In the meantime, he came back with The Suspect (2013), a pure action film. It is a story of a special combat unit member who has lost his family, and how he struggles in life. The response has been mostly positive for the pleasure of action.
    WON’s next project is The Memory of a Murderer based on the novel with the same title written by KIM Young-ha. It is a story about a serial killer with an Alzheimer’s, losing his memory little by little. Seeing this new project, one can’t help but wonder, is WON trying to return to the world of ironical characters? or is he trying to equip that world of peculiar characters with some kind of new action?
    A Bloody Aria and 7 Days are available on the KOBIZ Online Screening service( KOBIZ Online Screening service is available sign up at any time, for film festival programmers, buyers and press.
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