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Ko - production in Busan
  • Gina KIM of Bloodless, a VR woman’s film
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  Jun 13, 2017
  • “Feel the violence committed on woman’s body”

    There was a terrible murder in 1992. It was the death of a prostitute in the US military camp town in Dongducheon. The pictures of her body threw a big shock to Korean society, and Gina KIM, who was a student activist at the time, was also deeply traumatized by the incident, which would shape her life.  

    Now KIM has become a director. She tells stories that focus on woman’s body and sex by means of narrative films, including Invisible Light (2004) and Never Forever (2007), and documentaries such as Gina KIM’s Video Diary (2001). In 2016, at last, she found what she consider to be the most ethical way to express the 1992 tragedy. The result is Bloodless, a VR film. KoBiz met with KIM about this new challenge, at the 19th edition of Seoul International Woman’s Film Festival.   

    Virtual Reality is a big trend in global cinema. What made you interested in VR films? 

    KANG Ji-young, a producer and professor at the Graduate School of Cinematic Contents at DanKook University, held a VR forum at the Busan International Film Festival last year, where I was asked to host one section. That is how I began to get acquainted with VR, and also how I met JEON Woo-yeol, the head of Venta VR (a VR specialized production house in Korea). Later, KANG and JEON joined Bloodless as the producer and cinematographer respectively. I learned what VR was all about and I thought it could be the key to accessing the subject matter that I’ve held on to ever since 1992; the murder case in Dongducheon. 

    Tell us about the murder case. It has been 25 years and may be unfamiliar to current audiences. 

    There have been several murder cases of military camp prostitutes. The reason why this particular murder case in 1992 drew special attention was because the pictures were widely circulated. The face was crushed by a coke bottle, and her genital area was severely destroyed. Activists protested to establish a law to protect military camp prostitutes and to revise the Status of Forces Agreement between Korea and the US so that the Korean court may investigate and judge American military criminals. However, there were mixed responses whether to circulate or not to circulate her pictures. They were finally exposed in the rationale that a shocking measure was necessary, but many woman activists, including myself thought it was against human rights. That is when I first thought this case must be reviewed again in the right way. 
    I wrote a treatment and had meetings with the producers from 1999 through 2005, but there were so many difficulties. First of all, this case was completely unknown outside Korea, and in Korea, it was a very disturbing case that nobody really wanted to look closely at. Another problem was myself. To turn it into a film I had to visualize this case one way or another, but I just could not. That is when I found out about VR. At the forum at BIFF Jeon said, “VR is a technology through which you can be somebody else, and feel someone else’s pain.,” which made me believe that I could tell the story without actually visualizing it.  

    Many VR films were made on refugees including Carne Y Arena by Alejandro González Iñárritu which screened at Cannes International Film Festival. Bloodless is all the more newer in the sense that it has incorporated woman’s issues. 

    You are right, I believe it is important that women should access VR first. Some say VR is appropriate for pornography, but I don’t think it is true at all. As soon as you use HMD, you become a passive and powerless audience. Your vision is completely hidden and your action is also limited. Therefore, it is more appropriate for the victim’s position rather than the criminal’s. So, the most effective genre for VR would be horror. It would be the most fitting medium to express the horror, hardship and fear of the socially unempowered, such as women.

    Bloodless is somewhat horror-like, too. At the beginning of the film you see the ordinary Dongducheon street and you suddenly hear woman’s high heels. And as it gets darker, the sound becomes bigger, louder, from everywhere, unexpectedly, and finally you see the young woman. She approaches slowly, until she goes through your body, and then, you are in a small room, where the floor is covered with blood. It is the murder site in 1992. 

    First of all it was important to erase the poster image circulated in 1992. So I wanted to build a site of violence without woman’s body. That actual place was still there but there were residents so we went to find a similar place, in the same area with similar structure. Though the site was not exactly reenacted for this particular case only, what you see in the film is the reality itself, barely any design done on it. There is a mirror in the small room, which bears a 5 digit phone number, meaning it was made in the 1960s. Their space is frozen in the 1960s. I had to show Dongducheon streets in the film because they were still there. I thought hard as to how to relate all the different space elements, and I finally came up with a woman as a mediator, which is not a human being nor a ghost. Through her direction the audience is kind of caught in the small room which was also the crime scene, and you see part of the dead body in the mirror towards the end of the film. I wanted to program it in such a way where the film does not end until the audience discovers the body, but I had to give up, due to budget limitation.  

    You need more screening opportunities so that this case becomes more widely known. 

    It was screened at UCLA where I teach, and now I am discussing with many different international film festivals and galleries. Later, I am hoping to distribute it through VR distribution networks. 

    Are you working on a narrative film as well? 

    I am working on a film based on a scenario by KIM Sun-ah, the head of Crayon Film who is also one of the producers of Bloodless. I am full of expectations as it is my first Korean narrative film that I will make in Korea. It is a thriller centering on women, and casting is pretty much complete. Production will hopefully begin towards the end of this year. Unlike woman’s thrillers so far, it is going to be a hard-core revenge drama.
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