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Ko - production in Busan
  • JUNG Bum-shik of GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM
  • by KIM Su-bin /  Apr 16, 2018
  • “How visuals and sound can let you experience horror”



    Mentioned as one of the seven scariest places on the planet by CNN, the Gonjiam Asylum is at the center of many ghost stories since its patients died in a collective suicide and the director of the hospital disappeared. A one-man horror video channel, “Horror Times” decides to put together a team of 7 people to find out the truth behind these ghost stories. JUNG Bum-shik’s newest film GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum sold 2 million tickets in just 3 weeks after its release. It is the highest-grossing Korean horror film since A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003). Several mockumentary horror films were made before, such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, but GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum is one of its kind thanks to its use of internet broadcasting and the fact that the audience can really “experience” the horror. After Epitaph (2007) and Horror Stories (2012), the director comes up once again with a horror movie. We met with him to talk about GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum as well as its behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

    -What made you want to direct GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum?
    I liked the fact that I could create fiction from an existing space. I was drawn by the idea of shooting a completely new and different film compared to other horror films.

    -How did you come up with the live streaming concept?
    I think it naturally came to me since a live streaming has become the norm. However, I wasn’t sure if it would be realistic for these people to take part in it just for money. While working on the script, I read on the news that a racing club who recorded and uploaded a race online made 100,000 dollars out of it. After seeing that, I was convinced doing the live streaming show for money would definitely sound realistic.

    -There is a coffin with a hole at chest level, a moving doll, and a room with water above and below. Were there any references you used to come up with these props and spaces?
    The coffin is based on a torturing equipment used during the Japanese occupation, and the idea for the moving doll just came to me. As for room 402, it’s a mysterious space that has never been visited before. It’s introduced three times in the movie, and I was thinking about how I should set it up to make it even more grotesque. After setting up the room with props, I noticed a hole in the ceiling so we decided to fill it with water through computer graphics. Then I got the idea to change the room every time it’s shown. Because I was considerate of the budget, I didn’t dare think about filling the floor with water but the production manager said: “Wouldn’t it be better to flood the bottom too?”. I agreed with him right away and we were able to achieve the final design of the space with water above and below.

    -There were many cameras involved, and the point of view changes quite often. I assume the editing must have been difficult. What were your priorities with the editing?
    Firstly, rhythm and tempo. Secondly, keeping up the suspense and tension. Thirdly, adding just enough fixed shots and wide-angle shots to reduce the dizziness without bringing down the tension. Those three elements were what I considered the most important.

    -Planning the camera movements must have been difficult too. How did you allocate the shots to be taken by the actors and those to be taken by the camera team? 
    There were four sources of shots for GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum; shots taken by the actors themselves, shots of their faces and their point of view filmed with cameras attached to their bodies, and the CCTV footage that shows the space around them. Aside from the small number of CCTV shots, all footages were taken by our actors who received training and followed our plan meticulously. I want to applaud them for this.

    -A film that explores locations and is shot from a first-person perspective would be suitable for VR. Do you have any intention of shooting a VR horror film?
    I believe people ultimately go watch horror films for the experience. That’s why I’m interested in formats that would emphasize this experience. Actually, I’ve been asked to shoot a short VR horror film.

    - GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum has been sold to 47 countries. Mockumentary horror films is a genre well known overseas but many international film professionals were interested in GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum. Why do you think so?
    People don’t expect to see anything new from mockumentary horror films, but this is a type of horror to experience. On top of that, I believe the visuals and the sound played a huge role in drawing people’s interests. 

    -Aside from Casa Amor; Exclusive for Ladies (2015), all of your films have been horror pieces. Is there a reason why you favor this genre?
    With my debut film Epitaph, even if it was a horror film, I focused on the aesthetic value. It turned out to be successful, so I had a breakthrough; times have changed and the audience wants more exciting movies. In horror films, since you cannot predict the jump scares, the audience has to always pay attention to the screen. As long as there is an element of ‘fear’ to convince the investors and the audience, you are free to try something experimental or aesthetically different in commercial horror films. I think that’s what keeps attracting me in horror films. I also really enjoy working on the editing and sounds that will keep the audience on their toes.

    -What kind of films do you want to make?
    Films that can satisfy the investors, the audience and myself.

    -We’re curious about your next project.
    It’ll be a horror film but it could expand to other genres. I’m preparing a big project.
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