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Ko - production in Busan
  • by KIM Su-bin /  Jun 19, 2018
  • “My films are non-fiction films that feel like fiction”

    JUNG Yoon-suk, a film director, and an artist made two non-fiction films to examine Korean society. In his debut feature Non Fiction Diary (2014), he dealt with the “Jijon Clan”, a group of notorious serial killers, and depicted the 90s when many big scandals made the headlines and Korea was embracing capitalism. With his second feature film Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno (2017), JUNG told the story of punk band Bamseom Pirates, and shed light on the pressure of the society against communism. At the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, Non Fiction Diary won the Best Asian film award, while more recently, Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno won the Grand Prize at the Wildflower Film Awards Korea. We met with director JUNG Yoon-suk who has been gaining the attention of critics both in Korea and abroad.

    -What are you working on these days?
    I’m working on my third film. I even showed a preview of this work in progress at my recent personal exhibition, “Eyebrows”. I majored in art, and it is quite by accident that I started making films while working as an artist. It took me 10 years to make two feature-length films. People thought I wasn’t producing art anymore. It is to refocus my career on visual arts that I prepared for this exhibition. Then, the gallery suggested that I should show a preview of my next film, so I decided to display it first as an artwork.

    - A turning point in Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno is when PARK Jung-geun, the producer of the band, gets charged with violating the National Security Law. This big incident happened while you were shooting the film. Did you ever think ahead of the filming that your work would need a dramatic episode to bring up a larger debate?
    I thought the band itself was already a huge topic for discussion. The most oppressive and intimidating thing in Korea is the “red complex”, the repression against communism. Bamseom Pirates talk about North Korea, but in turn, they’re also mocking the authoritarianism in South Korea. Among their songs, there is one titled “Hurray, Kim Jong-il”, but it might as well be “Hurray, Park Chung-hee”. To Bamseom Pirates, the three generations of Kim Jong-il’s family and Park Chung-hee’s years of dictatorship aren’t much different. They also question the patriarchal system in Korean society, but I was first drawn to them when they used North Korea as their main theme. Also, the argument didn’t come from academics or elites. Instead, a band, which is commonly categorized as part of an extreme subculture, was the one doing it. Moreover, the band is not particularly conscious of what they’re doing, and that made them more charming. If they really wanted to save this world, I don’t think they would’ve agreed to be in the film. Since their songs are poetic, I wanted to translate them very well to the screen. While we were shooting, one of the band members, KWON Yong-man, was offered by novelist JANG Jeong-il to participate in the publication of a collection of poems, and he was thus able to start his literary career through Silcheon Literature. The band’s producer PARK Jung-geun was also arrested for violating the National Security Law. When I look back at all that happened, I think I made the right choice.

    -It’s important to understand the context of the times to understand these two films. Things have changed a lot since you produced and showed them. Does this make you more careful when you choose your next topic?
    It sounds like you’re asking me if I practice self-censorship. I have to say no since the subjects I’ve chosen are all very strong. The first film was about cannibal serial killers, while in the second one you can hear people screaming “Hurray, Kim Jong-il” throughout the film. If Non Fiction Diary is dealing with neoliberalism and death penalty, Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno talks about the National Security Law and the Red Complex. I believe these issues outline the Korean society as a whole. Many people told me that it would never pass censorship and that I would end up on the blacklist. After hearing that so many times, I felt like my job wouldn’t be complete until I got my name added to the blacklist. In the end, I was on Korean Film Council’s blacklist. Had I been aiming for a theatrical release, I think I would have censored myself. However, my goal was to watch “Hurray, Kim Jong-il” in a theater, so there was no way I would go through such a process. I thought watching this song on a big screen would be an important and symbolic act, and that it would be a cultural way to react to Korean society’s Red Complex. I thought people would be taken by surprise at first when they would discover such approach, but that would eventually make them laugh after a while. It would allow us to overcome our fears.

    -It’s easy to spot your artistic influence through the visual design, the animations, and the soundtrack in Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno.
    It might be because I majored in arts, but I prefer to tell with images instead of words. It was the same for Non Fiction Diary, but I thought it would be more appropriate to use such images with moderation, while with Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno, I thought this style (using graphic designs) really suited the film. Bamseom Pirates’ music is loud, distracting, rough, and the words are hard to understand.

    -How did you start your latest project?
    In short, the theme of my next film is “human”. It started with a picture taken in Chengdu, China. It was a picture of thrown out sex dolls that were being used as scarecrows by a farmer. In the background, behind the field, were high-rise apartments. I thought that this single picture had a lot of stories in it. Originally, I went into this project with the idea that it would become the third installment of a trilogy based on the theme of the nation. I started “Eyebrows” thinking it would be quick and easy, but it has been difficult. I finished about 50 to 60% of it.

    -Would you ever want to make a fictional film?
    I get that question a lot. I think that more than documentary filmmakers, directors of fictional movies tend to like my work more. It was the case, especially with Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno. It may be a documentary, but it has entertaining elements that make it feel like a fictional film. When I tell others about my film, I tell them it’s a non-fiction film that feels like a fiction instead of calling it a documentary. We shot over 600 hours of footage for Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno, and the files take up 20TB in storage space. We cut it down to just 2 hours, this means that what we show isn’t really the truth. It’s more like a sculpture that we shaped. I strongly believe that we’ve conceived protagonists that carry the properties of a fictional creation. Even when I present my films abroad, I introduce my cast as “actors”. Since I make films that seem more fictional than actual fictional films, I don’t have a desire to shoot fictional films. There is still a lot of things I want to try with non-fiction films, and I also want to make more new films. Once this ambition dies, I want to try making fictional films.
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