Getting Off to a Fresh Start
“I wanted to make simple ‘Bibimbap’”
▶ LEE Jong-pil, the director of Born to Sing
A kid who watched Korea’s longest TV program, “Nationwide Song Contest” on his grandfather’s lap grew into a filmmaker and directed a film about the TV show. Director LEE impressed viewers with his acting as a detective in The Man from Nowhere
(2010), a LEE Jeong-beom
film. But his main job is directing. LEE’s first commercial film, Born to Sing
simply and emotionally portrays various groups of people who take part in the amateur song contest. Born to Sing ,
with its many characters, feels like a well mixed bowl of Bibimbap (boiled rice with assorted ingredients). Just like Love Actually,
the film features balanced episodes. As Born to Sing
is a Korean film, he sought to make it like Bibimbap. The story of KIM In-kwon
and RYU Hyun-kyung
corresponds with rice. YOO Yeon-seok
and LEE Cho-hee
represent “Gochujang” (red pepper paste). The story of OH Hyun-kyung
and his granddaughter KIM Hwan-hee is something like nice-smelling “Doenjangguk” (bean paste soup). They are different but their stories meet through their songs.
- The last scene, which shows the back of SONG Hae, the emcee of the TV show, is quite impressive.
Originally I planned to use the scene in the opening but I was afraid that it would make the film feel more like a documentary. So I shot the film with a focus on the characters and attached the scene at the end. Therefore, the scene is more of a dedication or homage to emcee SONG. Two years ago, I went to a place where the show was taped to collect information about the show. “Today, you are the heroes and heroines of the show,” SONG told contestants. “Don’t be shy. Enjoy yourself.” It was an interesting experience for me.
- How did you meet LEE Kyung-kyu, one of the most popular comedians in Korea and the producer of this film.
A friend of mine introduced me to LEE Kyung-kyu after my graduation from the Korean National University of Arts. “I hope that you will not have any prejudice against me,” LEE Kyung-kyu told me when we drank together. He also said that he wanted to make a movie like Gran Torino, the Clint Eastwood film. That impressed me so I decided to team up with him to shoot a film. When I was preparing for another film while boarding and lodging in an office, LEE asked me to cinematize Born to Sing. I finished the work in a week. Then LEE asked me to direct the film. After agonizing, I asked my mother about the project. My mother advised me to shoot the film. I directed it while asking myself if my mother would like the finished product.
- You also took part in the TV show for the film.
In 2010, I took part in the show along with a writer. Not only outgoing people but also introspective people took part in the show. It seemed like they bet their lives on singing. They sang to prove that they were alive. Their singing demonstrated who they were. I failed to pass the preliminary.
- You played a detective in The Man from Nowhere. Are you willing to act again?
I did not get the part through an audition. I had acted in independent films. So, I got a call as a result of this. I like all film work, whether it is photographing, acting or directing. I entered film school because of my dream about films after quitting photography. I picked up the Grand Prize at the Shin Sang-ok Film Festival for Light My Fire
(2007). But my main job is directing. So I've decided not to act. Well, who knows?
by JUNG Hyun-mok | photographed by KIM Sung-ryong
“I Want to Make Films with Distinguished Characters”
▶ JEONG Keun-seob, Director of Montage
After the statute of limitations on a 15-year-old kidnap and murder case of a child expires, a similar kidnap case occurrs. The mother who lost her child 15 years ago and the detective in charge of the case begin to search for the criminal. The plot of Montage
is not simple. Director JEONG made his directorial debut through Montage
, a well staged drama.
- Montage is your first film as a director and has received good reviews.
I am still nervous. It is said that it is usually difficult for thrillers to receive good reviews from audiences. During a preview, I notice good responses. That encouraged me a lot. When I began to write the scenario in 2010, the statute of limitations was a hot social issue. Last year, Confession of Murder
also dealt with the statute of limitations. I assume that Confession of Murder
were planned around that time. As I began to have interest in this issue, I thought of choosing a mother who lost a child as a heroine. At first, I wrote a screenplay for a short. But the story expanded so I changed it into a feature film.
contacted me first after reading the script. KIM waited for a long time until I completed the script. I really appreciated it. Even if the film was produced by a new production company and a rookie director, the project was able to attract a lot of investment thanks to KIM. (Laughs) UHM played a similar role in Princess Aurora
in the past. But I believed that UHM would show something new. I asked KIM to be a strong man in the film.
Later KIM was so immersed in playing his character that he said that he would shave his head. Needless to say, I said “No.” (Laughs) It wasn't an easy part for UHM, either. UHM had to continue to act like a mother who lost her kid. UHM and I talked a lot about it. Fortunately, UHM did very well.
- Montage takes advantage of time differences. In the film, the kidnap from 15 years ago and the current kidnap case seem to take place at the same time.
I prepared a film project before Montage. But the project was scratched even after it failed to secure investors. Its scenario was a race against time. At that time, I thought a lot about the problem. So, now I can handle that kind of problem. I worried a lot about the possibility that audiences would have difficulty understanding the story. But I cheered myself up after watching Memento or Babel.
- You have kept a low profile since taking part in Hi Dharma, a PARK Chul-kwan film as an assistant director in 2001. What have you done since?
Many people left the film world when things were tough. After Hi Dharma, I faced a lot of trouble as a project that I prepared for five years was cancelled and many other “non-film” things tormented me. Nonetheless, I steadily signed deals to write screenplays. It is regrettable that those screenplays were not turned into movies. (Laughs) But looking back, I learned many lessons over the past 10 years. I want to shoot a film led by its characters but also with an sturdy plot. I want to make a movie whose characters can appeal to spectators. I also want to make a more gripping thriller in the future, too. I am thinking about shooting a historic film next.
by IM Joo-ri | photographed by PARK Jong-keun
“Let’s Think about Memories and Healing”
▶ JEONG Ik-hwan, director of Happiness for Sale
“I wanted to express a recovery of human emotions through stationery stores, a space of old memories,” said director JEONG who made his debut as a director with Happiness for Sale
. This is a feel-good film. This film tells the story of Mi-na. In the film, Mi-na, a public worker in a large city, happens to run a stationery store in a small town instead of her father after he comes down with an illness. While running the store, Mi-na heals her mental wounds. Props from the past will remind viewers of their childhood memories.
- Do you have any memories about stationery stores?
Once I was caught stealing a chocolate cookie at a stationery store when I was a kid. I was afraid that the owner of the store would tell my mother. But the owner gave me a light punishment. (Laughs) I traveled around for one year to collect information about stationery stores. There were still kids at these stationery stores. Stationery stores are special to children as they are spaces where they communicate for the first time outside of their schools. Stationery stores, one of the businesses in decline, are related to the theme of this film. This film gives viewers a chance to bring back their childhood memories.
- Why did you choose this film as your debut work?
I like the process where Mi-na (CHOI Gang-hee
) discovers her father’s hidden but true love for her while running the store. I would like to show that people with mental scars can recover through the love and friendship of the people around them. I wanted to talk about an emotional recovery. I wanted to console audience and healed them through the way Mi-na agonizes and changes. I will be happy if audiences think, “I need such a healing process.”
- It must have been difficult for you to make a film with child actors and actresses, right?
The adult actors and actresses had a hard time. But I had fun working with the child actors. “You seem happier with children,” our lighting director told me. I do not make friends so that I can use them. Maybe this worked with the children. The method was simple and pure. They paid attention to me when I talked to them with my gestures. After shooting the film, we were about to leave for Seoul, and the child actors and children who watched our work cried as they felt sad about us leaving them. At that time, I thought “My film will help children have warm hearts like those of these children.”
- The flat bench looks like a play table and resting place for kids.
They can take a rest and talk with their friends on the bench. If a bench under a big zelkova tree is a resting place for senior citizens, a bench in front of a stationery store is a resting place for children. Such memories encourage people when things are tough. I still remember lying down and chatting with my friends under an acacia tree in a mountain during my childhood. Such memories make me comfortable. In the film, the children resist the adults as the adults try to remove them from such a place.
by JUNG Hyun-mok | photographed by KIM Sung-ryong