“This Film is about the collision of individuals’ different beliefs.”
YANG Woo-suk made his film debut in his mid-40s. By the time The Attorney became an unexpected box office hit and social issue, people were dying to know who this rookie was, as little is known about him even within the film circle. People kept asking “who on earth is YANG Woo-suk?" Therefore this interview was conducted in part to quench this thirst about YANG, who is quickly becoming a central figure in Korean cinema.
- Could you tell us about your career before The Attorney?
I began my film career as a producer, planning, supervising investment and recruiting new directors. I was also very interested in film technology and taught myself about HD and CG technologies as there were not many experts in those fields until a few years ago. I helped producing Desire, which was an HD film, and I'm also working on an animation that heavily relied on CG before I started making The Attorney.
- You were planning The Attorney for a long time.
I started paying attention to ROH Moo-hyun for the first time back in 1988, when a big hearing was going on in the national assembly. His independent work during the merging of the main parties in 1992 definitely made me curious about him. I wanted to know his life path, during which he seemed to choose the toughest and hardest options that were available. I thought there must be something very significant to have pursued such an authentic life path, which I might turn into a film. However, he became president and had a tragic death in the end, which made me hold off on realizing the project. But then I began to think about today’s young generation living a difficult life in tough economic conditions, and I wanted to deliver a story to console and motivate them. Originally I planned it as a webtoon, a medium the young generation has easy access to, but one thing led to another and it finally became a film.
- In today’s sensitive political climate, producing this film must not have been easy.
Because this film deals with a real person, it was not easy at first. However, once I made up my mind, I knew I just had to get it done, and in 2012 I thought I’d go the independent route if I had to. It was also back then when I decided to direct the film myself so that it would not lose its original color. When SONG Kang-ho agreed to join us, it was reframed as a popular film as opposed to an independent film and things started to proceed quite smoothly.
- For a debut film, the overall tone is very confident. Which films would you say inspired you?
I am interested in films that tell stories of people who struggle hard to stick to their beliefs when they come into conflict with outside environments. Films like A Man for All Seasons (1966), featuring Thomas Moore who remained true to his belief even in the face of death, The Insider (1999), which is a story of a man at a tough crossroads in his life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) by Frank Capra whom I like very much. The Attorney is a film where a pure and innocent person attempts to change the world, and I wanted to pursue a traditional, classic approach with it.
- You could have featured ROH Moo-hyun the politician instead of ROH Moo-hyun the human rights attorney.
I wanted to grasp the very moment when a man dramatically and radically changed. I wanted to focus on that very instant, and I thought it was when he was working as an attorney before becoming a politician, rather than when he worked as a minister or president. I wanted to investigate the enormous change in him, which was so dramatic and radical that, from then on, it motivated him to choose the toughest and hardest paths throughout his life.
- The contrast between good and evil is very strong. However, people in real life mostly fall in the gray zone in between, rather than being black or white.
I think I dealt with the conflict between people’s different beliefs rather than between good and evil. The antagonist CHA Dong-young is not exactly an evil guy but rather a convincing person from that time. He firmly believed that he was working towards a sacred goal, and had no doubt in what he was doing. Besides, everybody except SONG Woo-suk (the main role played by SONG Kang-ho) and CHA Dong-young fall into that gray zone.
- What kind of social impact did you expect The Attorney might have?
One of the things that I always had in my mind was that I had to be very careful with the subject matter as it could be a highly political message and perceived as propagandistic. Also the staff and everyone involved in the film implicitly agreed that we had to make it a universal story within the framework of a commercial film. With so many things to consider, I had little room to really have any clear expectations about its impact on society.
- How much do you think a film can intervene with reality?
There is certainly a propagandist limit for film and literature. However, they can at least make people pay more attention to social issues. I have met many viewers who realized the troubles in real life by hearing a siren in the film. I agree when they say that humanity’s imagination is withering these days, and it is in the awareness of such as crisis that books on humanity have become popular. Besides, discontentment in real life was also a reason for the film’s passionate reception.
- The response to the ending has been mixed.
The ending was already set at the very beginning of the project and nothing changed during the making of the film. Gaining acceptance and sympathy are basic parts of man’s happiness. I wanted to make it very clear in the film that even those who laughed at SONG ended up agreeing with him, clearly convinced. If you ended up somewhere in between, compromising, the audience simply would’ve turned a deaf ear. That would have been so sad and pessimistic.
- Are you planning on carrying on your film career as a director?
I think I’ll still be interested in film, at least for a while, since it is an apt format to deliver a story. However, I don’t really insist on film and I don’t want to confine myself within the field, as I see myself more as a storyteller than a director. A lot of stress came with directing The Attorney so I would like to work on films with less tension for a while. It may be a feature film or an animation, nothing is concrete for the time being. You need to be lucky as well when you are involved in big budget projects like films, and every project follows its own path, just like people do. I would like to reach out to audiences as often as possible, no matter what the genre or format. So who knows? My next project may very well be a novel or a webtoon.
By LEE Yong-cheol(Film Critic)