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Ko - production in Busan
  • JISEUL Director O-Muel
  • by Song Ji-hwan /  Jan 17, 2013
  • “I Never Thought This Movie Would Play in the U.S.”

    Jiseul stole the show at the 17th Busan International Film Festival by winning four prizes. As a result, the Sundance Film Festival and International Rotterdam Festival invited Jiseul to be screened at their world-renowned festivals. Director O Muel said that he was not familiar with these festivals. O initially wanted Jiseul to be screened in the Berlin International Film Festival due to its being a movie about the aftermath of the Cold War period.
    - Jiseul was selected as the Independent Film of 2012 by the Association of Korean Independent Film and Video.
    I was initially unaware of this title and regarding Sundance, I had to seek out information about the festival after Jiseul was invited for a screening there. Frankly speaking, I did not realize the value of winning prizes at the Busan International Film Festival. I was on Jeju Island when I heard that Jiseul received a prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival. That award did not excite me either, (Laughs) I was indifferent. I have received many praises for my accomplishments with Jiseul. I have enjoyed these honors and am very grateful for them.
    - Did you want to inform people about the April 3rd Incident, a tragedy in Korean history?
    That was quite important for me as I heard that one of my aunts passed away at that time. I felt it was important to inform viewers of the incident and look back on Korean history via this film.
    - “By Order of the U.S. Military Government” appears at the beginning and end of the movie as a subtitle. You must be curious about audiences’ responses to this movie, right?
    Frankly speaking, I was hoping that among all of the many overseas film festivals it would be selected for Berlin. This is because many political events occurred in Berlin and as Jiseul is a movie about the aftermath of the Cold War, I wanted people to watch the movie there. Instead, I received a call from the Sundance Film Festival. I felt that the choice of Sundance was made for different reasons. I am appreciative of the fact that Sundance invited Jiseul despite the fact that the movie contains a negative aspect of American history. “To have this movie screen in the U.S. was one of our goals when we made this movie,” I once said. At first, we thought that the movie might be invited to the Berlin International Film Festival. This is because we thought that the movie would not be screened in the U.S. (Laughs) Informing people of this perilous incident through the film is another of its major achievements I think.
    - You have directed many movies about Jeju Island. What is your intent or philosophy regarding your work?
    I have one unforgettable memory. Once, after borrowing some money, I went to Daehakno, Seoul from Jeju Island to watch a fringe theater performance about poet LEE Sang.  However, the performance was cancelled due to the rupture of the intestines of an actor. I sat at a park for a long time and went to the theater and protested against the cancellation. I was so sad that tears nearly came into my eyes. “Another actor will play after practicing. So come again in three days,” the theater told me. I borrowed some more money and spent three days at a cheap inn. I returned to Jeju Island after watching the play twice as I thought that I deserved to do so. I wept in the airplane to Jeju Island. Until I became a middle school student, my family was so poor that we lived in a vinyl house with candles for lighting. Fortunately, I did not have any trouble due to poverty. In the airplane back to Jeju, I felt that I could overcome any material poverty, but not psychological poverty.
    I felt sad about the cultural poverty of the Jeju region, so I wept for it. I kept these memories in my mind. In the beginning, I began to make films with an unyielding spirit. Then, I began to pay attention to the people on the island. I felt like this in the airplane. Since then, I have thought, “Those who recognize these issues should do the work.” As a result, I changed my focus to the Jeju region and began to understand the real lives of the people on the island. I naturally began to love them and the island. In my middle and late 30s, I felt, “This island has had a profound and undisputable contribution to my life.” “My mother gave birth to me there. Another mother called 'Jeju Island' raised me alongside my biological mother” I often thought. The effects of film were huge. I think people have great expectations about cinematic roles. Even though it was not my intention, I feel that people around me expect me to play a cinematic role as a director from Jeju Island. So nowadays, I think a lot about that. (Laughs)
    - “My only wish is for all the people around the world to watch my movie,” you said in an interview. Did you fulfill your wish to a certain degree as your film will be shown in the Sundance Film Festival and the International Rotterdam Festival?
    I think this is the beginning of fulfilling my wish. I am uncertain of how long I will direct movies, but it is best for me to have a big dream. There are many people who think that the April 3 Incident is limited as part of the history of Jeju. But we should look at this incident in terms of Korean history and world history. I will feel honored if I establish a foothold or generate a proposal to have people recognize the incident as part of our history through Jiseul. Moreover, somebody should build on that in the future.
    - Is your next work related to Jeju?
    My next project is about female divers and it will have a brighter tone. Only ten days have passed since I began to plan it and I have now begun to write a scenario.  I do not enjoy making money for others by directing commercial movies so acquiring production costs is still an open question. Mostly I am contemplating a film that can examine the characteristics and culture of the region by popularizing a story about Jeju. The essence of the story is that female divers partake in synchronized swimming. It is a local movie, but I want to find out whether or not local movies can attract moviegoers.
    - When will Jiseul open?
    The movie will begin to play in Jeju on March 1. Three weeks later, the film will premiere at the associations of independent movies and videos in Seoul and other regions. However, I have some concerns. The film has considerable cinematic qualities but it may not find a large audience as the distribution and PR marketing systems for it are comparatively weak, which concerns me. The Associations of Jeonbuk and Busan Independent Film and Video, Gangneung Shinyeong Theater, and Daegu Digital Theater have propose that they premiere the movie at the same time. This is because I think that the association of independent film and video and film groups in each region can be seen as alternatives. They proposed that we conduct such a test with Jiseul.
    - What are your next plans?
    I will leave for the Sundance Festival on January 20th. Then I will return to Korea for a while prior to leaving for Rotterdam. After this, I have to take part in the Vesoul Asian Film Festival where my film has been invited for the competition section. I heard that the Vesoul Asian Film Festival’s invitation of my film was decided at the end of 2012, although it was not revealed due to an embargo. I understand that it is quite a large event.
    Photographed by KWON Hyuk-se
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