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Ko - production in Busan
  • Director Jung Yoon-suk Explores Crime and Punishment in NON-fiction DIARY
  • by Simon McEnteggart /  Jan 28, 2014
  • “Murder is a mirror of society, the underbelly, the dark side.”
    Photo ⓒCine21 

    “The past is not just the past,” explains director JUNG Yoon-suk during our meeting in the Hapjeong district of Seoul. “It comes back again and again, it effects our time. If the present cannot be changed, the future will be the same as the past.”
    These are the bold words of an artist, humble and sporting long hair with a trendy beard, who appears surprised that the international film community has taken such an interest in his latest documentary Non-fiction Diary (2013). Yet since receiving the Mecenat Award at the Busan International Film Festival last year JUNG’s work has been turning heads, most recently culminating in an invitation to the prestigious Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival. “I think an artist is a very important public source in society,” he states, when asked why critics herald him as a brave director for tackling such controversial subject matter. “I’m very interested in the nation I belong to. Dealing with law and punishment is a better way to look at the national system.”
    Non-fiction Diary examines some of the tragic events that occurred in Korea during the 1990s, most notably the Jijon-pa clan – a group of countryside youths so angry at the rapid embrace of neo-capitalism and rising affluence of Seoulites that they embarked on a killing spree that shocked the nation. The horrific murders included torture, mutilation and cannibalism, and sent a wave of hysteria throughout Korea as societal leaders called for a return to traditional values. The case also became a hot issue for Korea’s adoption of the death penalty. Yet, argues JUNG, while the Jijon-pa clan was terribly wrong in their desire to kill Gangnam party-goers, “more people in positions of authority, like the elite, killed many more people with ‘good’ reasons like war.” Therefore, he asserts, “I wanted to connect the Jijon-pa case with bigger events.”
    To that end Jung investigates disasters that occurred shortly after the Jijon-pa’s incarceration throughout Non-fiction Diary, including the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge, a catastrophe that claimed 32 lives. Digging further still, one of the greatest tragedies in Korea’s recent history - the 1995 Sampoong Department Store collapse in which 502 people died - also appears on his radar. While the three events may initially seem disparate, claims JUNG, there’s an irony that ties them all together. “I wanted to uncover the contradictions of capitalism, but despite their attempts the Jijon-pa never killed the rich,” the director explains. “But the customers were killed by the owner of Sampoong Department store, which is very ironic.”
    JUNG’s desire for greater insight into the incidents of the ‘90s began with an exhibition he created five years ago. Claiming to have found a bizarre diary that documented murders written by a subject named ‘K’, JUNG used the journal within his exhibit. He even went as far as to send the diary to the national forensic service – whom he jokingly refers to as “the Korean CSI” - for profiling, who indicated that there was a strong chance the mysterious ‘K’ was a serial killer. “I am ‘K’”, says JUNG laughing as we chat. “It was my concept. I made the diary. My artwork is fictional, that was the story I made.” Interestingly, his fictional diary prompted JUNG to helm the non-fiction work that is now appearing at film festivals worldwide. “A lot of people have asked, “why ‘Non-fiction Diary?’” he states when quizzed about the film’s title. “Like the murder cases in K’s journal, in the movie I am trying to connect some very big events.”
    Ultimately this brings us back to the discussion of JUNG as a brave director, two words that he resolutely refuses to accept. Instead, he simply prefers to be called an ‘artist.’ His humility abounds, in conjunction with a cheerful optimism that audiences will appreciate in the film as they recognize the importance of the themes he is concerned with. “I just try to make good artwork that I think has a high standard,” Jung confesses simply.
    With Non-fiction Diary examining crime and punishment and his next film Bamseom Pirates: The Time of Assault exploring freedom of expression, director JUNG is carving a niche for himself as a highly artistic, socially conscious documentarian. When his activist stance is pointed out, JUNG replies, “not all members of society can express their point of view this way. Many people are struggling to live and feed themselves, so in that perspective I have pride in my job. I do what I can do.”
    By Simon McEnteggart
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