Climbing Director Kim Hyemi, Inspires Individuality and Vitality to K-Animation
- Writerby Jung yu mi
“The Story about the Other Side of Pregnancy”
The feature animation Climbing fully raises expectations for domestic creative, adult, and genre animation. It started as the 11th feature Korean Film Academy course project in 2017 and was completed in three and a half years, first recognized at the Korean film festivals. The film won the Korea Cartoon Animation Society Award and Unity Award at the 2020 Bucheon International Animation Festival and the Special Jury Prize at Ulju Mountain Film Festival. In June this year, it was the only Korean film invited to the competition section of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, becoming the talk of the town. It expresses the psychology of women suffering from anxiety about pregnancy and childbirth in various genres such as mystery, horror, thriller, and psychodrama, clearly engraving the theme and personality. Straight from Director Kim Hyemi’s mouth, who has emerged as a new rising star in K-animation, let’s hear the secret of completing a unique work without regret.
The motif of Climbing is the director's pregnancy experience. You said you wanted to make a film focusing on the inner changes of a mother unlike the existing films dealing with pregnancy in a positive way. What is the purpose of your direction?
When I got pregnant, I felt the universal image of ‘pregnancy is a positive and holy event’ a little differently. It was more realistic to me. I was afraid, and I felt a lot of pressure to be responsible for one life. So it took me a long time to adjust to the pregnancy. At first, I thought, "It's probably because I still feel a little awkward," but the feelings I felt were clearly different from those of other pregnant women. I kept wondering why I had no idea about those feelings before I got pregnant. I think I had a vague prejudice against pregnancy. I wanted to talk about many things besides the positive aspects of pregnancy, feeling different from what was regarded natural universally about pregnancy. There have been many works dealing with the positive aspects of pregnancy, but I thought it would be rarer to talk about the opposite, and I thought it would be better to include my story and feelings.
Picture 2: Climbing is the story about Sehyeon, a professional climber who is about to join the World Climbing Championship, and her alter ego Sehyeon, who has got pregnant after a car accident. They connect with each other through a broken cellphone and experience strange things.
How did you come up with the setting that the main characters, Sehyeon the climber and Sehyeon the pregnant woman, exist in the parallel world and interact with each other through pregnancy?
Although I’m pregnant, my mode doesn’t change naturally before and after being pregnant as if I’ve turned on the switch. I felt that being pregnant was unrealistic, and it was like reality and unreality were mixed in my dreams, such as me from the past coming out and drinking alcohol. In the movie, I contraposed such feelings through a parallel world between the pregnant and the non-pregnant, and the motif was that the two led the dramatic flow of pregnancy as a medium.
Although the main character is a professional climber and ‘climbing’ appears as the essential material, there seems to be a significant reason that you chose the title ‘Climbing.’
The word ‘climbing’ itself is not frequently used, but it gives a plain vibe. I was going to use a subtitle, but I liked its mediocrity, so I simply chose ‘Climbing’ on purpose. Pregnancy was a special event, and it also meant a lot to me, but pregnancy and childbirth are everyday things in life. So I wanted to express ‘climbing’ as life itself.
Climbing stands out for its original and unique drawing style. Director Kim Hyemi differentiated the 3D characters by adding the matière to the texture and emphasized unique feelings by expressing the outline like a 2D animation.
The painting in the film is unique because it gives a sharp and cool feeling. Although a 3D animation, it has a cartoon rendering method that emphasizes outlines like a 2D animation. What is your intention for the painting?
The shiny and bright image of the 3D made me feel it was unrealistic, so I purposely added the matière to the texture. Also, I wanted to create a 2D vibe even though it was 3D. I wanted to create a unique feeling by highlighting the outline while rendering the cartoon. When you think of a 3D animation, it’s easy to think of cute characters in the works made by Pixar or Disney. In addition, the audience was likely to expect a G-rated if it was similar to the 3D characters of Korean animation for kids. So, I designed the character with the hope that it would not be forgotten once the audience saw it, drawing curiosity by clearly revealing her personality.
Climbing gives original fun by trying various genres, including mystery, horror, thriller, and psychodrama. Are you a big fan of horror movies?
Yes, I love horror movies. Among horror movies, my favorites are the works that deal with ego-splitting, inner and mental changes through a realistic fantasy. While producing Climbing, I was inspired by Black Swan (2011), which showed a fantasy of a ballerina’s ego-splitting, who wanted to be perfect. For maternal affections, I was inspired by the Australian film The Babadook (2014), and I think the film led the worry about maternal love to the end. On the surface, it is a horror movie and has genre elements, but I sympathized with the fact that the mother, who is the main character, finally overcame her fear and returned as a mother with maternal affection after much agony. In addition, I liked Under the Skin (2014), which shows the theme differently from conventional movies with the unique expression mode and the experimental sound. Realizing that there won’t be any limits to an animation film if there is no limit to a movie, I thought deeply about expressing it in my own way.
Director Kim Hyemi, who directed her first feature animation Climbing, says ‘a scenario with a unique individuality and theme consciousness’ is critical for individual creators.
I hope I can do my part, living up to the audience’s expectations. In fact, I didn't plan it to be released this year. After three and a half years of work since 2017, the situation where the film was screened and released at the film festivals in turn proceeded as if it were a coincidence. I can't believe that Beauty Water was released last year and Climbing this year. I also enjoyed watching Beauty Water so much, and since it was a great hit, I hope many people can enjoy Climbing, too.
In the Korean animation world, Yeon Sangho, Cho Kyunghoon, and Lee Daehee are representative directors with a unique world of works and their own individualities. I think those individualities are creating diversity in K-animation, and I am curious about your opinion from the perspective of the animation creator and director.
Climbing was created not by entering the industrial system but by visiting the system within Climbing. Individual creators seem to be building their own systems. Beauty Water was born through the collaboration between SS Animent and Studio Animal, which is represented by Director Cho Kyunghoon, who directed the animation. Also, Director Yeon Sangho, who made STUDIO DADA SHOW, constantly experiments and creates many works, finding efficient and rational ways. Even without the existing industrial system, I think they are very capable of finding different ways.
Is there a breakthrough only for Director Kim Hyemi?
As I was doing the job personally, I received a lot of help from experts, including animating and 3D. While working with them, I’ve noticed there are so many experts in each field. If you don't go to the industrial system for G-rated films or animation for kids, a scenario that can eventually show your original story will be the most important. Any scenario is likely to be made into a film if its individuality and theme consciousness are clear. It’s very hard to have a chance to create a feature film. Thanks to the feature course at the Korean Academy of Film Arts, I could direct the feature film. I thought it was my first and last chance, and I wanted to make it without regret. Since it was my first time to try a feature film in 3D, my judgment was swayed by feedback from others. Whenever that happened, I only thought about the intention of my directing. Since I wasn’t making a movie like Inception (2010), I focused on the anxiety and the other side of pregnancy, thinking whether something was suitable for the theme or not. Also, since there was no production department except for technical staff, I felt much responsibility. It was hard, but there was a determination to do as I thought. I have no regrets, and I'm so relieved because it's over now.
Your previous works are all unique. Little King (2014), which won the grand prize at the 11th Indie-AniFest, is a creative animation using Pansori, and the short Snap Shot Memory (2017) is a unique work that comically depicts the journey of a father who comes to meet his daughter living in Seoul. And I'm curious about your next film plan since you provide different features and impressions for each work, including Climbing.
I’m currently working on a short animation and planning to complete the collaboration with animation directors this year. On a community website, I once opened an omnibus-style webtoon about a gangster who learned beauty skills in prison and opens his beauty shop in Yeonnam-dong to makeover his guests after being released from prison, but I stopped opening it. I am interested in Yeonnam-dong, and as the area is developed, I think it would be fun to develop a story that takes place between the old generation and the younger generation in a web drama format. I also wrote a feature film scenario, and if I have a chance, I want to complete it with an animation film and show it to the audience.
Lastly, say something to the audience abroad, please.
I wonder how the audience abroad with various values will evaluate Climbing. If you have any questions about the movie, please send them to my Instagram account (@madein_me). If you ask me a question, I'll answer it with all my heart. Thank you.