Kim Mijo, Director of Gull, Staring the ‘Process’ of Making a Voice Heard
- Writerby KIM Subin
“Watching Obok’s choice, I’ve also been healed.”
Director Kim Mijo
The movie Gull follows the process of Obok (Jeong Aehwa), who has supported her family by selling fish although she can’t eat any of them. Standing on her feet, and making her voice heard amid numerous secondary abuse and violence after being sexually assaulted by Kitaek (Kim Byungchun), the chairman of the market redevelopment committee. The film, which carefully identified issues worth considering with its attractive directing, won the grand prize in the Korean Competition section at the 21st Jeonju International Film Festival. I met director Kim Mijo, who made her feature debut with Gull after the short films Tongue and The Disgusting Family.
- I heard you read so many casebooks of sexual violence and the recorded tapes of ‘the victims’ of Japanese military sexual slavery while you were preparing for the move.
= Yes, I read a lot of casebooks as well as the memoirs of those who survived the 911 Attacks and the stories of the bereaved families of the Ferry Sewol disaster. After reading a lot of stories about people who survived disasters, I could notice something in common. It’s true that ‘an individual’s suffering’ is not well received when in a group. All of such ideas are reflected in Gull.
- Obok is tied to the cause of the compensation of the market redevelopment and her role as a mother ahead of her daughter’s marriage. Because of this ‘cause’ and her ‘role,’ the secondary abuse from the people around her becomes prominent toward Obok.
= I think a family or society is a kind of system. We hardly recognize the fear of a system, but it could be dreadful where we belong when we have to make our voice heard. We want to say that the injustice we feel is wrong, but we are afraid that we will be kicked out of the system if we point it out. In fact, when I was writing the scenario, I regarded Obok as me. I couldn’t calm down my rage in front of a situation where I couldn’t say what was wrong when it was wrong. I was healed, watching Obok’s choice because Obok made a different choice from me.
- I think you must’ve put a lot of thought into the conclusion.
= Yes, indeed! My taste is that Obok goes to Kitaek and confronts him face to face. However, considering the message and direction of the movie, I didn’t think it would be a good choice to use violence against violence. That’s why I made Obok choose a decent choice she would’ve never dreamed of. Obok had to go through four stages to make her voice heard. First, after being sexually assaulted, she had to fill out a preliminary medical examination at the ob-gyn. She just wrote ‘bleeding’ when asked the purpose of visiting the hospital. It’s a passive attitude. Later, she wrote a complaint with her daughter’s help. And then, for the first time, she tried to write a letter of the plea, thinking she should reveal the incident that had happened to her. At first, she only wrote a title, but at the end, she made a picket. Going through those stages, Obok could make her voice heard. I hoped that she could proudly present her thoughts in writing, overcoming the idea of ‘I am ignorant and hopeless because I am not educated.’
- The location seemed very impressive, including the old villa the main character lived in, the fishery market, the alleys where fortune-tellers’ flags fly, hallway-style apartments, and SH apartments where Obok’s colleagues lived.
= I was fascinated by Korean films in the 1970s and 80s when I was filming the movie. I liked the vibe of the marketplaces often seen in Korean movies of those eras and the apartment buildings which were just starting to be built back then. Gull tells a contemporary story, but I imagined the vibe of the movie itself was a bit that of the bygone days. I wanted the audience to get confused too, thinking whether the background was present or not and if it happened in Seoul or not while they were watching the movie. Looking for a site that has not been developed much in Seoul, I found a place where redevelopment issues were mixed. The issue of redevelopment is also very important in the movie. Therefore, Cheongnyang-ri and Sadang-dong, where redevelopment issues were hot, were chosen as the main filming locations. The places in the movie were quite close to each other. Obok and Dongwon's house were attached, and the place where Obok and Jeomrye were tussling was nearby, too. We also shot a lot of scenes in Gangnam, including a Hanbok shop where they picked Hanbok, Korean traditional attire, and some Chinese restaurants, but the viewers thought we filmed those scenes in a small town.
- It was also impressive to film the scenes following the main character, capturing her emotions from the back.
= I liked plays. When I film a movie, I tend to reflect many theatrical elements from the perspective of the characters. Since the title of the movie is Gull (similar to Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull), I thought it wasn't a bad idea to introduce theatrical methods while filming it. There is a scene where Kitaek comes and makes a fuss when Obok is eating at the market. At that time, the characters fall out of the screen and keep fighting, and the way things happen out of the frame while the characters are empty is used a lot in the play. It is especially used in Anton Chekhov's plays. Director So Sungseop, who used to be a theater actor, gave me the idea on the spot.
- I’m curious how you cast Jeong Aehwa for Obok, who was leading the story.
= I participated in a short film production team for one of my friends from graduate school. Actor Jeong Aehwa starred in the movie, and she was so talented in acting. I loved the way she treated the staff members, too. So I thought I should work with her someday. I have a note that I write down the names of the actors I want to work with in the future. And Jeong Aehwa was on the list, too. (Laugh) While I was writing the scenario later, I thought of her a lot. I thought Obok was Aehwa from the beginning. As a result, the character seemed to be a little tailored to Aehwa. I didn’t think she would turn down my proposal. So I was so surprised when she said she couldn't do it at first. I sent a long text to her.
- Wasn’t it burdensome to choose a famous play as the title of your movie?
= It would’ve been burdensome if I was a celebrated director, but I didn’t feel that pressure because my goal was to complete the movie itself. I thought it would be a success if I felt burdened by the title.
Since I was eager to make a movie under the title ‘Seagull’ or ‘Gull,’ I even looked up the characteristics of seagulls. Seagulls can fly well, but they live near the land. I thought that character is similar to my mom. I once made a music video for a project in graduate school. At that time, I went to Seonnyeobawi Beach in Incheon with my mother for one night and two days, thinking why I only had taken other people's pictures, excluding my own family. When I saw my mom playing with seagulls, I thought she was like a seagull. It was even before I wrote the movie scenario. Later, when I looked up the characteristics of seagulls while writing the scenario, it reminded me of my mom. She is always here with us, complaining she's tired of us, her children. Obok was sick and tired of reality, but she never left her family. I thought Obok was also like a seagull that stayed with her family all the time. Secondly, I thought the English word ‘gull’ from ‘seagull’ pronounced similar to ‘girl.’ Of course, one of my friends who works as a translater abroad said they aren’t similar at all. (Laugh) This movie is also about a girl named Obok, so I chose the title.
Director Kim Mijo
- I heard that you started studying film as your minor while in the teachers’ university.
= I’ve enjoyed watching movies since I was young. My parents both worked, and my sisters and I had a big age gap, so I often spent time alone since kindergarten. Since I was bored at home alone, I borrowed videos from a video rental store and watched them little by little, and from a certain point, watching movies was so much fun. I wrote reviews and collected magazines while watching movies alone. But I thought making a movie was only for smart and special people. I wasn’t that kind of person, so I thought all I could do is to enjoy watching movies.
Then, I entered college after failing 3 times of the entrance exam, and I thought I would never challenge myself in the future because the process was so difficult for me. But my major didn't suit me well. I took a leave of absence from school and went to Australia for a working holiday. As a result, I was behind for 6 years compared to others, but at some point, I wasn't nervous, and I thought it would be hard to live with the same routine as others. Then I thought about what to do and realized that I really wanted to try a movie. I wanted to give myself a chance. That's how I got to study movies, and it was so much fun. I get tired of many things easily, but I've never felt tired after I started studying movies. In particular, studying in graduate school (Dankook Graduate School of Cinematic Content) resolved my thirst for learning with a sense of belonging. I could meet a lot of good friends there, and when I first studied film, I received a lot of help from my older sister, actor Kim Gabin.
- I heard you love the Western.
= My favorite genre keeps changing. I like action movies and thrillers, so I want to make a movie like Mad Max, which is very wild and adventurous. Gull was influenced much by Director Lee Jangho’s Declaration of Fools(1984) and Korean films in the ’70s and ’80s. Recently, I am interested in horrors or psychological thrillers. I experienced culture shock when I watched Intention of Murder and Vengeance Is Mine directed by Shohei Imamura. Also, while watching Cast Away or The Shawshank Redemption, I thought of making such films that would warm someone's heart.
- Do you keep writing scenarios?
= I finished some scenarios and they’re being developed now. My goal is to shoot a movie consistently like an office worker without resting. I want to complete a film in 2 or 3 years. I’m working hard because I want to shoot a movie next year.
- Anything you want to say to the audience who will watch this movie?
= The purpose of this movie is not to attack someone or divide people to take sides. I don't think I can judge anyone because neither I’m in the position of a judge nor I’m eligible to do that. However, through Gull, if you focus on the process of a person who couldn’t speak out before but can make his or her voice heard out of human dignity, you can watch the movie without prejudice, I think. That's the purpose of this movie, and I hope the viewers can accept it as such. Thank you.