"I wanted to make a film full of energy, a film that is really like a film"
The most original film in summer 2016 Korean theaters would be The Truth Beneath by LEE Kyoung-mi. It begins with the missing case of the daughter of a major general election candidate. Although this film was not commercially successful, the distinctive style and clear theme definitely differed from other generic films. It is the kind of film hiding a dagger between the layers of cliches. KoBiz met its director and had a talk on the film.
How did it all begin?
When I was working on the scenario, I thought commercial success was important. That is how I chose to do a genre film, and I went for the thriller because that is the genre that I like. Having decided on the genre, I searched for the subject matter and PARK Chan-wook suggested the log line of "a missing case in the middle of the general election campaign."
What was the advantage of such log line?
It worked well for generating investment, because that one line reminds you of so many different references. At the same time, I tried to exclude what I found boring, among the formulae that repetitively appeared in the existing missing thrillers.
What were your thoughts on the style?
I wanted to use filmic images. For quite some time, Korean films do not show the film specific elements. TV drama has its own language and so does the film, but the boundary has been blurred. And I also thought hard about the film energy. To keep the audience engaged, there should be some kind of energy that consistently attracts them. To reach that goal, you need to collide different images and create tension. I believe that is how to interpret a film with the filmic language.
Is that the reason why you have several montage sequences?
That's right. In fact, montage is nothing new at all. That is something you learn when you are a freshman at a film school. It is a basic technique to create some effect by colliding images. However, in Korean commercial cinema, you say "it is like an independent film" if you use that skill. (laughs)
What is the most standing out feature of your characters?
A character with some kind of deficiency is popularly used in many films. Some of the different features of my characters include that they openly show the deficiency but do not ask for sympathy. I explain their deficiency but do not depict them as a pitiful character.
This film deals with regional discrimination, which is a very sensitive issue in Korea. Did you feel pressure?
It's been 8 years since I made my film debut with Crush And Blush (2008). A lot of regrettable events happened in Korea during that time and I wanted to depict my unhappy feelings in the film. Regional discrimination is one of them, and it was PARK's idea. When I first talked with him, I got a little nervous, as it is such a sensitive issue. When you write a scenario, you tend to censor yourself, feeling the pressure for commercial success, and in this aspect, regional discrimination was too dangerous as an issue for a film. However, once I accepted it, I grew strong willed, and I became more straightforward with other issues as well. It also added energy to the film.
What kind of mom is Yeon-hong (SON Ye-jin)? What does motherhood mean to her?
I wouldn't say Yeon-hong lost motherhood over wifehood, helping her husband who is a politician. There are several different kinds of motherhood. Yeon-hong is the kind of mother whose own life is as important as her child's. That is how she is from the beginning. She does have motherly love, but the way it is expressed is not conventional. For Yeon-hong, appearance is very important. Showing as a model family, with a perfect husband and child, is important for her. However, it all collapses in the end.
Both Yeon-hong and Jong-chan (KIM Joo-hyuk), her politician husband, suffer from their desire and are finally destroyed. What aspects of desire did you want to depict?
I wanted to show its danger. I do not deny desire. It is something you are born with. And the stronger your desire is, you are to bear heavier burden. It is tragic and pitiful, and such desire turns people tragic.
The film was not evenly received at all. Some loved it and others hated it. Did it make you rethink the audience?
I really have no clue about the audience. I don't know what to go for with my next film. Still, I'll end up going the way that I was going, and as time goes by, my changes will be reflected in my film. One thing for sure is that I will never choose a film language that I don't understand, and I will never speak the feeling that I do not know. And again, I really have no clue about the audience. (laughs)
This film shows the real beauty of SON Ye-jin as an actress. How did her casting affect the film?
A lot of new images were made that I had never expected when I was writing the scenario. I felt it at several minute details. And it is certain that Yeon-hong's madness is more clearly expressed through SON. SON is more beautiful and impressive when she is acting madness.
You are still referred to as a PARK Chan-wook kid. How do you feel about that?
I sometimes feel pressure, but it would be just waste of energy if I think too hard about it. It is true that I made my film debut when I was with him, and had great moments and inspirations working with him. My relationship with PARK will continue. What matters is what kind of films that I will be making in the future.
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