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Feb 20, 2018
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
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“I wanted to focus on how people live”

After making a name for himself in the 2000’s with My Generation (2004) and Boys Of Tomorrow (2007), director NOH Dong-seok is back after a 10-year break. His new film Golden Slumber was made with renowned Korean production company, ZIP CINEMA, which also produced Cold Eyes (2013) and The Priests (2015). Based on the Japanese novel of the same title by Isaka KOTARO, Golden Slumber is about an ordinary man named Geon-woo (GANG Dong-won) who is too kind for his own good and becomes the scapegoat for a conspiracy. The political story might stand out at first, but NOH Dong-seok said that he wanted to focus on a story about how people live. And again, he doesn’t forget to talk about the innocence of youths.

It’s been 10 years since you last directed a film. It was a long break.

The last two films are more like low-budget films than indie films. In the process of making them, I felt the need to create a structure and to find production funding in order to keep making films. Also, I felt the need to make a commercial film in order to continue my career as a director. After that, I started working on a commercial film with ZIP CINEMA. We were working on developing a few stories, then I got asked to direct Golden Slumber two years ago. I already knew about the original novel when I heard that ZIP CINEMA had purchased the production right. I liked the fact that behind such a huge conspiracy was just a petit bourgeois. I also enjoyed how the friends of the protagonist helped him along the way.

How did you like the novel?

The novel was very enjoyable and there’s already a fandom surrounding it. However, I didn’t think it would be easy to cinematize. This is because the better the original text, the harder it is to make it into a film. In films, it’s very important to have spectacles to see. But, the novel moves along via trivial incidents that happen one after another, and its main focus is on the internal and psychological transformation of the protagonist. The hardest part was the visualization and how it would be portrayed to the audience. To sum it up, it’s a chase story about a man, but the story’s speed and the scale of the incident had to be believable for the commercial film to have any meaning. That’s where I had a lot of concern. 

The story is split between a thriller where a man is chased due to a conspiracy created by the government, and a friendship drama about Geon-woo and his friends. I think finding the balance was key.

In the original text, the story revolves around the surveillance of society. It was too extensive for me to cover in a feature film. We had to select and choose what to include in the 2-hour long running time. That’s why we kept the “big brother” idea as our foundation, but focused on what I found more interesting is the part about a very ordinary person being framed. In order to keep a genre film entertaining, one must make ordinary lives mix into the story. That was a big challenge for cinematography and editing. I’m curious to see how the audience will react.

I heard that GANG Dong-won was the one who suggested turning Golden Slumber into a film. What was it like working with him?

He already knew the emotions encompassed in the story, so there wasn’t much direction to give on set. GANG Dong-won himself is already very much like the character Geon-woo. He’s down-to-earth and easy going. Also, I knew that he enjoyed the novel. The hardest part was persuading the audience to see star GANG Dong-won as just an ordinary delivery man. I think he was concerned about how he should look as well since he had to hide that handsome face. If we’re not able to persuade the audience, then the story wouldn’t make sense, so this was a very important part in terms of acting.

Geon-woo’s chase ends in the first half of the film. You filmed at Gwanghwamun when the candlelight protest was happening. That must have been difficult to execute.

It was very hard to get a shooting permit for Gwanghwamun. We wanted to shoot an explosion scene when the protest was very active, so it’s not a surprise. We did the paperwork 3 months ago, did a presentation to show them how we will shoot it, and finally got approval for 4 hours to shoot. We only had one chance, so the staffs had to work very fast. We created a video continuity report to follow. Thankfully, things went smoothly. In the chase scene, Geon-woo had delivered in the area a lot, so he has a good sense of all the roads. That’s how he would run away through the small alleys. The staff did a lot of legwork to create Geon-woo’s line of movement. I wanted to dramatize how pressured he would be. Since it’s set in early winter, the background is very bleak. While agents in black are chasing him, Geon-woo is seen in a bright blue delivery vest that stands out so much. He needs to hide, but he can’t.

From the planning stage to the release, there were so many political changes in Korea in the last two years. It might not have been intentional, but did any of the story’s set-ups happen in real life?

When I was in the planning stage, I watched Edward Snowden’s documentaries a lot. It covered happenings in the US, but I felt that those things could very well happen in Korea too. While having some doubt whether or not the Korean audience could find the story persuasive, something more unbelievable happened in real life. I realized my film was nothing compared to what was actually happening. What I want to show through this film isn’t a criticism about any particular political power. I just wanted to tell a story about how people live. The fears of an ordinary man, Geon-woo, and the worries and choices he has to make with his friends are the key points. 

There is a scene where Geon-woo is in a band with his friends. It reminded me of your previous work Boys Of Tomorrow which was about youths. Now that time has passed, you’re talking about the middle-aged group.

Someone asked me if the character named Jong-dae played by YOO Ah-in in Boys Of Tomorrow grew up to become an adult like Geon-woo. It wasn’t intentional, but I think my worries about growing up and growing old automatically reflected in the film. This film is about Geon-woo returning home after a rough journey, while he and his band friends get involved in an enormous conspiracy. In order to show the relationship between Geon-woo and his friends in a limited time, I used Shin Hae-chul’s music. Geon-woo is someone who tries very hard to hold onto his sensitivities from his past as he finds them valuable. In that sense, Boys Of Tomorrow and Golden Slumber have a link that naturally connects them.
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