CHEER UP, MR. LEE Director LEE Gae-byok
Oct 01, 2019
- Writerby KIM Su-bin
“I want to create human stories, films that resonate”
LEE Gae-byok, director of the comedy LUCK-KEY (2016), is back with his new title CHEER UP, MR. LEE. The film shows what happens when a man and the daughter he never knew he had suddenly met one day and go on a trip together to an unfamiliar city. This film has many parallels with LUCK-KEY, in that both are stories of adventure and personal growth of a man with a mysterious past, but the way the message of comfort and connection is conveyed in this movie is more explicit. LEE Gae-byok served as assistant director on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and first assistant director on Old Boy (2003) and has demonstrated all his affection and experience regarding comedy films since his debut The Beast and the Beauty (2005) after. This week, we sit down with him to talk about his new film which just hit Korean theaters.
You are releasing CHEER UP, MR. LEE just three years after LUCK-KEY. That is a very short time, considering LUCK-KEY took ten years to come out after The Beast and the Beauty.
I’m always working hard on my scripts and pitching ideas, so my desire to make movies remains unchanged. In the past, I may have had few opportunities to make comedies since a lot of stories more powerful than comedies were being made then, but fortunately the genre is now at a time where it has found its audience and I wondered if I couldn’t quickly make another film.
This movie started from a draft from Director HAN Jang-hyuk. What aspect of the scenario did you find the most appealing?
The scenario was completely different from the story we have now. It was about a sick girl who, knowing that she has only a short time to live, waits for the big sleep and teaches her handicapped father who is about to be left alone how to live. The scenario arrived on my desk after it had been revised through many drafts over the years. The Deagu subway fire (An arson that killed 192 people in a subway station of the city of Daegu in 2003, Ed.) was also included as flashback. I met with people affected by the disaster, thinking that since it was a big catastrophe and a heartbreaking event I would have to represent it a little bit more accurately, and they told me how much being forgotten breaks their heart. At that moment, I knew I had to make this film.
Several characters like the family members of the main characters, their friends and people met on the street, are connected to each other through various situations. You must have put a lot of work into elaborating these subplots.
My wish was that each encounter between a character and another one would be interesting and impactful. I also wanted to create individual circumstances that would pique the viewer’s curiosity, and to show the impact we are all having on each other with our lives, even when are far away.
In terms of narrative structure, the vast majority of the characters function as helpers of the father and daughter, with no villain.
The villain characters in most movies produce the tension of the drama, but I figured that for CHEER UP, MR. LEE, the Deagu subway fire would amply satisfy that antagonistic role. That’s why the characters never do anything worse than making Cheol-su and Saet-byeol’s trip more complicated.
We could say that CHEER UP, MR. LEE, just like LUCK-KEY, are dramas about the personal growth of persons searching for their true self. I was wondering what kind of stories you are drawn to?
My previous film, The Beast and the Beauty, was a drama about personal growth too. I don’t really know, I haven’t made enough movies so it is still too early to say what kind of stories I am drawn to. I just think I have consistently churned up personal growth dramas by coincidence. That said, ultimately, I’m drawn to human stories. I do attach great importance to form and style, but I still want to tell compassionate stories.
Similarly to LUCK-KEY, this film, too, makes good use of the various charms of its cast. I’m curious about the reason that motivated your choice to cast CHA Seung-won. And have you also applied some of CHA’s characteristics to his role?
It is true that the depiction of the characters was important, given that it is a comedy film and a character-driven story. When I was wondering which actor could portray paternal love with this being a comedy film, CHA Seung-won was the first to come to mind. CHA Seung-won is also an actor appreciated by so many people, and the viewers already know so much about him, I didn’t want to deliberately take away from his personality. And so I aimed to reflect within the story his personality, for instance by establishing him as someone who declares he loves sports or who hide as tattoos the scars caused by the fire.
Is your experience working as an assistant director on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and first assistant director on Old Boy influencing your film work?
That period spent making movies under PARK Chan-wook has been governing my film life. In fact, it’s safe to say that I have been following PARK for everything that pertains to location shooting or filmmaking.
You have mainly made feel-good movies. I would like to know more about the movies you personally like, and what kind of movies you would like to make in the future.
The movies I like are diverse. I enjoy watching comedies as well as horror movies. As for the directors I like, I might as well wonder, “What is the inclination of those people’s movies?” I really respect Shohei IMAMURA, Kiyoshi KUROSAWA, David LYNCH and Robert ZEMECKIS. I would like to create stories that have an impact while remaining fun, just like their movies.