THE CURSED: DEAD MAN’S PREY by Kim Yongwan, The New Visual Shock in the K-zombie Genre
- Writerby Kwon Koohyun
“The Combination of Occult Imagery and Korean Issues, a Competitive Edge in Itself.”
The movie The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey tells a story that takes places 3 years after the events of The Cursed, the tvN series that popularized the Korean occult horror genre and developed a huge fandom. The movie offers a visual shock for the K-zombie genre in the form of a new monster called jae-cha-eui, ie. corpses that are manipulated by a shaman (named after zombie-like creatures mentioned in the Assorted Writings of Yongjae, published in 1525 by Korean scholar Seong Hyeon), and turns a new leaf in the ‘Cursed Universe’ created by Yeon Sangho, with the reunion of Im Jinhee (Uhm Jiwon), a reporter who has just gone independent, and Baek Sojin (Jung Jiso), a medium who has the ability to kill someone just by looking at their photo or name. A film sequel to a series is a rare occurrence in the Korean content market. We sit down with Director Kim Yongwan to talk about his latest achievement.
What was your motivation for adapting the TV series The Cursed onto the big screen?
Since we had already established a fantastic universe with its main characters in the series The Cursed, we had the opportunity to bring the story into other media and genres. This is why the production team, which includes the screenwriter, Yeon Sangho, could afford to cut corners in the planning stage. Whereas the series version was made in the Korean occult horror genre, the movie The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey is more of an action thriller film. We decided to move forward with the film because we believed this would allow us to show the kind of visuals we couldn’t really realize for the series.
The synergies between TV series and movies are common in other countries but are rare in Korea.
Yes, there was such a tendency in the past for sure. But in the future, I think there will be more cases similar to The Cursed. Until now, there have been differences in production environments and systems between the film and TV series industries, for instance with the production companies and investment companies. It is not easy for staff members to move from one media to the other, and once a series was completed the circumstances would hardly be favorable for a film adaptation to fit into the schedules of the actors. Now that the production staff and the actors, and by extension the capital investment, are not confined anymore to a single media with the proliferation of VOD services, I think that the production environment will become more flexible.
What are the differences between TV series and movies when it comes to direction?
A TV series is filmed over a relatively short period of time compared to the total running time of the show. Also, its objectives, like having to attract the viewers' attention from the first episodes, are pretty clear. In addition, the director's vision needs to be clearer because most often than not it will be filmed without any storyboard. You also need quick judgement. But at the end of the day, they are both made by people. With communication and understanding between the staff and the actors, you can find a solution to every situation. In that sense, I think I’m quite fortunate to be surrounded by the people I’m working with. Thanks to them, making this movie was straightforward.
As opposed to what we might see in Hollywood, in Korea many film directors write their own scenarios. Is there any difference when you serve only as a director, as is the case with The Cursed here, from when you are in charge of both the script and the direction?
There was no difference in this process because, with my directing work in web series, I already had experience adapting another screenwriter’s script or making a series adaptation and making my own. Of course, when I’m bother screenwriter and director on a project, I am free to make broader changes, because it is my own that I created myself. However, when I film someone else’s scenario, I need to understand their intention behind each scene and sequence and recreate them in my own style. This is the tricky part, but this job also has a certain appeal to it as it is always stimulating. I learn a lot when I challenge myself with a story that I couldn’t tell or come up with. I worked on this project with the belief that this would make me a better director.
Tell me what your think of your collaboration with Yeon Sangho.
Yeon Sangho is a genius with a lot of sincerity. He constantly tries to read the current trends in our society. He is an artist who is ahead of his time and always strives to prevent himself from stagnating. Since he is a movie director himself, he shows a lot of respect for the directors who use his scripts. That he always keep an open mind was very impressive as well.
Whereas the TV series The Cursed was more concerned about world-building and establishing the characters, The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey delivers a visually pleasing spectacle.
Personally, I think it is crucial to portray the relationships between the characters in detail. But in commercial films, you need to be selective and focused. So, I deemed better to focus on stunning images. Moreover, with The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey, I had the extra assignment of having to come up with a new signature monster. While I was attaching much importance to the visual spectacle with things like set-pieces, I still had to provide some justification for the inclusion of such new elements as the jae-cha-eui (the resurrected corpses) and the dukun, the master of black magic who controls them. Even so, in the end, I worked under the premise that this was an entertainment film and considered that I shouldn’t place too much emotions and significance in it.
What lies front and center of this visual spectacle are the jae-cha-eui,. The way they move in synch in some sort of “group choreography” sets them apart from the zombies in other movies.
Honestly, it was difficult for me to create a memorable design for these monsters. Their movements look the way they do in the movie because we had to make them look credible while staying true to the idea that they are being controlled by a shaman. With their grey clothes giving an military vibe, I imagined how impressive it would be to see them chase the protagonists in places like roads, lobbies, emergency stairs, parking lots and tunnels.
Among the chasing scenes, the one where the jae-cha-eui use taxis was absolutely amazing.
There have been so many excellent car chases in movies and TV series. In the end, I think that having a concept is key to make such scene stand out from the rest. In a strategy to make this sequence visually innovative, I tried to focus on making the images distinctive, for instance with the zombies all dressed in the same color and the taxis involved in the car chase being of the same color, etc. We also developed some equipment to bring the cars on the set and make them move. We had some issues when we changed one of the filming locations for a tunnel. Location scouting was not a piece of cake, and bad air was another difficulty. When we filmed this scene, we were extremely careful to put the safety of the staff and actors above everything else.
It’s nice to see the protagonist Baek Sojin show up again in the story, after she went missing in the series. She appears in the middle of the film in an impactful set-piece.
Baek Sojin is my favorite character. When I first received the scenario, I remember asking myself while reading it, ‘When does Sojin appears?’. I was even sad to see her appear so late into the movie. Sojin is introduced in the narrative when we reach the point in the movie where the audience is absorbed by the interrogations surrounding the jae-cha-eui' and the identity of the dukun. That’s why the moment she first appears was very crucial. Unlike the TV series, here we needed adrenaline-filled scenes with a sense of speed. If the medium spell she used in the series was one that could be directed at anyone without any visual contact, the key image we went for in the movie was that she developed stigmata that allow her to inflict death upon physical contact. We tried to highlight Sojin’s new features such as her costume and her physical abilities in order to suggest as much as possible that she is older.
There is a 3-year gap in the story between the time Sojin was last seen in the TV series and the moment she appears again in the move. Did you have any desire for that gap to be longer?
Clearly, the 3-year gap in Sojin’s storyline would make for an interesting subplot. However, the limited running time of 110 minutes required to make some choices. Not everyone in the audience was going to be familiar with The Cursed, so we couldn’t devote too much running time to calling back to events of the TV series. I gave it a lot of thought, and the Baek Sojin we knew from the TV series needed to be reborn 3 years later as an action movie star, but it was not easy to make that gap plausible. We tried to highlight in this new space how much the character has changed, with things like her costumes and physical abilities, with as many nods as possible to the fact that she is older.
Sojin’s visual transformation from a student to an adult is also dramatic.
The girl who was wearing a short red hoodie in the TV series has become an adult. I thought it would be nice to have her face show that some time has passed and that she has trained in different countries to shake off the evil spirit that was sleeping inside of her. In addition, she grew up from a shaman girl to a shaman warrior. She needed to give off the image of a strong character who wouldn’t lose even when fighting against zombies. Her black outfit and hair color contrast with her pale skin tone. Actor Jung Jiso put a lot of effort into that aspect.
The ending scene in the hospital room is also memorable. Sojin, who was lonely, eventually finds a new family.
The TV series told the encounter of this lonely girl, Sojin, with Im Jinhee, an adult. If the two were ‘a community bound by fate’ at that time, the movie follows Sojin, who fled because she was afraid of turning a good relationship into a bad one, as she returns to Korea with the new concept of a ‘community bound by familial relations.’ The ending scene in the hospital room is the first time that Sojin smiles in earnest in the movie. It was an important sub-message for me to show through this smile that she comes to understand what the dukun meant when he said that, “we shouldn’t lose our loved ones while we obsess over the evil in us".
What do you think makes the Korean occult horror genre competitive on a global level?
I’m not particularly interested in the occult or horror genres. I like stories where new topics, characters, and plots are met with universal emotions, and I also like to learn new things with my collaborations with other artists. Thanks to this, my understanding of the occult genre and my interest in it have increased while working on The Cursed. Although I can’t pretend to be an expert on the genre, I expect that, with such creativity in designing fantasy worlds, we will see more works in the future that combine different elements from Korean folktales and unofficial versions of historical events, and this will constitute their competitive edge in and of themselves.
You’re working on a TV series for your next project, is that right?
I was immersed in the universe of The Cursed for 3 years, and now I’m working on a series in the human drama genre. It will be a story about patients of a hospice bearing different traumas in their hearts who grant each other’s last wish before their final journey. I intend to show how we can comfort each other and grow up while doing so.