• Interview


Lee Sunyoung, the DP of On the Line, Pursued the Thrill of a Crime from a Female POV

Oct 19, 2021
  • Writerby KIM Subin
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"I actively utilized the extreme telephoto lenses and camera movements" 



The protagonist, who was caught up in a crime and lost everything, infiltrates the base of the crime to wipe out the criminal organization. The film On the Line draws the audience's immersion by bringing in a 'voice phishing' crime that causes 700 billion won of annual damages. In the film On the Line, directed by Kim Gok and Kim Sun, which highlights detailed data investigation and subject consciousness, the cameras move without stopping, adding to the urgency of the situation. Interviewing Lee Sunyoung, who returned to the scene as the leader of the filming department four years after Eclipse, we heard about the film On the Line and how she led the filming scene as a 'female Director of Photography,' who is still rare in the field.


- Following Horror Stories and Horror Stories 3, you worked with Director Kim Gok and Kim Sun again.

= Through Short! Short! Short! project at the Jeonju International Film Festival 2012, I met the directors for the first time while working on Solution they made. Later, I worked with them again for the Horror Stories series produced by SOO FILM. Before shooting Horror Stories, I had no experience in commercial movies, but I was able to work with them thanks to the two directors' encouragement. I enjoyed filming with the two directors, sharing various references. I used to work for movies with a production cost of less than 2 billion won, and On the Line is my first movie filmed on such a large scale. It was a big opportunity for me to shoot a film of this size, and I was able to work more fun and fiercely with the intimate directors.


- We'd like to know about the references mentioned to shoot On the Line.

= The two directors talked a lot about Director Tony Scott, and the camera work of Spy Game, Enemy of the State, and Unstoppable was referenced. Those films were born by the shooting style in which several cameras are used for a scene, and they follow the characters who are constantly moving. Even in a meeting scene, one of the characters stands up once for no reason and moves, and the camera follows the character in and out, or left and right. The directors said they wanted to film their movie like that. So, I started with the concept of moving unconditionally using two telescopic cameras. Camera A had few fixed shots, and it filmed scenes on top of a dolly or a ronin.


- What was it to use a ronin?

= At first, it took some time to adapt to the system for us. There have been many changes in filming equipment. A steady cam is normally used when following a character, but it needs an expert, and it's expensive to use the equipment. A ronin camera is not as stable as a steady camera, but it's good to use in terms of price and easy to operate. When the grip team hangs it to a mini Jimmy Jib and moves, I operate it looking at the monitor. At first, I wasn't used to it, but working with it was fun in the end. Another difference is that most camera equipment is wireless these days, so everything is going really fast in the field. The filming system itself seems to be changing and getting lighter so that we can complete the process faster.



- We're curious about the basic concept of shooting On the Line.

= We mainly talked about the camera movements a lot. I tried to use extreme telephoto lenses to zoom in scenes fully instead of moderate ones. And 2/3 of the scenes were supposed to film in China, but I had to film it on the set. While I was preparing to leave for China around the Lunar New Year holiday in February last year, COVID-19 broke out just before Lunar New Year's Day. I wanted to go there when the situation got better, but it became worse, so I couldn't go. So I asked the local production team in China to take pictures of the foreground or outer view sources and put them to the film with CG. Also, due to COVID-19, it was hard to recruit places, such as a police station or a hospital.

Since I couldn't go to China, I had to think a lot about what to do to make the set look like China. The inside of the call center was described as a factory in the scenario. The directors wanted to give the atmosphere that the phishing people were trapped in and under surveillance and oppression. As the art team worked on the set, it went under the concept of 'inside the demolished department store.' Since the call center is a space for extorting people's money and valuables, I tried to take the color cold and describe the outdoor scenes in red. So, in the end, the place was described as a mixture of red and turquoise.


- As it is a genre movie with a strong character of a reportage, realistic filming must have been crucial.

= Not many cool scenes are in the movie because it is filmed realistically like a documentary. It has many stories to tell and many things to show. Since the movie was far from the vibes of a horror or a thriller, I had to direct the scenes naturally.


- Many scenes emphasize the large scale in the film, including the crowd scene of phishing perpetrators and victims.

= When I watched PD Note, the real criminals stayed in hotel rooms while voice phishing. However, the directors set up a large-scale scene, perhaps thinking it was not cinematic to describe it like that. The actual amount of phishing damages was much higher than we thought. I think the directors must've wanted to describe it on a larger scale if conditions were available. 



- I heard that you worked as an academy instructor after graduating from college and started working for movies by entering Hankyoreh Culture Academy.

= I joined the Female Students' Association when I was in the university. In the latter half of the 1990s, studying feminism was a trend. When I was in my senior year, I joined a small group studying Women's Studies while watching movies, and it was when I had the vague idea of making movies. After graduating from college, I worked as an academy instructor for more than two years. My life was a little monotonous, and I thought that I wasn't meant for it. Then I accidentally found out that there was a film production academy. The dues were a bit expensive, but I registered for the courses with the money I had earned. I studied film at Hankyoreh Culture Academy for six months just like that. Among the various roles, filming was my thing. I think filming plays a similar role to that of an actor in that it is directly revealed on the screen. And I think I liked that idea. After finishing the academy, I worked with Director Noh Dongseok, who I met at Hankyoreh Culture Academy when he made a film Aspirin with the support of the KOFIC. It was the first film that I shot. After that, I entered the Korean Academy of Film Arts with that movie and continued the master's course at the School of Film, TV & Multimedia at Korea National University of Arts. I studied at a lot of movie schools. Usually, my male colleagues went into the field easily if they wanted to shoot, but it didn't happen to me. Not many female filmmakers were at the scene, and I didn't feel that I was welcomed to the field. At that time, the field was a little tougher because every scene was filmed by real camera films. Charisma seemed to matter most at that time. That's why I just went back to school. I was able to deal with the 35mm film during the master course, and after graduating from it, everything has become digitalized. It seems that the opportunity has come to me after the digitalization because it changed the whole photographing system. In the past, only directors and camera directors knew the entire thing and proceeded, but the digital system lets anyone see the content that was filmed and work on their own through monitoring. Since it needed less charisma with a loud command in the field, I think I've got a chance to make a film.


- You started making films in an environment where not many female key staff members were on the filming site. Even now, the proportion of female film directors in the field is only 8.8% (Based on KOFIC's 2020 Korean Film Industry Settlement). I don't think it would have been easy for you to draw the future when you began your career.

= If I had known the reality of the site, I wouldn't have been able to dare it. I just started my career for only one reason; it was fun for me. I didn't know the field was so tough and I never dreamed that it would be beyond my practice. I just thought that it was something I could handle and approached it. I think that worked better for me.

There were many moments when I wanted to give up. I think it was always a repetition of 'What should I do next?' In the meantime, whenever I had a chance, I didn't lose it and worked steadily. The critical chance came to me when I was thinking that I had to stop working. When I was pregnant, I worked on Director Park Chankyung's MANSHIN: Ten Thousand Spirits. Since the baby was still in my tummy at that time, I could work a bit comfortably, and I was talking to myself, 'This is my last work.' Then, about a month after giving birth to my baby, they asked me to film A Night Before the Wedding. And that was a significant chance for me.


Director Lee Sunyoung participated in Horror Stories, The Chosen: Forbidden Cave, Eclipse, Warning: Do Not Play.  


- You made a debut as a DP of a feature commercial film with A Night Before the Wedding (2013). Your filmography seems to be filled with many horror films and thrillers such as Horror Stories 1 and 3 that you participated in as a DP, The Chosen: Forbidden Cave, Eclipse, and Warning: Do Not Play where you took part in Camera B.

= I love horror movies. When I was attending the academy, I watched horror movies a lot with Director Jeong Heesung of Eclipse and was greatly influenced by him. Horror movies have fun making unique visual images or styles. I can try more unique things with camera movements or lighting. If you try something too new in commercial movies, you can face resistance, but if you do it in horror movies, nobody seems to blame you for that.


- What kind of filming do you like? Also, tell me the work you want to try.

= When I first started filming, I think I preferred filming with good visual images and styles. But now, basically, I don't think the audience wants that. I think it's a great shoot if you follow and catch up well with the story. So I don't really have a preferred style in filming. Of course, if I have a chance, I want to shoot a horror movie and a large-scale disaster movie. I want to take the next step one more time.

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