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The Future of Korean Cinema at Cannes 2023 (3): HOLE, by Hwang Hye-in

Jul 12, 2023
  • Source by Online Magazine K-Movie by KOFIC
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HOLE and its outstanding portrayal of a siblings’ home






Did she have even dare dream of getting invited to Cannes thanks to her graduation film? Hwang Hye-in, who majored in film directing at the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), graduated in February this year. Her 24-minute short film Hole was invited to the La Cinéfondation section of this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. La Cinéfondation is a competition for short film made by film school students around the world. Two years after Yoon Dae-won's Cicada (2021), Korean films made their return to this section thanks to Hwang’s film and The Lee Families by Seo Jeong-mi. Hole depicts the story of Jeong-mi (played by Lim Chae-young), a municipal administrative officer who visits the home of a child who has been absent at school for a while and ends up in an inescapable situation upon discovering a large manhole inside the house. While the film is thrilling from beginning to the end credits, the true horror of this film lies in the gut feeling that these abandoned children may never find the help they need in a society with such a fragile child protection system. On May 9th, just ten days before departing for Cannes, the director took a break in her packing to tell us more about the film.









I would like first to hear your thoughts regarding your Cannes invitation.

It's unreal. (laughs) It is a movie I made like a bet, not ruling out the possibility it might fail. There were so many variables, because unlike all the short films I worked on before, this one required building sets, digging a hole, and even employing CGI. Normally, I start production with everything perfectly prepared, but this time I couldn't, so it made me feel even more anxious. I still had many question marks in my mind in post-production and had to keep adjusting. things I was relieved and happy to hear the good news, and my team must have felt the same way.


How did the idea for Hole come about?

I'm kind of drawn to stories that start off ordinary but suddenly meet a turning point that send them into a totally different direction. So, while try to come up for ideas, I thought it would be interesting if the premise of the story was that there is inside a room something that is absolutely out of place. The first thing that came to mind was a manhole closed with its cover, and I went from there.


The siblings live in an old mansion and its name alone hints at its age. Finding that location must have been crucial for this project.

Since KAFA is in Busan, I limited my location scouting to Busan as this was allowing me to visit locations a bit more often. To my surprise, there were many old apartments, and among them, we chose an almost empty apartment near Busan Station, which was scheduled for demolition. The day we went to explore the area, heavy rain was pouring down. I don’t know if that’s because of the rain, but the apartment looked so desolate, my team and I thought this was the perfect place.


That it is set during the monsoon season which is very humid in Korea and that the protagonist, Jeong-mi, is a rookie in her 20s who lacks experience in her job both contribute to the suspense.

I needed a stifling and uncomfortable temperature. I was hoping that some emotions would be revealed through them sweating. I wanted to have as protagonist a character who is anxious and is partially a reflection of myself as well. Before entering KAFA, I had a stint in a company, but I was prone to making mistakes, just like Jeong-mi, as I was always on edge.





Your first short film, June (2019), your college graduation film, The Floor Below (2020), and now Hole, all revolve around siblings or sisters abandoned by their guardians during their childhood. One common aspect between all of them is the significant age difference between them, with the older one taking on the role of the younger’s caretaker. Why is that?

Honestly, I couldn't give you a definitive answer. Perhaps it's because I have an older brother, so this image of two children is one I am used to. When I try to write a story, the image of neglected children of that age group keeps coming to mind, and it often bothers me. I try to avoid it as I think it's becoming repetitive, but it keeps coming back. It's not that I grew up neglected, and that period wasn’t particularly good or bad so as to leave a specific impression on me, yet I keep going back to that time. I always come up with one reason or another once the project is completed, but now I feel like I really need to fix this.


All your works also betray an interest in the places we live in. 

I've always had desires for houses. When I was young, after visiting a friend's house, I would compare theirs to mine and draw my ideal house plan for fun. Now, I keep noticing apartments on their last legs, apartments which may have been in perfect condition in the past but now need some renovation as time passed. 


We can’t avoid this question: what kind of child were you? 

I was a child who would always come and go spend time outside because our house was not spacious enough.




You also majored in film directing in college. Did you already dream of becoming a filmmaker when you were a teenager?

Not really. In my teens, I wanted to try writing novels, so for college I applied to some departments of Literature and Creative Writing, but I was rejected everywhere... (laughs). I've always been interested in storytelling in a broader sense. I’ve always enjoyed my time spent reading books, watching movies, and drawing comics. At some point, I had a vague idea of turning the novels I wrote into films, and here I am now.


I see you served as an assistant director on House of Hummingbird

I only joined in the final stages of the film, but getting to see a film as it reaches its completion was in itself a great joy for me. It was already very meaningful for me to have worked on a film set led by a female director who debuted before me. I learned a lot from watching Kim Bo-ra defending with tenacity her opinions.


Are there any film directors that you admire?

When I was in college, I admired Lynne Ramsay and her film We Need to Talk About Kevin. I first watched her film when I was twenty, and I was captivated by its intense visuals and the delicate handling of emotions. Looking up for many of her short films made me aspire to be like her.




Do you have any feature-length screenplays in preparation?

I'm brainstorming for a genre film where absurd situations unfold. However, since I've already used houses or basements as the main settings, this time I want to explore a different space we are familiar with.


After COVID-19, theaters in Korea have been trying to distinguish themselves with the experiences they offer, and the film industry has been reshaping itself with a new focus on streaming platforms. How do you feel about such a change in the industry, as an emerging director?

On one hand, I will already be pleased if people watch my films, whatever the medium they choose to do so. However, since all film projects get made for a theatrical screening, it's also disappointing to see these changes. Whenever I meet my colleagues, we often express confusion as to the direction and the way the film industry is going. But one thing is certain, watching films together still holds the same great value as ever. After this interview, I’m going to watch a movie at the Korean Film Archives with my colleagues and our professor. We don’t plan on stopping watching films together any time soon.

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