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Interview with Director Ryoo Seung-wan, Invited to the Midnight Screening of the 77th Cannes Film Festival for 'I, the Executioner' (Exclusive)

May 13, 2024
  • Source by KoBiz
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“I’m thrilled to share the excitement with audiences in a thousand-seat theater”


After nine years of anticipation, Detective Seo Do-chul makes his long-awaited return at the Cannes Film Festival. I, the Executioner, the sequel to Veteran (produced by Filmmakers R & K and distributed by CJ ENM), has been invited to the Midnight Screening section, marking the first time for a Korean franchise film. On 21st, the movie will have its world premiere at the iconic Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière, a highlight venue of the festival.


Veteran, the prequel to the invited piece, was the blockbuster of 2015, attracting an audience of 13.41 million and ranking as the 8th biggest hit of all time in the Korean box office. I, the Executioner serves as the official sequel to this mega-hit, both directed by Ryoo Seung-wan. In the sequel, a rookie detective played by Jung Hae-in joins the squad to chase after a serial killer. Before departing for Cannes, Director Ryoo Seung-wan shared his thoughts during a phone interview. 



Courtesy of CJ ENM 



The fact that the sequel to such a blockbuster was invited to the Cannes Film Festival is absolutely exciting. 

- I was particularly thrilled that the film got invited to Midnight Screening Section, since the section suits the genre of the movie. It is even more special that Midnight Screening Section only chooses a small number of movies (Editor’s Note: only 4 pieces are unveiled in this section including I, the Executioner.) This is the first time to be invited in an official section. I get to see my movie screening in Auditorium Louis Lumière at last. 


It's your first time on Cannes’ Red Carpet too. Are you more excited about the screening in Auditorium Louis Lumière?

- While the red-carpet event undoubtedly garners more publicity for the movie, my personal dream has always been to screen my film in the Auditorium Louis Lumière. This iconic venue is renowned for its exquisite management and has over a thousand seats, making it exceptionally special. The opportunity to share the excitement of genre-specific movies with such a large audience in such a grand and refined environment is truly thrilling.


This is your first sequel to make. Why did you choose Veteran and why did it take so long to come up with the sequel? The audiences have been waiting for the sequel for a long time. 

- The debate over producing a sequel arose immediately after the success of Veteran. It could have potentially been another blockbuster, capitalizing on the triumph of the first film. However, I feared that it might lead to a creative standstill. Still, to answer the question of why creating the sequel now, my affection towards the characters were too big. For me, those characters come to life and fascinate me any time.  

As I directed quite a number of movies, many of which I also wrote the screenplays for, I began to feel a sense of repetition in my storytelling. I was also curious about the idea of exploring my beloved characters. There I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and was sure that I could write a whole different story from the last one with the same character. Instead of merely expanding the narrative, I was determined to delve deeper into the story's intricacies, ultimately leading me to decide to create the sequel.  


The English name is different from the domestic one. What inspired the choice of giving an English title of I, the Executioner to the sequel? The English name hints a generally dark ambience, with the comma provoking striking impact and gravity. Typically, franchise movies have congruous tone; this sequel indicates a significantly different tone from its predecessor. 

- The sequel carries more weight than the first. Originally, I intended to name it I Execute in Korean, homonymous with a project I worked on a decade ago. This project also contributed to some ideas in I, the Executioner. Ultimately, I chose I, the Executioner because it had a driving force – once you watch the movie, you’ll understand. In addition, 'veteran' typically denotes a skilled or expert person in Korean, but internationally it often refers to a retired soldier. I pondered on whether this title would accurately convey the essence of the story. In my view, when unveiling the film for the first time, the title would serve as an effective strategy to indicate the movie's direction.



A still image from I, the Executioner, Courtesy of CJ ENM  



Would the audience feel the same cathartic excitement after the punishment as they did in the first movie? How did you manage to set the sequel apart from the prequel?

- When Veteran unexpectedly became a phenomenal success, I felt a sense of guilt. I wondered if I approached justice systematically or in an overly emotional way. In the movie, my focus was to delineate good and evil without too much dilemma. Yet, the result showed that I marketed anger for the movie. This marketing was something that I never wanted, but it put me on pins and needles as I gained profit from it. 

I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I depicted evil in a simplistic manner through the character Jo Tae-oh and his actions in the film. While inspired by a true story, the reality was far more complex. I found myself constantly questioning how this movie would influence the next generation. It was this introspection that led me to commit to becoming a more serious director, mindful of the impact of the franchise. Yet, I couldn't ignore the vibrant energy the genre exudes. The sequel places greater emphasis on energy rather than catharsis, presenting a deeper dilemma through which we can explore the lead character's development.


How does the lead character’s growth influence the flow of the story?

- In I, the Executioner, the character will take his job more seriously. Despite his unwavering faith, we will witness him in deeper contemplation and inner conflict. On top of that, the suspense stemming from this will be maximized. 


The name Ryoo Seung-wan is also known as the master of Korean action film. What can we expect from I, the Executioner?

- To put it in a cautious way, there is at least one scene where the audience will audibly gasp. You will witness a never-before-seen scene. 


It is intriguing that MA Dong-seok (also known as Don Lee) starred in two of the cop movies you directed. In Veteran, Ma made his cameo as stationery store owner. In The Unjust, he starred as HWANG Jung-min’s underling. Currently the cop franchise of Korea is represented by The Roundup franchise, where Ma has played the leading role. There seems to be a competitive dynamic between The Roundup and Veteran franchises. Given the immense success of The Roundup series, were there any consideration to distinguish the two franchises?

- The leading characters are too distinct to consider differentiating the franchises. Detective Seo from the Veteran franchise endures severe beatings, stumbling and sustaining numerous injuries along the way (laughs). I'd like to draw an analogy with Hollywood cop movie franchises of the 80s and 90s. During that era, Hollywood saw the rise of iconic cop movie franchises, including the Beverly Hills Cop franchise starring Eddie Murphy, the Lethal Weapon franchise featuring Mel Gibson, and the Die Hard series with Bruce Willis. While all these franchises showcase humorous, energetic macho detectives in the macho culture of the 80s, each possesses distinct characteristic. Similarly, I hope audiences will view the Veteran and Roundup franchises with the same appreciation. I believe it would be intriguing for the audience to observe the difference in similar genre movies. 


When would the Korean audience get to watch the movie?

- I, the Executioner is set in the winter, so I'm aiming for a box office release during that season. Prior to that, I'm gearing up for the North American release of Smugglers, which premiered last year in Korea, in late summer or early fall. 


What’s the process like for the Hollywood remake for Veteran?

- I haven’t received the final draft for the screenplay of the remake yet. I recently visited Michael Mann in the United States. He began by hiring staff writers to research with narcotic unit detectives whom he befriended while filming Miami Vice. I heard that the writers experienced a horrifying incident witnessing a gunfight during their time with the detectives. As far as I know, Michael Mann hasn’t made a decision yet about whether he'll direct the movie. For now, I'm eager to hear any updates.



Written by Eunha Shim

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