HAF feature interview with LEE Hae-jun, <My Dictator>

by KANG Byeong-jin   03.08.2012
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Photograph by OH Kye-ohk

Set to participate in the 10th Hong Kong – Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF), director LEE Hae-jun’s <My Dictator> is about three dictators. One is PARK Chung-hee in the South and the other is KIM Il-sung in the North – the two dictators who ruled the split Korean peninsula in the 1970s; while the other dictator is a father and the main character of this film.
When an historic North-South summit meeting is announced, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (currently the National Intelligence Service) is charged with rehearsing the event. They need a double for Kim Il-sung. <My Dictator> is about a nameless actor who wanted to have his acting acknowledged as well as his relationship with his son restored.
Lee’s last film <Castaway on the Moon>(2008) won the Black Dragon audience award at the Udine Far East Film Festival and the NETPAC Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival. His latest project <My Dictator> is budgeted at about KW4 billion (US$3.6 million) and is being produced by banzakbanzak Film Production which produced his co-directed feature debut <Like a Virgin> and his solo directorial debut <Castaway on the Moon>.
KCT: At what stage is the project?

LEE: I’m almost finished with the first draft based on a treatment. The goal is to complete the script by this summer and start shooting within the year.
KCT: How did you come up with the story for <My Dictator>?

LEE: In 2007, President ROH Moo-hyun and Chairman KIM Jong-il had a North-South summit meeting. Numerous newspaper articles came out at the time, and I saw one that said that the president had held a rehearsal before the summit. I looked into it a bit further and it turned out that the Korean Central Intelligence Agency had already had a team exclusively responsible for rehearsals since 1972. Of course, actual theater actors were not involved. But the fact itself was interesting. I thought I could tell a story about an actor, and at the same time, about one individual who lived in tumultuous times. Moreover I felt like I could tell a story about the lives of fathers who went through those times. I once saw a photograph of my father a long time ago. He was so young. But I was curious what made my father, who had been so young, into the dictator-like father that he was now. Thinking about it, it seemed that having passed through an era rife with dictators in both the North and the South, he couldn’t just stay young. Those feelings that I had connected with this story.
KCT: The main character is a father and an actor. I’m curious how you are going to portray him.

LEE: He’s a nameless bit part player. No one paid any attention to his acting, but the first place where he is acknowledged is the Central Intelligence Agency. I think the humor that comes from that ironic situation, and the joy this man feels as an actor, will be the beginning part of this film. If I have the where withal, I would like to cast the actor first, and write the script with him. The casting would be research. I want to imagine dramatically the confusion he has about himself and the delusion that the actor feels.
KCT: It seems like this will be different in tone from your previous films, with more dramatic elements.

LEE: I hope it is very different. I think it will, for one thing, be warmer. <Like a Virgin> and <Castaway on the Moon> were works where I deliberately tried to castrate emotions.The way the humor was set up was also supposed to be funny, but at the same time preferably flat and dry. I intend to leave out that sort of element with <My Dictator> and make it a film that throws straight balls. I’m talking about the light-heartedness and comedy and moving emotion that the story can have. It’s the same with the relationship between the father and the son. In <Like a Virgin>, we deliberately avoided touching parts but this time I want to see the maximum value of emotion you can feel with that kind of relationship.
KCT: What kind of memories do you have of your own father?

LEE: Like all the fathers of our time, he is awkward at communicating affectionately with his offspring. I think that hurt me a little bit, too. When I was young, we held traditional commemorative rites for ancestors 12 times a year at my grandfather’s house. Each of those times, my father would wake young me up at dawn and take me along. With his thick hand, he would grip my hand firmly and stride along and I would have to practically speed-walk to keep up with his pace. In that way, my father was someone who made me follow his own stride. Now that father of mine has fallen into a condition where he is ill and cannot even speak properly. I want to broach and speak of the things that made me most uncomfortable with him. The greatest way I can do that is through a film. So in a sense, <My Dictator> is a film in which I have put my heart’s desire to reconcile with my father.
KCT: What are you most worried about right now with the film?

LEE: Firstly, doing well at the box office. (laughs) It’s an issue of how to introduce this sort of story to audiences. More than anything, I’m laboring over the universality of it, why we should have to talk about that era to generations that don’t know about North and South Korean relations in the 70s. I think a lot about how I need to get smarter about it. With <Like a Virgin> and <Castaway on the Moon>, I could to a certain extent tell the story in the realm of imagination. But <My Dictator> has to be dealt with truly in the realm of reality. I hope this film can have a realistic but also unique nature.

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