Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • An Interview with Syd LIM, CEO of Yong Film, behind PARK Chan-wook’s New Film Agassi
  • by TAE Sang-joon (Film Critic) / 10.17.2014
  • “I Make Films that Remain in the Mind Long after Watching Them”

    Yong Film is a film production that was founded by Syd LIM in 2012. It’s a young company that made its debut with The Target (2014), a remake of the French film Point Blank (2010). But LIM’s career in the film industry dwarfs the history of Yong Film. LIM planned and produced Oldboy (2003) and founded Sio Film, producing 12 Korean films including Crying Fist (2005) directed by RYOO Seung-wan. Of late, LIM announced the production of the new PARK Chan-wook film Agassi, catching much attention domestically and internationally.  Korea Cinema Today had an interview with LIM about Agassi (translation of the Korean title), Meet Mr. Roh (working title) and The Beauty Inside (working title) and the overall state of the Korean film industry. 
    You founded Yong Film after serving as CEO of Sio Film and head of the Bareunson Film Business Headquarters. How did you come to start Yong Film? 
    The company somehow managed to come together. (laughs). I founded Sio Film in my 30s when I did not have many thoughts or philosophies about film production. I felt bad seeing my colleagues work like vagabonds. So I thought that it would be better to start a company and work together with them. The merger between Sio Film and Bareunson made me the head of the Bareunson Film Business Headquarters. But there was a difference of perspectives on films between the owner of Bareunson and myself. In certain organizations, owners’ ideas and philosophies take precedence over anything else. I went through differences of opinions about selecting films three or four times. That compelled me to decide to leave. I founded Yong Film after agreeing to produce The Target with Bareunson.  
    How would you evaluate films produced by Sio Film and Yong Film?
    They are too different to pinpoint their common characteristics. (laughs) There is no consistent cinematic color between them. Their genres vary, including romantic comedies, horror films, thrillers and dramas. Even though it may sound awkward, I only begin to produce a film if it is funny and entertaining to me. Only after I enjoy watching a film can I talk other people into going to see it. This philosophy has not changed from Sio Film to Yong Film. Basically, I don’t think that films are something new. Regardless of the existence of an original story, if there is an element that can be cinematically expressed, the story is something new. In fact, no films produced by me have become mega hits. I am a producer who is still lacking a hit.
    In terms of box-office scores, The Servant (2010) and Oldboy are my best performers. No films that I produced have drawn over three million spectators. Then again, none of them have flopped. Among the 12 films that I produced, five were commercially successful, two managed to reach their break-even points and three or four misfired. Oh! Project Makeover (2006) was a box-office disaster. (laughs)
    You are called a producer with a keen eye for an interesting story.
    Unless a good idea suddenly hits me, there is nothing new. I pay attention to anything and everything such as novels, cartoons, films, articles and scripts and look for items that are unique. I prefer taking originals that need improvement. Among the originals I’ve taken to produce, Fingersmith, a Sarah WATERS novel has the most potential. Agassi is based on this novel. Except for this work, other originals are generally rather poor except save for a few special elements. That fuels my desire to make them into films. There is no need to make well-known and perfect works into films. They themselves are already too perfect to cinematize. For example, it is impossible to make Dostoevsky into a film. Needless to say, there are exceptions. Agassi and The Beauty Inside, which is currently in development, are really perfect works. In the case of The Beauty Inside, a system proposed by the director was so fresh that I agreed to produce it. The system does not change the original but adds plausible stories that take place before and after the original. Agassi will be produced by PARK Chan-wook. Thus there is no problem. (laughs)
    What do you think about the Korean film market as a producer?
    I think that the film production system in Korea needs to change soon. First of all, production and investment should be separated. Dividing equities in a zero sum manner is not desirable. A system should be established to allow production companies to stably make films and for investors to regularly receive returns. Filmmakers should not think about making films in order for them to turn a profit. They should instead just focus on making films. Nowhere in the world doe filmmakers dream of hitting the jackpot while making a film, expect for Korea. In 2003, Oldboy was released along with other great Korean films. They were Memories Of Murder, A Good Lawyer's Wife and Save The Green Planet!, which is my personal favorite. Diversity ruled Korean cinema at that time. But these days, diversity is losing ground, a sad truth. Unlike the past, studios’ colors are gradually disappearing. This is because there is order in the market. (laughs) What I feel sad about as a producer is the fact that there are films that show their directors’ styles but it is hard to come by films that show their producers’ colors.
    There is a solution. The solution is not to focus on just generating profits. The thought of making money only makes filmmakers flounder creatively, which is the most important value. A proper balance is essential to becoming a good producer. While a line producer calculates his or her budget, an executive producer estimates a budget after predicting how much his or her project will earn or the sales target of his or her project. Moreover, an executive producer should maintain a standard as a manager of the total budget for a film project. When casting an actor, an executive producer must check whether or not the actor properly understands his character and whether the performer fits the character. Developing a script is also important. Although an executive producer does not pen a screenplay, it is his or her duty to realize what he or she wants in the screenplay whatever it takes. If you ask me if I am doing them well, my answer is “I still have a long way to go.” (laughs)
    What do you think about theater monopolies?
    I don’t agree such a view, I never have. Audiences are always able to watch the films that they want to watch. Needless to say, it is a problem if a film monopolizes screens in theaters, leaving no room for other films. But I don’t think it is good to call a film with a high seat occupancy rate ‘a monopoly.’ This is because theaters are subject to the capitalist system. There is some coordinating and adjusting work for the government to do for art house films, such as granting tax breaks to art house productions.

    The Target
    advanced to the official section of the Cannes International Film Festival. This was your second time there as a Korean film producer following Old Boy in 2003.
    The Target is actually my third film to do so since Crying Fist, the founding work of Sio Film, entered the Directors’ Fortnight in 2005. In fact, no one expected The Target to go to Cannes. The film is very commercial and the name value of the director was not very high. The Target was invited to the Midnight Screening Section after A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Chaser (2008). I felt proud of that fact as a producer since I thought that Cannes finally recognized a typical Korean commercial film. Korean commercial films were finally given opportunities to be evaluated following the strong receptions of art films by PARK Chan-wook and HONG Sangsoo. The original work by Fred CAVAYE is superb.
    But I also felt that the original film is very ‘economical’ in the way that it only meets the necessary bare minimum. We put a lot of effort into adapting the original story into The Target. The second half was totally rewritten. We focused on storytelling and the relationships between characters.
    Recently, joint production projects with China or Japan have been gaining ground. Will Yong Film become involved in this?
    We have prepared several projects but none of them are now concrete. Basically, they are projects to make stories of my own choosing into films in overseas countries. The system would see local directors make films with local actors and capital.
    Let’s talk a little more about Agassi. You are working again with director PARK Chan-wook again after 11 years.
    I came across the original work in 2007. It is my wife who often proposes novels as items to me. My wife is a literary glutton who reads a lot. But she recommends only one or two books a year. Fingersmith and Meet Mr. Roh satisfied my wife, a picky reader, and she recommended them to me. Fingersmith is a very long novel, which runs over 600 pages. It was a real page-turner for me. The novel inspired me to make it into a film. One week later, I met director PARK and gave him the book. It did not take a long to receive a call from him. “I really enjoyed reading this book,” PARK told me. “But I cannot do this project since I am tied to a Hollywood film (Stoker).” So the idea exited my brain and I forgot about it for a long time. Then, six months later, director PARK asked me how the project was going. At first, I thought that the project would be meaningless unless PARK directed it. Finally, the project met the right director. The film has been titled Agassi by director PARK.  
    Will the film version be very different from the original story?
    No comment. (laughs) To be sure, the essence of the original work will remain the same. But director PARK is an outstanding creator so its essence will be what PARK extracts from the original story. I have not seen the final version yet. But it is obvious that the film will be very different from the original.
    Why will an open audition be held to pick an actress as the lead of Agassi?
    In fact, the two lead actresses of Oldboy, GANG Hye-jung and YOON Jin-seo, were selected through an open audition. There is nothing different. I think that great directors like PARK Chan-wook should use star actors while at the same time building an actor pool. The reason for the open audition is not because we do not like existing actresses but because we really want to create a new character. 
    Would you tell us about Yong Film’s other projects except for Agassi?
    We are producing Meet Mr. Roh directed by JUNG Ji-woo (Happy End and Eungyo) and The Beauty Inside directed by BAEK Jong-yeol. The Beauty Inside is BAEK’s feature film debut. We have high expectations for BAEK since he stood out in the advertisement industry. In addition, I think that we will work with LEE Gae-byok who directed The Beast and The Beauty (2005) and LEE Jeong-ho who directed Broken (2013).  Among new directors, we are keeping a close eye on LEE Sujin who directed Han Gong-ju (2013) and UM Tae-hwa who directed INGtoogi: The Battle of Surpluses (2013). Ah! I hope that JANG Hun, the director of The Front Line (2011) will come back with a new film. JANG is between projects, as he wants to have a baby. (laughs)
    Fianlly, what are some of your favorite films?
    I think that a good film is a film that repeatedly comes to mind after watching it. I favor old films over contemporary ones. In the Woods by KUROSAWA Akira and Alfred HITCHCOCK’s films are text book-like films for me. 
    By TAE Sang-joon (Film Critic)
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