“Horror cinema is a metaphor to the cruel world and power”
by SONG Soon-jin /
KIM Gok and KIM Sun of HORROR STORIES III
Horror Stories IIIis a horror film composed of 3 separate stories that are told by a girl who makes an emergency landing on a planet of machines. Directed by MIN Kyu-dong, BAEK Seung-bin, and KIM Gok and KIM Sun brothers under the theme of “the past, the present and the future,” this film occupies a very special position in Korean cinema. That is because this film is part of a horror film franchise, which is very rare in Korea.
Korean horror cinema was once very powerful but it has gradually lost its territory for quite some time now. Horror feature films have almost disappeared, and this Horror Stories series made in an omnibus format is pretty much the only player in this game. What, then, brought such decline in Korean horror cinema? KoBiz met KIM Gok and KIM Sun, who have steadily made horror films, including episodes in the first and third installments in the Horror Stories franchise and White (2011).
What made you join the Horror Stories series?
KIM Gok:MIN Jin-soo, president of SOO FILM, made the overall planning and invited us to direct some parts of the film. We co-directed an episode called Ambulance in Horror Stories. That was a zombie story and it was warmly received. So we were asked again to directHorror Stories II, but we ended up turning it down because we were already working on a feature film. This time, we're back.
KIM Sun: The theme, “the past, the present and the future,” has not existed in the previous installments of the series. It is a new attempt. As BAEK Seung-bin had chosen the past and KIM Gok had taken the future, I had no choice but to take the present. (laughs)
Then let us first talk about Road Rage, the story of the present. Would you say it was inspired by real life events, such as revenge driving, metal ball slingshot, etc.
KIM Sun: Right from the beginning, The Fox Village was set in a cottage and the Machine Soul was set in a house. So I thought I'd go out to the street. As it is about the present, I wanted a narrative to reflect the social horror and I came across with a news article about road rage. I looked it up on Youtube and found out tons of videos about it. The metal ball slingshot was also found in real news but what was more important for this episode was road rage. I wrote the scenario based on the horror that can be felt inside a car, locked up in the speed, and accentuated how the story unfolds when the couple meets the murderer.
Machine Soul is a rare horror flick that has sci-fi elements. At the same time, it is about a vengeful ghost, which is very much of the eastern culture.
KIM Gok: I've always wanted to combine sci-fi and horror. You see quite a few films where horror elements are weaved into the sci-fi genre, but not the other way round, so I thought I'd give it a try. Western horror films usually have tangible, physical sources of fear, like a zombie, but eastern horror films feature intangible, unknown creatures that transcend the time and space. Inspired by this notion, I have come up with a robot ghost for the first time in the film history. (laughs) It is the story of a babysitting robot abandoned from a fatherless family.
The depiction of “the future” was very interesting.
KIM Gok: In fact, I had to cut away a lot of ideas due to production issues such as the budget, running time and copyrights. The idea that remained valid until the end was the central computer with a man's voice that plays the role of the family's father. Some people have found this part very interesting and suggested that I turn it into a feature film. But then you need at least USD 2.6 million production cost plus USD 0.9 million CG cost, for which I doubt the viability, especially when this genre is in a great decline in Korean cinema
Horror Stories III is the first horror film in Korean cinema this year but it was not exactly well received in theater.
KIM Sun: This time there was this challenge of applying sci-fi to horror, but maybe it wasn't quite what the audience wanted to see.
KIM Gok: I felt that Korean horror cinema is not, so to speak, much trusted. This film did not meet the audience's expectations. The Horror Stories series has a lot of virtues in its own right, but it could not satisfy the audience that were, so to say, expecting to feel like riding a roller coaster when coming to the theater.
But aren't other genres, such as thriller, fulfilling the audience's expectations?
KIM Gok: Horror film is basically a metaphor to the cruel world and power, but it is true that thrillers and social dramas are playing this role instead. That is why Horror Stories III took a different approach, adding sci-fi elements and lowering the degree of cruelty. Because we knew that sticking to cruelty and traditional horror elements will not really work.
KIM Sun: I think we need more research on what the Korean audiences find scary. However, if you see it from a different perspective, it is as though the spectrum for horror films is getting even narrower and narrower, because you are thinking too hard about the audience's expectations and trying to play along with them.
Seems like you think a lot about how to help Korean horror cinema survive.
KIM Gok: The origin of the horror that Korean audiences want seems to be rage, resentment, feelings of unfairness, and so on. Keeping these as the core, you need to make variations as time goes by, like changing clothes. Here, what I mean by clothes is the very crossroad where you meet with the reality. However, now, such crossroad is not really available, due to the current status of horror film, where it has become a stage for newbies and low budget projects. The polarization of capital is of course driving the whole situation even worse.
KIM Sun: Horror is the kind of genre where advanced directors can do better than newcomers, and more investment means better films. Each cut represents different rhythms, and requires a lot of work. However, the wrong belief about shocking visuals generating box office profit makes production tougher and tougher. Current Korean horror cinema is rather a mixture of vengeful ghosts, which is a traditional material in Korean horror, displayed through various grammars of foreign horror films. However, what the audience wants is still evident. We'll have to find and settle at some place, somewhere between the audience's expectation and what we want as filmmakers.