The Reality We Must Face Now
YOO Ji-tae, Director of Mai Ratima
Mai Ratima, YOO Ji-tae’s debut feature film as a director is a coming-of-age film about a couple who have been pushed to the edge but overcome the ordeal. The director used violent descriptions and lascivious expressions to show the life of the extremely poor, yet he looked at the unfair reality that definitely exists in the society with warm-hearted eyes. He asks a question to the world, “How can we possibly be indifferent to them?”
-I heard you have thought of making Mai Ratima since you were a student.
I first planned the film about 15 years ago. At first, it was entitled Become a Boy (Sonyeoni-Doeda) and the backdrop was a fishing village. The story developed as a middle aged man started looking back on his past, but later I thought it would be better to talk about the present since time has passed and the society has changed. I wanted to talk about alienated and weak people.
-The scenario is very realistic and detailed. Was there any motif?
I had a chance to read an article about foreign women who came to Korea to get married. It said they were tortured and led a very unfair life. I was ashamed of the fact as a man. Then I looked for more related articles and interviewed wives from foreign countries to get more details about the reality they had to face. I first wanted to make an alarm raising film like Silenced, but I changed my mind and decided to direct a coming-of-age film and added some melodramatic elements to it.
-How did the facts you learned from actual wives from foreign countries melt into the film?
They are treated unfairly. They are persecuted by in-laws and often forced to accede to unreasonable requests. Some even get killed. The Dardenne brothers’ The Silence of Lorna (2008) shows the reality of immigrants very realistically. I wanted to show that irrationality exists also in our society through the tiring life of immigrant women in Mai Ratima.
-The facet of Seoul described in the film looks very cold. Is it how you saw the city through your eyes?
This society is very cruel to the alienated. It drives weak people to the corner and persecutes them. I have thought about the unfairness of the society since I was young. You will never know what it is like to live in deep pain because of people who consider foreigners from poor countries as barbarians and discriminate them unless you experience it. I don’t fully understand it because I’m not one of them, but I learned a lot after talking with them.
-When you sympathize with the weak, I think you have to be careful not to commercialize it.
You are right. If I talk about a topic without pure intention, I am very likely to lose justification. Especially when I make a commercial film, I am by no means free from such a problem because I have to make a profit. Working on this film, I didn’t want to end up only asking questions, so I tried to deal with the process of the wives coping with their reality and adapting themselves to society. Another thing I wanted to do was show audiences how courageous these women are.
-The scene where troubled Soo-yeong (BAE Soo-bin) and Mai Ratima fall in love despite their desperate reality reminded me of The Lovers on The Bridge.
I like Leos CARAX’s films. Maybe because I first planned this film when I was a student, some people have told me that emotions in the film feel a little bit cheesy.
-There are a lot of lascivious scenes. What was your intention?
I had Soo-yeong and Mai Ratima exposed to violence and sex to show how desperate they are. There were far more sex scenes in the first cut, but a lot of them have been edited out. I didn’t want to have exaggerated or disgusting bed scenes, so I tried to make the scenes look real.
-How was the teamwork with BAE Soo-bin?
He is so passionate. When I first met him at the DMZ Docs and showed him the scenario of Mai Ratima, he said he wanted to give it a try. I was impressed to see how committed he was. As an actor myself, I think good acting skill are important, but what really defines an actor is passion. In that sense, he is a great actor.
-A debut film usually reflects the director’s sense of identity. What did you ultimately say in the film?
I intended to describe a story of people struggling to survive in a desperate reality. I wanted them to cling to their hope even in an extreme situation. A debut film often reflects the director’s sense of identity, but I didn’t want this film to be too subjective like a personal diary. I wanted to put what I have seen while living in the world and what I always wanted to talk about but could not speak out in my film.
How would you describe Mai Ratima?
Soo-yeon doesn’t have a specific job. He is a bum who makes a living by selling stolen mobile phones. Mai Ratima came to Korean and met her husband, but she finds it hard to survive under duress. Looking for a way out of their reality, they both head for Seoul, where they meet each other by chance. The city is cold and cruel to outsiders. There, they start leading a very low life sleeping at a subway station. The city drives them into even on harsher environment, but they manage to overcome the ordeal.
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