A Must-See for the Young Generation
- I read the autobiographical essay ‘Namyeongdong (The original story that the film is based on)’ written by the late KIM Geun-tae, an ex-senior advisor of the United Democratic Party. It was very impressive. I also looked like a strong genre movie or a psychologic drama that shows the process of how a human being is destroyed.
From the emotions I felt from the victim of torture, I couldn’t help talking about human rights. When human rights are trodden and dragged to the bottom, it is not just a case of an instant, as it continues for the rest of their lives. How can the lives of KIM Jong-tae and the other interviewees at the last testimony scene of the film be payed back? I thought the audience had to experience the pain at least through the film. I thought the young generation, who live today without remembering at all what happened in the past, had to share the agony of those who stood up against the violence in the age of barbarism. They have no idea how precious the democracy obtained after the hard times is.
- What makes you think that the young generation is indifferent to the society?
While democracy is being destroyed, they just leave it alone. They think the case of 22 previous employees of Ssangyong Motors who committed suicide has nothing to do with them. The young people are not aware of what the previous generation went through to achieve the democracy they enjoy today.
- This film is rated for 15+. Won’t the teenagers or people in their 20s be surprised or doubt the story's authenticity when they watch it?
They will. They can realize it actually happened only after watching it. As a matter of fact, it is what happened no earlier than in their parents’ generation. Once they learn how cruel those days were, I suppose they will be able to feel more responsibilities to the present.
- To the older generation who experienced the time themselves, the film can feel like agony or debt. Do you think they will watch the film?
They are the generation who feels guilt about the past although they don’t want to remember the time. I’m only one year younger than KIM Jong-tae, but even I didn’t experience that pain. The older generation needs to chew over the anguish. Meanwhile, there are those who criticize the film. They say the film is North Korea-friendly and that I’m a commie. I want those haters to make sure to watch it as well.
- Among presidential candidates, MUN Jae-in and AHN Cheol-su attended the VIP preview. However, PARK Geun-hye was not one of them.
She promised she would eventually watch it some other time. I regret it because I thought she was the one who really had to watch it but she didn’t. Since the film is based on a real story, she could have felt something after watching the phase of the days. She could also have felt she needs to help the victims of torture regain their honor. When I said I hoped that the film could affect the presidential election, I didn’t mean to stand on one’s side, but I wanted to have the film reflect the reality.
- Didn’t you cry while shooting the pepper powder torture scene? I thought it must have been so hard for the director, actors and the staff when watching the scene.
I didn’t cry because tears would mean catharsis. It hurt me though. It really hurt. Once while I was shooting the scene, we heard a woman saying ‘cut!’ before I did. I asked everyone who it was, but nobody did it. I heard the recorded video later and I definitely heard the call. We all think it must have been a ghost. I guess she warned me that I went way too far.
- I heard you started projecting the film as soon as KIM Geun-tae passed away.
I had wanted to make a film about victims of torture since long before. I wanted to talk about the duplicity of a torturing agent, who might be hardworking and good father at home but turns into a barbaric torturer at work. While I had been revising the story little be little over time, KIM Geun-tae passed away. Then I made up my mind to make a film about him after reading ‘Namyeongdong’.
- When I read ‘Namyeongdong’. There was something I couldn’t quite understand because he said the cruelty of the torturers gave him goose bumps, but at times, the human side of them gave him the slightest hope. It confused me.
One of the victims who appear at the last testimony mentioned such feelings when I interviewed him. Stockholm syndrome will help you understand it. Living with the torturer for a long time, the victim saw the human side of the torturer and even felt sympathy for him. It is a very horrible reality. When one is put in an extremely helpless situation, the minimum words of comfort feel like very strong consolation to him.
- The film finally extends to the topic of ‘forgiveness’. Why did you do that?
It would have ended up as an exposure film if the story had ended within the torture room. I didn’t want to torture actors and staff so hard so to show what happened. I wanted to concoct a comprehensive story. I was curious about the idea of forgiveness in the first place. When interviewing the tortured victims, I asked them if they wanted to see the torturer or forgive him.
- When I saw the scene where LEE Du-han whistles, I thought you wanted to say that you can never forgive him.
He cannot be forgiven. As we can see from the fact that KIM Geun-tae died from the aftereffects of his torture, the trauma can’t be overcome easily. How can the victims forget it? If KIM Jong-tae forgave LEE Du-han, it wouldn’t mean LEE can be forgiven. He tortured a number of people. Even if KIM actually forgave LEE, it would have only made himself comfortable. This is not a personal issue of either KIM Jong-tae or each victim. It is a matter of Korean history and it would be a domain of the gods if they existed.
- What you really wanted to say could be hidden behind the story.
It has to do with the motivation that made me decide to shoot this film. I believe Korean people have to constantly face history to be able to resolve problems. Some people ask me why I keep on digging up uncomfortable truths, but I have to. Otherwise, the history will remain distorted. It could never be cured.
- The fact in the film is what happened only 20 years ago, which might continue still today. It seems that you wanted to show the film to the young generation.
That is an important point. My generation surely needs to watch it, but what is more important is that the young people watch it. I feel said for them because they live with the ideology formed by the domination mass media. Since I started teaching students at University several years ago, I have felt they are poor. They are not really young at heart. They only look young.
- How many do you predict to watch it?
I thought I would be really happy if a million viewers watch it. But people who watched it at the BIFF told me it is certainly feasible. This increases my expectations. If I can be as greedy as possible, I wish 30 million people watched it. That is about the number of 15-year-old Korean people or older.
Photograph by Hwang Jin-yong