Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • PANG Eun-jin, the Director of Way Back Home
  • by SONG Soon-jin  / 01.28.2014
  • "I Want to Make Films That Audiences Respond To"

    As an actress and director, PANG Eun-jin occupies a unique territory in Korean cinema. Since her debut as a director, such attempts have become frequent, with famous actors like HA Jung-woo, PARK Joong-hoon, and YU Ji-tae, who challenged themselves at filmmaking. However, she is the only one who does not have to rely on her star name as an actor (actress). Since her directing debut Princess Aurora (2005), although she did act in a few films including Crush and Blush (2008), she shaped herself more as a director with Perfect Number in 2012. That is why Way Back Home is a very important work for her, featuring JEON Do-yeon and released at the end of last year. It will be a turning point for her filmic agenda as to how to persuade more audiences and make the films that they agree to. She has a whole variety of genres to challenge at, including SF, action and war movies, and her ambition is to be a Korean Kathryn Bigelow.
    - It has been a year since Perfect Number and now you have released Way Back Home.
    This is a film based on a true story about a housewife from Korea who finds herself plunged into a legal ordeal and is put into jail for two years in France, while the Korean government paid no attention to it. I was inclined to this story because first of all, it is about an ordinary woman, and also it involves not just her but her husband and the entire family. I was also hoping such an incident would never happen again. 
    - You have to be really well balanced when handling a true story. What was your policy towards this?

    The actual victim was very much generous with the filmic rendition. If you think about it, you’d understand how much she must have suffered before she said yes to having it transcribe into a film. No matter how you adapt it, it is still based on a true story, so I wanted the camera to entirely follow the character of Jeong-yeon. It is not the kind of story where objectivity counts. Instead, with antagonists like the embassy staff who ignored her plea, I had a firm policy not to go beyond facts and to stay consistent with them.
    - Some say that this film is in favor of crime. How would you want the audiences to receive this film?

    This film does not say she is legally innocent. There is only one instance where she says it is unfair and she does not deserve it. Jeong-yeon went through a lot more than what she actually deserved, because people around her were indifferent to the unfair situation she was in. She did not deserve the kind of painful time, which was way too long. My first goal was to have the audiences agree that the punishment she received was much more than what she deserved. However, once the audiences understand the persona, I guess it is their share to agree to it or not. Some watch this film from a mom’s perspective, or a dad’s perspective. I have heard that when the little girl tried to comfort her dad, a lot of male audiences cried. I guess that’s because audiences put themselves in the film in their own ways. 
    - What was the biggest thing that you wanted to achieve in this film?

    Since it was based on a true story, I really wanted to shoot the Orly Airport in France, where she is caught as a drug trafficker. I wanted to show how French signs are displayed here and there, and how the unfamiliar space looked like to her, where no communication was possible. After a lot of work we managed to get the airport’s permission, but time was very limited and the budget went 4.5 times over what we planned in the first place. We were only allowed 12 hours for shooting, and towards the end, we ran out of time by 2 or 3 minutes and couldn't finish shooting the very scene where she was caught at customs. I could have tried harder, but I think we covered all that we needed. The mere word “airport” makes me almost puke now, though. (laughs)
    - Midway through the film, Jeong-yeon’s frustration and dramatic feelings seems to go on forever. 

    I looked at this film from Jeong-yeon’s perspective. The happiest moment in her tragedy is when she hears that she can finally go to court for her trial, now that the real criminal is caught. That point is exactly halfway in the film. However, the climax would be the final trial towards the end. When shooting this scene, both JEON and I were very sensitive. We had different opinions as to how to control the level of emotions. Usually JEON does one perfect rehearsal and goes for one or two takes, but this time, at the court scene, she went for several takes. We could say we came all the way for this scene, that’s how important that scene was for us all.
    - As a fellow actress, and as a director, how would you assess JEON’s acting?

    JEON is excellent at portraying an ordinary figure that is close to our everyday life. She does not need a director’s direction, if you just give her a plate, she can make a great meal. She takes the script seriously, and when it comes to altering the lines, she would discuss it with the director even for one single word. However, although she agrees with the overall narrative, she keeps a very sharp and sensitive perspective on details. She thought very long and hard, and decided to abstain herself from too much dramatic expressions. I guess she didn’t want to replace emotions with acting. In return, it was a great problem for me because I was counting on making the audiences cry (laughs). She has many needles like a porcupine. However, even when all the needles are sharp and erect, it was not painful for me to embrace her. I was truly privileged as a director to witness JEON, live and real. 
    - If you pick one scene where JEON’s acting was the best?

    There’s a scene where Jeong-yeon escapes sexual assault by the prison warden and runs into the beautiful seaside. She’s been in jail where it’s bleak and without human warmth, and now she encounters the grand nature. She is scared that she is confined within massive walls made of water, far away from home, and also at the same time, consoled by the beauty. I gave her no direction on this scene. It was just enough to have her in bare feet along the seaside looking at the waves. I wanted her to focus on the sky and the sea without being interrupted.
    - Your female leading characters are always very strong.

    There’s no such thing as a weakling in my works. Actually, there were inevitable moments in some of my previous works. Princess Aurora was a genre film, and Perfect Number had to be true to the original work that it was based on. However in Way Back Home, I wanted the heroine to defeat the troubles. Basically, I don’t think human beings are weak creatures. I believe in their power. Also, I don’t like how society stereotypes women, and categorizing them as weak. I want to look at my women as human beings, rather than putting them in a feminine perspective or emotions.
    - You’re done with your third feature film. What is your goal as a director? 

    For the time being, my goal is to make films within universal grammar and make them interesting enough for Korean audiences. I have learned a lot from great box office hits which I thought back then were mediocre. If a film gets praised by the audiences, there must be a reason for that. Now I am thoroughly taking the audience’s point of view. I also want to make a film that I want to see as a viewer. However, you have to think about the future, too. You can’t insist on just what you want to do, and you have to think about capital interest and profit. (laughs) However, every director would want to look at the world and depict it differently than others. That is how I have come up with the idea of making a Chosun Dynasty version of Sex and the City. If I am given the opportunity, I want to make a whole variety of genre films. Action, SF, and even war movies. Somebody once called me a Korean Kathryn Beglow, and I loved it. She is awesome and beautiful. Her films are powerful. When she received a prize at the Academy Awards, I said to myself, wait for me, Kathryn! (laughs)
    By SONG Soon-jin
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