"Forging the New Within Commercial Cinema"
From JEON Do-yeon’s The Contact (1997), IM Sang-soo’s A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003) and The President’s Last Bang (2004), KIM Ki-duk’s The Isle (2000) to PARK Chan-wook’s Joint Security Area (2000), Myung Films is an important name in the history of contemporary Korean cinema. Myung Films has recently been enjoying a streak of success with titles such as Forever the Moment (2008), Architecture 101 (2012) and Cyrano Agency (2010). Then came 2013 which was a special year for the organization. Since its inception in 1995, this was the first time the company skipped a year of releasing films in theaters. Instead, they are ready to embrace the New Year with three new films, as well as introduce the Myung Fillms Cultural Foundation and the Myungfilm Film Institute. The husband and wife partners heading Myung Films, LEE Eun and SHIM Jae-myung(a.k.a. Jamie SHIM), each serve as key members of the Korean Film Producers Association and the Woman in Film Korea, where they are active in voicing contemporary issues of the local film industry. As one of the busiest people in the industry, we will take a glimpse at this year’s industry landscape through Myung Films’ SHIM Jae-myung.
- You have quite a few titles in your 2014 line-up.
The first film to open the year is a romantic comedy on fortysomething women, Venus Talk. This film is directed by KWON Chil-in of Singles (2003) and Hellcats (2008) with a cast of fortyish actresses: MOON So-ri, UHM Jeong- hwa and CHO Min-soo. Another film is Cart which is currently in production. Dealing with the story of part-time workers at large-scale supermarket chains, this film directed by BOO Ji-young of Sisters on the Road (2008) has started production this January and is aiming for a theatrical release during the second half of 2014. The last title is filmmaker IM Kwon-taek’s 102nd film Cremation (literal translation) introduced at the 18th Busan International Film Festival(BIFF). Based on the short story and winner of Yi Sang Literature Prize, the film started production on January 1st. The company is aiming for a Cannes Film Festival submission and theatrical release around the same time, but if the film scheduled to wrap up production in March cannot meet the Cannes deadline, the theatrical release date will still hold in 2014.
- Can you explain why you chose three projects of very different colors for this year’s line-up?
Venus Talk was one of the final runner up for the Lotte Entertainment sponsored screenplay competition. While participating in the final stage of the competition, which places great weight on encouraging project submitters to aggressively network with film companies, Myung Films expressed its interest in working on the project. Lotte and Myung has been in close collaboration through projects such as Cyrano Agency, Leafie, A Hen into the Wild (2011) and Architecture 101. Seeing that Venus Talk suited well with the company color of Myung Films, Lotte agreed to bring Myung on board for this conventional yet attractive commercial genre film. Tale of women in their forties has never been fully dealt with in Korean films before.
Taking on Cart was not in line with the rush of social critique films coming out such as Silenced (2011) and The Attorney (2013). It was more due to the sense of heightened public awareness and interest in the lives of women, inspired by Forever the Moment. Also coming across a news report on part-time female workers at large-scaled supermarket chains, we have made the decision to turn this story into a film. This subject matter was never dealt with by a mainstream film company with a commercial production budget and star cast. We are convinced that if the film succeeds in creating a public appeal as it has through Forever the Moment, it will lead to a positive effect which is another reason why we decided to take the film. As for IM Kwon-taek’s Cremation, this was a decision made out of the desire to participate with the acknowledgment of an outstanding filmmaker’s vision. And although we’ve never worked together before, our respect towards this master in film and the sense of responsibility we feel about assisting him in continuing his work had us join forces to work on a new project.
- Including your role in Women in Film Korea and giving various lectures, you have participated in numerous women’s leadership formats, and Myung Films latest titles display a strong female point-of-view.
Although I closely collaborate with my business partner, LEE Eun, my personal taste is considerably reflected in the final decisions as I have the final say. Not all female filmmakers are making films about women, and it’s not like there weren’t any female focused films made prior to Forever the Moment. But it is also true that there has been a growing interest in women’s lives since this film has been released which I believe is something all of us should realize. The commercial and cinematic accomplishments that came with the success of Forever the Moment had me think about the social impact of films. It seems that the producer’s growth is also determined by how their films fare in the market. These are realistic issues and producers must take such elements into consideration when working on a project. Most film plan and hope to cast A-class male stars, but films with a lead female cast could have the merit of being different and getting the spotlight. Not only that, it is easier to cast great female actors as they’re often complaining about the lack of lead roles available for them.(laughs) Although these projects may face harder times in succeeding commercially, I personally find it quite worthwhile.
- Have you been working on another animation project since Leafie, A Hen into the Wild?
We are in the scriptwriting stage and believe it will take the first half of 2014 to see how things will pan out. We are also considering animating two other projects that might be difficult to express through film. Ever since we made Leafie, A Hen into the Wild, we’ve been determined to continue our animation line and created a leader film under the title ‘Myung Films Animation’. It may not be a significant amount, but Leafie, A Hen into the Wild was sold to 50 territories worldwide. We’ve experienced that animation films can easily become global due to language interchangeability. The medium can reach beyond national borders through universal subject matters. We are unlikely to jump into international distribution, but starting with the next project, we are planning to take the Chinese market into consideration from the early development stages.
- The Myungfilms' Film Institute will open this year. How did it all start?
Many thoughts passed through our minds as we worked on 33 films throughout the years. Myung Films’ achievements were not just the results of our efforts, but those of the film industry artisans including film crew members, the directors, and the actors. Likewise, we established the Myung Films Cultural Foundation as a means to share film knowledge and skills we accumulated over the years with the upcoming generation. At the same time, we intend to train future film talents under a film school format. By helping young filmmakers to make outstanding works such as Bleak Night (2011) and The Journals of Musan (2011), we hope to enjoy their accomplishments as a team. LEE Eun will be in charge of managing and administrating the institute. We started promoting the institute for admissions early, because we place importance on feature scripts, but the construction for the institute’s building just recently started. Admissions will begin during the fall season of 2014 and classes are scheduled to start in February, 2015. Meanwhile, we have continued to give orientations about the institute via special platforms such as the “Myung Films’ Film Institute with Masters of Korean Cinema” in conjunction with the Busan Film Commission, which offers potential film students an opportunity to really learn about what happens on the film set. It has also given us a chance to prepare the institute’s curriculum. A superb faculty includes actress MOON So-ri, filmmaker PARK Chan-wook, along with filmmaker CHUNG Ji-young of Unbowed (2012) and National Security (2012), and documentary filmmaker KIM Dong-won of Repatriation (2004).
- How would you look back at last year’s local film industry as a member of one of the most powerful film production companies in Korea?
2013 was a heartbreaking year as it was one that film producers and filmmakers experienced serious setbacks due to the power of money, financiers and distribution. Filmmakers were fired or opted to withdraw from projects while in production, signaling the Hollywood-ization of the Korean film production system. I regret the fact that the consolidation of financing, distribution and even exhibition places too much power into the financier’s hands. Witnessing filmmakers being fired from the production scene, the conflict mostly stemmed between the filmmaker and financier and not the filmmaker and film company. Within the power structure of filmmaker-producer-financier, it has been hard for producers to have any proper say in the decision-making process. And in this light, I hope this year marks a change in this power structure whereby each role of filmmaker, producer and financier is clearly defined by recognizing and respecting each profession’s specific field.
- What do you think is the most required work to be done on the Korean film industry this year?
Major companies’ monopolization must be resolved. The façade of 200 million admissions in total local ticket sales has eluded us from acknowledging such industry polarization caused by monopoly. If only a few fortunate companies continue to reap profits in the market, this will ultimately work against the growth of the local film industry. Diversity now is imperative.
By SONG Soon-jin