“Definitely, I Like Women’s Stories”
(2008) and Venus Talk
, KWON Chil-in really deserves to be called a “women’s film specialist.” In other words, he is the most outstanding male director who features contemporary women’s worries and desires in his lively narratives. His latest film Venus Talk features women in their 40s, who, in the past, would have only played somebody’s mother or extras in Korean films. Shin-hye (played by UHM Jeong-hwa) is doing well at work as a TV producer but suffers from loneliness, while Mi-yeon (played by MOON So-ri) is obsessed with her sex life with her husband and Hae-young (played by CHO Min-soo) is dreaming of getting married again. However, although they are a few years older than KWON’s previous protagonists, these women are still provocative, sexy and honest.
- You’re featuring women in their 40s as the main characters in your film.
It all began when Jaime SHIM (CEO, Myung Films) handed me the winner of the Lotte Entertainment Scenario Competition. I thought I could do it well, and it was quite similar to my previous works, except the age of the characters was somewhat older. Most of all, it was the kind of film where you don’t have to fabricate much. To make an audience believe in fiction, you need to tell a variety of lies, but this story has a very realistic narrative.
- Didn’t it worry you that it was a romantic comedy of women in their 40s?
It did in terms of box office potential. However, although it may take longer than other films to find it, this kind of film does have an audience. What worried me more was that this film was an omnibus, made with several different independent stories. In Korea, these films have proven to be less popular. Korean audiences like a more stable narrative, and in those movies the stories are chopped up. So we put a lot of work into making the three characters consistent. Rather than three stories of three different women, I wanted to make it seem as though one woman had three different egos.
- A successful career woman, an affluent middle class housewife and a single mom wanting to get remarried are not standard characters in Korean society. It must have been an important task to bring fantasy and reality into balance.
If you look at it as separate fragments, Shin-hye may look like a character with some fantastical elements, considering her job and her romance with a younger guy. Of these three, Hae-young is the most realistic character. However, through the stars’ magnificent acting, I believe the boundary between fantasy and reality has been blurred. Because the characters are played by popular actresses like UHM Jeong-hwa, MOON So-ri and CHO Min-soo, the fantasy elements in their characters become convincing. As a director, I did a lot of work to make things realistic. If a scene took place in a broadcasting station, I asked staff that actually worked there about it, the same goes for the police station scenes. One by one, I checked if things were plausible and realistic.
- Towards the end of the film, things get very heavy as Hae-young is diagnosed with cancer. Until then, the overall tone was very bright and light, then reality steps in.
I tried to fit in a serious and downbeat element without hurting the overall tone of the film. However, I still wanted the audience to leave the theater in a good mood. So I switched the ending to make it a little more positive, as opposed to the original scenario. This is how the box office formula for this genre goes.
- How did you get on with the three actresses?
They have all had rich experiences in acting, so there weren't any problems whatsoever. All I had to do was to set up the place, and they did the rest. I met UHM Jeong-hwa for the first time in ten years since Singles, and she has become an even greater actress in the meantime. MOON So-ri is a very powerful actress. The way she concentrates and explodes is amazing. CHO Min-soo felt like an iron castle at first, very defensive, but as we talked more and more, she revealed her weaker self, which was also reflected in Hae-young’s character.
- Despite being a male director, all your films feature female personas. Is there a special reason for this?
I like women much more than men. (laughs) It is much more fun to work with women, and they make me more curious. The way I see it is that women are more advanced creatures than men. For example, look at teenagers. In their teens girls are like grownups but boys are still like little kids. Also, my directing career was an influence. The first film that I worked on as an assistant director was the late PARK Chul-su’s Fog Columns (1986). It was about a woman who tries to forge a new life, when she becomes stuck between work, family and her husband’s extramarital affair. So I read a lot about women’s film and had a feminist film in mind as my film debut. So I made a feature with two great but underestimated actresses, which became Singles. Once that film worked out well, one thing led to another and I kept making films featuring women.
- Isn’t it hard for a male director to understand women?
Of course, as a man, I bump into limits and problems, but I try to work them out with my persistence and academic curiosity. (laughs) The focus of my curiosity is actors. I am the kind of director who relies a lot on actors. I try to talk a lot with them, wanting to discover their hidden features that no one else saw earlier. I review TV shows and entertainment programs to study them. And if I am still clueless, then I ask my actresses: ‘Are women really like that?’ (laughs) Wouldn’t you say I am good enough to be a women’s film specialist? (laughs)
By HA Jeong-min (Film Critic)