Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • HWANG In-ho, Director of MONSTER
  • by SONG Soon-jin / 03.28.2014
  • "I Want to Think Free of Genre"
    Vicious serial killer Taesu (played by LEE Min-ki) meets innocent countryside girl Bok-soon (played by KIM Go-eun). He cruelly destroys her life and Bok-soon gears up to take her revenge. Monster is a collision of genres between an extreme action thriller and a fairytale-like fantasy, creating a new and strange cinematic world, while inviting controversial arguments. One thing for sure is that it is not the kind of movie to be understood in the mainstream trend of Korean commercial films today. Here’s a chat with HWANG In-ho, the director of Monster.
    - You must have received a variety of responses after the premiere.
    Yes, and I felt nervous. It seems they think it’s even stranger than I intended it to be. 
    - Your previous work Spellbound (2011) was a mixture of horror and romantic comedy. You are also known as the writer of To Catch a Virgin Ghost (2004) which also combines horror and comedy. You must have given a lot of thought to the mixing of genres.

    I would say that genres as rules or formats have become increasingly important in Korean commercial films. However, I feel uncomfortable within the format and its limitations. I want my story to flow free of genre restrictions and develop a new character. Why do you have to respect every genre rule? My story still makes sense anyway, with or without them.
    - I am curious how Monster came about.

    When I was still working on pre-production for Spellbound, I wrote the Monster scenario in my spare time.  At first, I thought of Taesu as a purely vicious character. He is deserted by his parents and lives alone in the woods, yet misses his family. I also needed a feeble persona as his opposite, and that became Bok-soon. At first it was an old granny, and she was to hunt down the monster with a mentally handicapped uncle and Nari, another girl serving as a guide. However, with an old granny, funding was not easy (laughs). So I turned that granny into an old neighbor in Bok-soon’s neighborhood, and that uncle was added into Bok-soon’s character. I like unusual female characters, so I made Bok-soon mentally deficient but also somewhat psychotic and ready to explode when attacked. In short, a crazy woman. How can a woman like that kill such a vicious and invincible man? Watching the process is the fun of the film.
    - You did a lot of work on other supporting characters, including Taesu’s family. It makes the audience wonder who on earth is the real monster.
    I heard an anecdote once that a man’s mother died and he buried her in the cemetery. On his way home, he was so hungry that he stopped at a Chinese restaurant and the black bean noodles had never tasted so good, despite his grief. Those moments show a glimpse of human nature. Human beings have many different aspects. Taesu’s mother locks her son up in a dog cage and abuses him, and she seems purely evil. However, towards the end, she volunteers to save the vulnerable little girl. Ik-sang, who makes Taesu commit murders, is in fact a loving father to his own son. These people are actually among our neighbors that we see every day. There is a certain kind of food chain among them. At the very top is the Jeon-sa-jang, the one who is responsible for Taesu’s act of murder in the first place, then there is Ik-sang’s family, and then Taesu, and at the very bottom are Bok-soon and Nari. The command comes down form the top. Ik-sang uses money and delivers the command, upon which Taesu murders Nari’s sister but it is Bok-soon who exacts her revenge. And in the end the Jeon-sa-jang at the very top and Bok-sun at the bottom finally meet, but they do not recognize each other, nor do they have any idea why all this occurred in the first place. However, the viewers would see that all this tragedy stems from the Jeon-sa-jang. This is a cross section of our society. They meet each other at the end, but have no idea who they are, and just walk on.
    - As the Korean film market is expanding, generic formats are being set down. As a result, Monster may look strange.

    In my previous work Spellbound, I just added a ghost to a simple love story, which resulted in a romance with a totally different texture than other romance films. In a similar vein, I was expecting the kind of dynamics you get when you introduce an innocent and happy girl, such as one you might find in a fairy tale, to the cruel world of Monster. What counts for me are characters. If you cry over your murdered sister and chase after the murderer, fighting, winning and losing, then the tone and manner of your film would be pretty much the same as other films. There are many directors who are better than me in these regards and Hollywood would surely do a great job of it. However, what interests me is the fresh tone created by a new type of character when he or she is introduced to a different cinematic world. I hope viewers find it interesting, too.
    - Aren’t those aspects an obstacle in terms of funding and production?

    Some were not happy by the open-ended ending, and they missed the kind of conclusion where the good are rewarded and bad are clearly punished. I did receive a suggestion to clarify and simplify the whole structure. However, when I actually explained where all this was coming from, most of them understood. The only real problem with funding was that it was too gory. But I had no wish to make it that way. For example, this film doesn’t clearly show the scenes where Taesu kills the supporting characters. Gore in my idea is to take something out of your belly (laughs). Monster does have violence but it is definitely different. 
    - How are you getting on with the scenario for your next film?

    It’s almost done. I am more interested in writing than shooting, because there is just me and the script. If I do a good job, everything is fine. When you are actually making a film, there are many kind of circumstances and people that you have to deal with, which is very hard for me. Even if I try very hard, that is not enough. My next work is called Conversation in the Dream, which is a prison break movie disguised as a romantic comedy. Here, what counts more than the characters are the circumstances that they are in. I want to get it done before my bank account runs out. I am living from hand to mouth. (laughs).

    By SONG Soon-jin 
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