KANG Yun-sung, Director of LONG LIVE THE KING
Jul 11, 2019
- Writerby KIM Su-bin
“I’m the happiest the moment I’m on the set.”
He might have had to wait 17 years to see his first film coming out, but his sophomore movie hit theaters less than 2 years later. KANG Yun-sung, who brought to the screen a variety of talent and actors and offered an interesting new take on a familiar genre with his debut feature THE OUTLAWS (2017), is in the spotlight this time for his tale of nice and powerful little heroes. The actors of his latest, Long Live the King (subtitled “Mokpo’s Hero” in Korean), are all shining, irrespective of the importance of their roles. To talk about his new film, we met with KANG Yun-sung, who once said, “I’ve spent 17 years just writing in cafes, so I’m the happiest the moment I’m on the set”.
What part convinced you to turn this original story into a film?
I only saw a draft from original author RYU Gyeong-seon, without having read the webtoon before. I figured that since the ingredients were good I would be able to cook something nice. The protagonist character in particular was impressive. Perhaps like no other person today, he is an outspoken character, and I rather think that, at this point, this makes him seem even more original.
Your focus on the screenplay adaptation work must have been all the more important given the popularity of the well-known webtoon it is based upon.
I worked from the original creator’s draft only and saw the webtoon just before the film went into production. The reason for that is that I didn’t want my understanding of the webtoon’s images and characters to be biased. It didn’t even occur to me that I would have to meet the expectations of the webtoon’s readers. I just wanted the film to be enjoyed by a few more people as a result to having the story itself be portrayed a little bit more realistically.
Just like THE OUTLAWS (2017), Long Live the King has a strong regional flavor owing to the locutions and intonations used.
The city of Mokpo has a certain charm to it. I like the fact that it is tiny port town at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Even though it is a well-known city, not so many people have actually been there. I envisaged that what happens in this small town might epitomize in a way today’s Korean society. It’s not that I had the intention to show my political colors or deal with complex reasoning with this film, but what Korean society needs is a simple but honest figure who could decently represent us. In that respect, despite the film being set in a small town and about the little people, I worked on it thinking how much such a character could become the reliable figure we want, were he to join the National Assembly.
You found or brought under a new light many actors with personality in your previous film. What was your priority this time for the casting?
Beyond the lead actors KIM Rae-won, WON Jin-ah, CHOI Gwi-hwa, JIN Seon-kyu, the rest all had to audition. Even the actors who had appeared in THE OUTLAWS (2017) all went through one or two auditions. For these auditions, we had no less than 1,200 candidates. Rather than evaluating their acting skills, we were looking for the most appropriate actors for the roles. I just cannot know everything about the characters. Actors look at what I have prepared and consider, “That character must be like that”. The same is true on the set. I don’t think I know everything of the films I’m shooting. I’m sure that the staff members know better about their respective areas, and that the actors too have given a lot of thoughts about their respective characters. I believe that we must create movies together through careful consideration and discussion. I could say we are growing up together like children.
The film is a blend of action, melodrama and politics. How did you manage to keep the right balance?
I fundamentally think of this film as a melodrama. From start to finish, I wanted to do it as a melodrama. And as for the primary main emotion, it would be human drama. The plot revolves around the growing phase of Jang Se-chul. And then humor and action is mixed with it. In general, I will be glad if people see it as an entertainment film. Actually, I don’t want it to be defined in terms of genre. It is a movie for which I was very much concerned about having to place the camera closer at any point.
The final ending credit scene is impressive, in that the boundary between the characters and actors fades away and the members of the cast show up in time with the lyrics of the title song to sing it. It seems to be a scene where stand out the ideas of a director who has worked on all kinds of videos formats.
I wanted the audience to leave the theater with a happy mind once they finish watching the film. This scene means that, “Everything you saw up to now was a lie. If you have enjoyed these two hours, you may now leave with a happy mood.” That’s why the actors are suddenly singing a song, I wanted to tell them that this is not a serious political movie.
You had to wait 17 years to make your debut. Is there anything you would like to say to fellow film directors who may have been preparing their debut for a long time?
There is something I once said at a lecture. I don’t want to tell them that it might work well if they try hard. That’s a lie. Had I not received a phone call greenlighting THE OUTLAWS (2017), my life too would probably be different now. If you ask me if I needed to make a film at all costs to be happy, I don’t think that was the case. But I would like to say that if an opportunity or hope starts to take shape, then hang on to it till the end despite the difficulties. I felt like I was growing up little by little during that long period when I was preparing the film. The thought started to slowly form in my mind that I would like to make a film. I kept falling and that wasn’t going well, but the scenario was also being iterated little by little and hope started to form. Without that hope, it would have remained vaguely unchanged.
I would like to know more about your plans for the next film. Are you working on a film based on an original story?
I don’t feel like I need to prioritize the stories I write. As a director who makes mainstream films, I notice the periodic fluctuations. I work bearing in mind the idea that, “it would be better if such a film comes out at this period”. Also, since scenarios are not delivered in a format that makes them ready to shoot, I make a lot of changes even to scripts that are not mine. Long Live the King went through twelve versions. I wonder if I will be able, before long, to do a film out of an original script of mine.
After graduating, you lived as a student in San Francisco. You are fluent in English and have experience abroad, so would you consider working abroad?
Of course. I sure want to try that.