[INTERVIEW] Director Kim Tae-yong - Part 1

최종수정 2011.02.25 18:29기사입력 2011.02.25 18:29

Director Kim Tae-yong [Beck Una/10Asia]

If you could compare humans to seasons, director Kim Tae-yong would be considered autumn. In terms of color, brown, and temperature-wise, maybe around 18 degrees celsius. There is no spring-like refreshing vitality, no summer-like vigor and no winter-like chill about this man. He rather talks and smiles with a forlorn warmth that can be felt in the fall. And his movie is like him so it is not warmly romantic like cherry blossoms, not a heated fast-moving action pic, nor a chilling horror. The love hidden behind fear in "Death Bell 2" was too obscure to make it a horror pic and the shadow of people in "Family Ties," beyond its main theme of love, was too dark to make it a romantic pic. And in "Late Autumn," the sight of killing someone and someone dying was too pathetic to make it an action film. That is why it will be hard to define what genre the movie is. We have no choice but to become sentimental over his third movie. Below is reporter Beck Una's interview with Kim.
* This article contains spoilers.

Beck Una: Is "Late Autumn" a project you had in mind for a long time?
Kim Tae-yong: No. I wanted to do a romantic movie after "Family Ties" but I couldn't come up with a good script. (laugh) So I was trying this and that out, writing this and that, when Boram Entertainment CEO Lee Joo-ick came to me with "Late Autumn." I had actually had a hard time finding an answer to what I wanted to make because I started thinking of a movie with the question "Is one person meeting another person always a good thing?" in my mind. So I think the set-up that a woman out of prison would meet a man and go back to prison made me feel comfortable because it would at least mean there is a limit to their time. I could just focus on what happens during the time they have together.

Beck: Even you haven't been able to watch the original pic from 1966 by director Lee Man-hee have you?
Kim: That's right because there's no film for it. It was made even before I was born so I'm sure nobody has watched it except for the audience who did when it was released. From what I heard, it happened because there was a country that wanted to import it so they sent the original film to Spain but the production company didn't have money to pay tax for it at the airport so they kept putting off paying for it. It's such a shame.

Beck: Well, regardless of that, I think that story of how it went missing has helped the movie become more of a legend. In addition to it being impossible to check whether it befits its reputation as 'the masterpiece of Korean filmmaking history,' the fact that it has been remade three times -- into Korean pics "Promise of the Body" in 1975, "Manchu" in 1981 and Japanese film "Promise" in 1972 -- proves how attractive the original piece was. I'm sure you must've felt pressured about making a remake of it for the first time in 40 years.
Kim: I looked up the Japanese version and had watched the Korean versions in the past but they're all so different. That's why I wasn't pressured to create something that is in someway different from the original piece. But I did keep thinking about how I should deal with the situations that had changed over time. When the last remake was made, in 1981, the mere fact that a woman from prison would date a man she has met for the first time was considered problematic. And liking a guy who is younger was bit taboo. That setup in itself was provoking. But nowadays it's popular for women to date younger guys (laugh) and if you're capable of meeting someone while you're briefly out of prison, then you should definitely go for it. (laugh) Also, the notion of distance has disappeared when it comes to meeting new people... we rather live in times where the distance you feel with someone you're seeing has grown internally. That's why I thought of how it would be nice to have a setup where these two people, who may look the same in Westerner's eyes, meet although they are of different cultures and languages. The woman having to go back to prison played a big part to the movie but for me, the fact that this is of the encounter between two people of commonalities and differences, of different languages and cultures, was bigger for me.

Beck: By the way, you shot the whole film overseas so I think you couldn't help but think of all the bad things, and even more, that could happen during those six months.
Kim: I spent two months in Seattle to finish the script, another two months in free production and a month and a half filming the movie. And luckily, there were a lot of hardships we suffered externally but none internally. The only Korean members of the crew were me, cinematographer Kim Woo-hyung, art director Ryu Sung-hee and make-up director Song Jong-hee. And the actors had to act in a foreign language so I think we shared the understanding that we need to look for something intangible needless of having to tell each other what that is. So we worked with great people and great actors but it wasn't easy shooting the film in terms of the conditions we were under.
Beck: Did you ever think 'I should just run away!' (laugh)
Kim: Not to the point of running away but I did think 'I've taken the wrong path. I'm screwed!' (laugh) We shot a total of 36 sessions during a month and a half but the problems we had during that time weren't an issue of language. Except for the three I just mentioned, everyone on the crew was American so I had a tough time adjusting because the American system is completely different from Korea's. Particularly in regards to time. In Korea, when we say we'll wrap up at six, we'll sometimes get done thirty minutes after that or even end up pulling all-nighters but in the U.S., they'll expect you to get done at exactly six. I wasn't used to working to a set time so it was tough in the beginning but I adjusted to the system mid-way onwards. I learned how to let go of things I would've gotten greedy of doing a better job with or I'd change the scene or prepare in advance to get the shot I want.

Beck: The scenes where Hoon brushed his hair in front of the mirror while putting on airs or him slouching his shoulders with his hands stuck in his coat pockets reminded me of Leslie Chung and James Dean. But Hyun Bin is actually an actor who exudes quite a strong image of being upright, maybe too much to play someone who lives his life as recklessly as Hoon.
Kim: Yes, he's very well-mannered. He is smart, bright and mature, sort of like a precocious child. I think that's why there was a lot we both wanted to do [with his character]... in terms of wanting to change him. We thought it would be good to change him. When you look at heroes from the classics, they're good-looking and look cool. But they're also very playful. So I told him I'd like for good-looking actors like him to show someone who is at ease and shameless. I asked him if he could do it and he said he'd try. I had watched his past TV series "Worlds Within" and I liked him from that. How should I put it... His eyes looked a bit sad, and while he'll also be very cheerful at times, his eyes would give off a distant vibe when he puts on a blank look, which I liked. That's why after Hyun Bin was cast as the male lead, I changed his character completely.

Beck: What's the biggest difference you made?
Kim: In the script I had been working on till then, Hoon was a more mature and melancholy adult, but after Hyun Bin was cast for the film, he became a more cheerful character. Anna is someone who will wonder how she will live in the future after having gone through something big in the past. Someone who you'll hope starts living somewhat of a fun life. On the other hand, Hoon is someone that might have something big happen to him. The feeling that because he is ignorant, good-natured and not scared, some kind of misfortune will soon come his way. The feeling that because of that uneasiness, someone should tell him he may have to pay dearly if he continues to act up. That's what I felt whenever I saw Leslie Cheung in Hong Kong movies. I felt uneasy about what would happen to him even when he was acting cute and bragging while saying, 'Come if you want to fight! Nobody is going to catch me!' That's why I felt that it would be nice for Anna and Hoon to meet at an intersection.

Beck: Did you have Tang Wei in mind for Anna's role from the very beginning?
Kim: I couldn't help it if our schedules weren't going to work out but I started on the script with Tang Wei in mind for the role of Anna. I'm not sure what Anna was like in the original piece since I haven't been able to watch it but the characters I saw in the remakes were all warm-hearted. You know, the older sister-type person who seems a bit piteous and is in low spirits but is likely to cover a warm blanket over her younger brother. But I wanted Anna to be someone who is a bit colder than that, someone who can restrain herself well. The type that says, "How dare you! I know what you're trying to do but why don't you try elsewhere!' (laugh) when someone approaches her. I wanted her to be someone who is strong in that sort of way but also deliver a subtle nervousness so I thought Tang Wei would be great for the part.

Beck: Weren't there any difficulties you faced in working with a foreign actress?
Kim: I think we both tried harder to read each other's hearts instead of understand each other's words because we speak different languages. And we had enough time to talk while staying in Seattle for two months before cranking in so we developed a language that goes beyond what needs to be interpreted. My English isn't great... 'Slow,' 'Don't smile' and 'Don't move' was pretty much all I said but she was able to read in between the lines each time.

Beck: The Korean audience had the image of Tang Wei being a strong yet slightly dark and serious woman because of her role in "Lust, Caution." But the Korean press fell in love with how cheerful and open she was when they interviewed her during her visit to Korea and we were also a bit surprised by how she created a catchphrase in Korean.
Kim: She's actually very mischievous. (laugh) Of course, I was very happy when I first saw her because she had the expressions and vibe I had imagined of her when writing the script. But she's basically someone who is full of curiosity, has a sound mind, and more than anything, works very hard. Anna is someone who has been in prison for seven years so she [Tang Wei] visited an American prison, met with prisoners, went to the markets and neighborhoods in Seattle with her interpreter to see how female Chinese immigrants live, followed the crew to location hunts, and actively took part in whatever was going on. She's someone who acts in the traditional way. She thinks you need to love someone dearly and with your heart if you love someone. In a way, it could seem too standard of a method to be acting by, to the point it seems ignorant, but with these types of actors, they either give you 10 or 100 while well-trained actors will give you at least 70 or 80 at the most. For example, while there are actors who can start crying in just a second after the camera rolls, Tang Wei usually doesn't cry that easily. But once she does, she really moves you. I think we were on the same wavelength in that sense.

Beck: That you both approach whatever is it quite ignorantly? (laugh)
Kim: (laugh) No. I'm someone who is talented at making such hard workers work less hard, at making people lose steam. On the other hand, I don't think I have the talent of making people who don't work hard work any harder or stimulating people without energy. Tang Wei is full of energy so I'm good at softening that and that's how we worked together well. I asked her many times to keep her energy but not express it. Tang Wei is actually very expressive but her character Anna in the film isn't.

Editor in Chief : Beck Una one@Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@, Jang Kyung-Jin three@
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