(Click the above 'LKFF News' and 'LKFF Reviews' links to access the other pages of this site subsection)

Chung Chang-hwa is one of Korea’s most renowned action/martial arts directors. His filmography is unique in Korean cinema in that after becoming an established director in 1960s Korea, he moved to Hong Kong and produced some of that territory's martial arts classics such as Five Fingers of Death.

The following group interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on 13 November 2015, as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2015


Ekran Magazine: Your career began in the 50s, and then you moved to Hong Kong and established yourself there. During that time, which project do you feel influenced your career most profoundly? And which project is your favourite?

First of all, when I was working with the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong I was hired as a specialist for their action films, I felt that I could make the same style of Chinese action films so I gave it a try. As for the most prominent work of mine, that would be Five Fingers of Death, which was the US title, and the UK title was King Boxer.It was the first international film that went to the US box office. It is based off a Chinese mythical tale, so because of its results in the box office it was the most prominent. It is also my favourite.

Hangul Celluloid: Having been so influential in martial arts and action cinema in Korea and across the world, even to being referenced in the West, What are your thoughts on how Korean cinema has changed over the years, and what are your thoughts on what Korean cinema now? And where does martial arts stands in Korean cinema today?

So, as you would know very well, in 1950 there was the Korean War, and at the time so many of the industries were completely destroyed and people went through a lot of suffering. So what people needed was hope, and also the right kind of stimulus. I felt that’s why action films at the time had this boom in popularity. Koreans, as a nation, are drawn to the emotional aspect of filmmaking. Because of the roughness of the industry, the rapid change, and the industrialisation of the country, meant it was almost a practical need for us to have these kind of films. Based on that, I feel that a lot of young directors now are very grounded, and that will increase the popularity of action films.

easternKicks: In the late 60s, the Shaw Brothers was the biggest studio in Asia, and probably in the world. What was your experience working with them? And how did you feel when Run Run Shaw offered you a job as a director?

Any director would prefer to work in a bigger market than a small market. So, with any director, I felt very privileged to have been given the opportunity to find a studio that could support me in appealing to a larger audience. But what is important is the director’s calibre, so you need to be fully devoted and you need to do a lot of studying, and always have to come up with something new in order to satisfy the studios needs and demands.

The London Tree: You have contributed so much into Hong Kong cinema, by working for the Shaw Brothers and then by working for South Korean cinema. How did it feel when you stopped making films?

The Shaw Brothers gave me a lot of support in making their films, and then I got a call from the Korean government asking me to come and contribute to the Korean Film Industry, so I went back. But the dictatorship at the time meant it was impossible to have creative freedom, there were a lot of conflicts, and I made 21 films in that time. At that time, I suffered having ten to fifteen minutes cut from each film, so for the audience, when they went to see these films, the plot wouldn’t make sense because it was cut in various parts. So, gradually, the audience stopped seeing those films. Also, during the regime I was caught by police and locked up, and I suffered a lot. During that process my health suffered, which is why my wife suggested we move to the US, so that would be the reason why I left the business.

Ekran Magazine: You have influenced so many filmmakers. Who were the filmmakers who influenced you? And are there any current filmmakers that you particularly enjoy the work of?

In the 60s Korean cinema was largely influenced by Japanese cinema, so it was very heavy in dialogue. But then Hollywood films started to come in, and they were very high in tempo. So there was really spectacular scenery, and that meant that the audience wasn’t satisfied with heavy-dialogue films anymore. One director in particular that I was heavily influenced by was George Stevens, and I was particularly influenced by his film Shane. It was filmed on a very low-budget, but it was light on dialogue, used the montage technique, and was heavy on image. It also had a message so I felt that maybe I could make something that carries a message that is light on dialogue, but also very high in tempo to bring back the Korean audience that were lost to Hollywood films. I studied a lot, especially with his films, and that led me to create Sunny Fields that brought me the contract with the Shaw Brothers. There weren’t any Korean films that went into action films, and I felt that I had to make the first move. It is a rather sensitive issue to give a specific name of a current filmmaker, but I feel there are many enthusiastic directors that I am happy with.

Hangul Celluloid: Considering that you have spent your life doing action films that are very choreographed, how regimented are you about other aspects of filming? Do you work on storyboards? Do you plan scene upon scene? Or do things change as your film is progressing?

To be very honest, I feel that maybe melodrama or romantic films are easier to make than action films. We can study them to make a good film, whereas with action it’s not just about the amount of time spent studying things, it is also a very physically and mentally demanding process. I don’t have a specific interest in martial arts, although I studied a little bit of Kendo in school. At the time in Korea we didn’t have a choreographer, so it was largely down to the creative imagination of the director, and that’s what I mean by devotion. The director always has to study a lot more than the audience. I consider action films to be adult fantasy, and what I meant by devotion earlier is that any success is hard-earned by the devotion the director has to making films.

easternKicks: You are one of the earliest successes of Korean cinema to an international audience with King Boxer.
How do you feel about the current popularity of Korean cinema? And the increased presence of the country’s culture through the Halyu (Korean Wave)?

Looking at my successors work, I can see a lot of creativeness and polish so I expect it to get even better from now on. Compared to my time, the technological advances are stunning, and there is also the global distribution available to filmmakers now - so I think that as long as the directors give their all then they have a much better future ahead of them.


I'd sincerely like to thank film journalist Roxy Simons (who appeared in this interview as easternKicks) for transcribing this interview with director Chung Chang-hwa. It is wholly thanks to her transcription speed and skill that the interview is online so soon after taking place.


Zhang Lu is a third-generation Korean Chinese filmmaker who has consistently made films about the lives of Korean Chinese. Along the way has developed into one of the most followed Asian filmmakers. Zhang is seeking ways to produce films outside of Korea and China after completing ‘Dooman River’ (2009), a joint project with France. Zhang made the mid-length documentary ‘Over There’ (his first non-fiction work), a commissioned work that was part of the Jeonju International Film Festival’s Jeonju Digital Project in 2013. Later, that short was expanded into a feature called Scenery, which debuted at the Busan International Film Festival the same year. A year later, he returned to fiction filmmaking with the romantic feature ‘Gyeongju’, starring PARK Hae-il. His latest feature is Love And… starring Ahn Sung-ki and Moon So-ri.

The following group interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on 13 November 2015, as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2015


easternKicks: Your film is split into several chapters, and each one uses a different film style, why did you decide to use these particular styles for each chapter? And how do you think they each represent love?

When I first started making this film, I was offered by the Seoul Elderly People’s Film Festival and they asked me to make a film for the opening gala. So I made the first chapter that is shown in Love and… and that expanded to become the film in the end. Going back to this film festival, the opening film I made was about the quality and feelings of film and elderly people. Another reason why I was interested in using film was because nobody uses it these days, they all use digital. There’s not even a place in Korea where I can bring the negatives and get them developed, so I had to go overseas to Japan to get it printed.
When it came to the other chapters in the film, I couldn’t sleep thinking that I was using digital. I felt that after all that, I needed to make Love and… using film. So I went back to the first chapter, and shot the space that was in the first chapter using film. I also missed the actors in the period when film was used, so in this film that’s why I brought the actors back from the ‘old days’ and made the film in 60mm.
If I knew the definition of love I would quit my job. I am still in search for the meaning of love and I am not sure if I will find the meaning of love in the end.

View of the Arts: Before we go back to Love and… some of your previous films tackled the sensitive issue of ethnic Chinese Koreans, and Koreans living in China, which can be seen in Grain in Ear, Desert Dream, and Dooman River. Is there any personal attachment to these projects?

My background is definitely reflected in my movies. My parents immigrated to China during the Japanese occupation back in the 1930s, and I was born there and brought up there. In the last three years, I moved to South Korea to teach people about movies and my life has changed quite a lot as a result. Love and… doesn’t have this theme, but this doesn’t mean that my style of making films has changed.

Hangul Celluloid: Love and… references to a number of classic Korean films, Memories of Murder, Blind River, Peppermint Candy, how did you go about choosing which films to reference? And why did you pick those films?

If you literally translate the title of Love and… from Korean, it literally means Film Period Love. The four main actors and actresses that are in this film have worked on films that use film before, for example Moon So-ri did this in Peppermint Candy, so that was the reason I used that film. Park Hae-il was in Memories of Murder which was also made using film, so that’s the reason why I chose those four movies. These actors and actresses were actually most active in the industry when film was being used.

Ekran Magazine: You worked with Moon So-ri, Ahn Sung-ki, Park Hae-il, and even with Shin Min-a. Are there any filmmakers that particularly inspire you? And are there any actors that you would like to work with?

These actors were starring in my small-scale film to volunteer their talents - they didn’t get paid, and they just did it for the love of film. So any good actress or actor that is willing to work with me is always welcome. I became a director at the age of 40, which is quite late, and I didn’t study film in university or anything of the sort. I had only watched Hollywood films before I started becoming a director, and when I mademy first movie, my producer recommended me to famous directors such as AndreiTarkovsky. After I sawTarkovsky’s films, I was sweating because they were so great - if I had watched his films before I started I would never have become involved in the industry. I thought ‘There are so many great directors, so how dare I be lookedup to as a role model?’

The London Tree: I really liked your film Gyeongju, and I really liked it. What kind of techniques did you use to make this film?

Thank you for liking this film. Filmmakers sometimes don’t even know what devices or techniques they can use for a film. I didn’t use a certain technique, it was the space that I used in the film which pretty much did the whole job. Most parts of the film were in fact my own experience. I did go to Gyeongju province in 1995, and I stumbled upon that café, drank the tea, and accidently found the picture. I really did go to the funeral of my friend’s father. All of these experiences were quite surreal, and they weren’t really connected but it did happen in a couple of days. So there’s no such technique, it was the space. The later part in the film where Park Hae-il went to Shin Min-a’s film was the only thing that wasn’t based on my own experience. The film pretty much reflects the atmosphere of Gyeongju, and that does the job of the movie. So go to Gyengju, and you never know, you might meet someone as beautiful as Shin Min-a!


I'd sincerely like to thank film journalist Roxy Simons (who appeared in this interview as easternKicks) for transcribing this interview with director Zhang Lu. It is wholly thanks to her transcription speed and skill that the interview is online so soon after taking place.


Lee Kwang-kuk’s debut, Romance Joe (2011), received the Citizen Critics’ Award at the Busan International Film Festival and was invited to the Vancouver International Film Festival and International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2012. His next short film, Hard to Say (2012), competed for the Dragons and Tigers section at Vancouver in 2013. Lee returned to feature filmmaking with his sophomore work, A Matter of Interpretation, in 2014. One of the most warmly received Korean films at the Busan International Film Festival that year, the dream-infused comedy, starring Yu Jun-sang and Shin Dong-mi, picked up the Coup de coeur Inalco Award at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema in 2015.

The following group interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on 10 November 2015, as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2015


Hangul Celluloid: I’d like to ask about your work before you became a director. You have worked on a significant number of Hong Sang-soo films, such as HaHaHa, Like you Know it All,and Woman on the Beach. How much has Hong Sang-soo’s filmmaking influenced you in your career? And did his filmmaking perhaps inspire you to move into directing yourself, or was that an idea before?

I have many great influences from director Hong, I did major in film at university but I didn’t know how fun it was to make a film before directly experiencing that with director Hong. I think that made me want to become a director in my own right. I learnt a lot by working together with him, and writing was the first thing that I learnt directly from him. I also looked at how he worked with actors, and how he tried to portray things that couldn’t be captured in the script on film.
I also learnt that I could influence someone with good feelings, someone that I don’t know, and thatI could give them a meaningful time when watching the film - that is something that I learnt from director Hong.

easternKicks: Following on from that question, when you started out and made Romance Joe, how did you put the things that you learnt from Hong Sang-soo into practice?

It’s not actually represented directly onto my films, I think as a filmmaker I learnt how to approach things and the attitude I should take. I also learnt from him what process I should go through during and after making a film, so it wasn’t that it was directly transferred onto a film itself but it was what I learnt about the process of doing things.

Ekran Magazine: With A Matter of Interpretation, you take on more than just the role of director, you were also a script-writer and producer. How did your creative process work when making this film?

In Korea I had to find the funding to produce and make this film, and I couldn’t get the funding in the normal way. So in a way I had to be the producer of the film because I had an image of how I wanted it to look, so it was not something that I could help at the time. I had some restrictions from that, so I had to take on the role of producer rather than just as a director, and it pushed me to see the cards that I had to use in terms of creativity, and to see how I could make a film around that.

Hangul Celluloid: If I can take that one stage further, you’ve talked about being a producer on your own. Both A Matter of Interpretation and Romance Joe are being distributed by M-Line distribution, which is a pretty big company, and as far as I am aware both are available on the KoBiz website for critics to view. Has your place in terms of being an independent versus a commercial director changed as your career has gone on? Or are you still having trouble with funding, and are you still completely independent, with just the films being distributed at the end of the day?

It is still hard for me to get funding for a film, but in terms of commercial films there are restrictions on the storyline and there is less character to a story as well, which is different to independent films. So I think I will continue to work like this, and, while the distribution companies are influential, it is better for me to focus on what I want to say and how I want to say it.

easternKicks: You said that you struggled to find funding for your film, despite working with such a prestigious director as Hong Sang-soo. What other challenges did you face as an independent filmmaker?

After making a film, which is a hardship in itself, I found that there wasn’t room in the Korean cultural sector for independent films to have their film screened, unless they have a famous face onscreen. So, before that stage, it’s not important to get funding, but after producing and making the film it is difficult to find the audience because of the lack of screenings.

Ekran Magazine: I wanted to touch on that. In terms of famous faces, the lead actress in A Matter of Interpretation laments her role because it is given to an idol actress. What was your approach to casting in your films? And what is your opinion on the casting of idol actors on such projects?

In terms of casting, whether someone is famous or not isn’t important to me. If the actor has the characteristic approach that I can relate to then that is important. I know that idol actors these days need to prepare a lot just like any other actor, but I do believe that the current casting system in Korea has a lot of problems, which is why I approached it in a different way in my film.

Hangul Celluloid: We were all given access to your films,Hard to Say, Romance Joe, andA Matter of Interpretation. When I was doing research, everywhere I looked said that Hard to Say came after Romance Joe. Was Hard to Say made as a short to enable you to move from being an assistant director to a full-time director? Or did it come post-Romance Joe as a project in its own right? And if that’s the case, what are your thoughts on the part that shorts play on Korean cinema in general?

We know that long novels and short novels have their own strengths, and I feel that it is the same way with films. In Korea, these days, students do seem to make short films in order to get into the film industry, but there are distribution problems alongside it, so there is a pessimistic side to the story.

easternKicks: This film sees the second time that you are working with Shin Dong-mi, and I was wondering how did you come to find her? And also what was it like to work with her on this film and was it different to how she approached her role in Romance Joe?

In the casting of Romance Joe, the actor Kim Young-pil introduced me to her, and before giving her the script we met and talked beforehand, just to see what she was like. I felt that we got along quite well, so I suggested we worked together before giving the script to her, and that’s how she became involved in Romance Joe. After that, I felt that we worked really well together, and with the other actors. So with A Matter of Interpretation I had that in mind, and I wrote the script with her cast already. I saw how she was in daily life, and I think that’s how she approached things in her acting.

Ekran Magazine: There are some themes that appear in all of your projects, how do you choose them? Is there a specific message that you want to send with your films?

I felt that I wanted to give the nuance that the story ofAlice in Wonderland has, rather than a specific theme. Like Lego pieces, they have different shapes, but they can make different things more structured. I think I am in the process of finding out how to do that in my films.

Hangul Celluloid: In terms of coming up with a scenario for a film, what process do you go through? Do you create a film based on a story specifically? Or do you focus on a character and build from there? And having worked with Hong Sang-soo, when you’re filming are things set and you then go and film them? Or do you do what Hong Sang-soo does, and almost morph the story as you go through?

I think I start with someone in a certain situation.So in Romance Joe I was focused on someone that was committing suicide because they didn’t have a story anymore, and in A Matter of Interpretation, she didn’t have an audience anymore. So I think that I focus on the characters and build a story based on that. In terms of shooting, I do re-write the script of the film and morph things as the filming goes on. So, to summarise, the characters all have a certain situation and I focus on building a structure around that.

easternKicks: As you just mentioned, in Romance Joe and A Matter of Interpretation you have main characters that don’t have anything happening in their lives anymore. Why are you interested in these kinds of characters? And why do you decide to focus on them as your main characters?

When writing the script I feel that generally I am focusing on things that are near me rather than far off. So the concerns I have are the same as the characters, and they are created through that process. So the concerns I have are reflected in the writing of the script, and also in the characters as well.

Ekran Magazine: What do you feel is the main message that you are trying to send through your characters and through these stories, both in Romance Joe and A Matter of Interpretation?

Rather than a message, in Romance Joe I think I was pondering on what a good story has, what meaning and role a story has, and why people look for good stories. In A Matter of Interpretation I wanted to look at how dreams and reality influence each other, and how things change from that.

Hangul Celluloid: Romance Joe, A Matter of Interpretation, and Hard to Say, have been invited here at the London Korean Film Festival, and both of your features are at international festivals. Having watched your films, though they are by a Korean director in Korean language, they feel to me much more universal than specifically Korean, was that a deliberate choice on your part? Do you feel your films are specifically Korean, or do you seem them more universal than other Korean directors might be considered?

In making the film I don’t plan to make a specific film that is Korean, I feel that if I work hard to make it and someone watches it at the end of that, then that’s it. I don’t think it’s very important, but then I don’t go for general things either. I am more concerned about making the film, and, like I said before, it’s not very important that it’s Korean or very global, if someone is watching it at the end of the day then that is very good.

easternKicks: What interested you initially in dreams, and their reflection on reality? And how do you think they can be influential on real-life?

Before writing A Matter of Interpretationmy father collapsed and spent six months in hospital, and during that time he was mixing up dreams and reality, perhaps like a crazy person. But after some time, I felt some distance was created and I was able to watch him. I began to wonder what dream a is, and, while I was interested in it before, I think watching my father made me think more specifically about it so that I wanted to explore the idea of dreams and reality. This is something that I think generally as well, if there are people who sleep more than other people, say someone sleeps for 12 hours, they would be spending half a day, and over a longer period, half their lives sleeping. So if they spend so much time dreaming, then what’s the difference between dreams and reality? Where’s the vision in that? So I think I was influenced by that as well.

Ekran Magazine: What are you currently working on? And what are your plans for the future?

Right now, I just made another short film. Next year I am currently devising a script for another feature film, and I do continuously think about making films.

Hangul Celluloid: We are all here as critics, what are your thoughts, as a director, about film reviews? Do you see them as important? I have spoken to lots of directors, Kim Ji-eung who reads everything written about him, Im Sang-soo who refuses to read anything. What are your thoughts on reviews, do you feel that critical acclaim is almost as important as audience numbers?

Critics and filmmakers are working in completely different areas, and I think that critical writing is something or a wonder to me personally. But I do think they can co-exist in a good relationship. As a filmmaker I think this is the most important thing: if we are hungry and the others say something, or if they block that person, no matter what happens they will still go find food to fulfil that hunger. So if someone has that hunger to achieve something, and others make good comments on your work then it’s a good thing, it’ll be lucky for them as well. But I think I’ll continue to be making stories because I have that hunger, and fulfilling that hunger is important.

easternKicks: With the title, A Matter of Interpretation, suggests that us as an audience should be looking at the meaning behind what is shown on screen. For example, there is this detective that is interpreting the dreams, but this might not necessarily be how others interpret it. Is it important for us, as the audience, to be able to interpret your message?

In making my two feature films and short films, rather than having a definite storyline I wanted a structure of a storyline that could have different interpretations for an audience, because that is more interesting to see. So, yes, I had wanted to make films with different interpretations.

I'd sincerely like to thank film journalist Roxy Simons (who appeared in this interview as easternKicks) for transcribing this interview with director Lee Kwang-kuk. It is wholly thanks to her transcription speed and skill that the interview is online so soon after taking place.


After establishing his career as an actor in both films and television series, Baek Jae-ho and a group of his friends decided to move into filmmaking. Baek was the co-producer, co-cinematographer and one of the actors in ‘Ordinary Days’ (2013), and a producer and actor in ‘Santa Barbara’ (2014). ‘We Will Be OK’ (2014) is Baek Jae-ho’s first feature film as director.

The following group interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on 9 November 2015, as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2015


Hangul Celluloid: If we look at ‘We Will Be OK’, a lot of the film deals with the struggle of an actor-turned-director trying to make an independent film. What problems have you faced as a first-time director in getting your film funded, screened, and what are your thoughts on the whole hold large film companies’ and conglomerates have over the Korean cinema industry and the almost pushing aside of independent films?

For this project I didn’t really plan the scenario to cost a lot of money, and I didn’t really think about money a lot or the screening too much. I only planned to circulate the film on YouTube or SNS to show it to friends, and that’s why from the beginning I didn’t have much of a problem with the funding.

easternKicks: So, for this film you work as actor, director, editor, cinematographer – all these different roles. Which one of these was the most challenging for you to take on?

I found everything was alright except for the editing process, so the film shooting was alright because most of the parts I did myself and the scenes involved myself, so I didn’t have so many problems. But editing was really time-consuming, and I did revise it many times. As time went by, I was watching other films and I was influenced by them and learnt a lot, so I wanted to do it again from scratch. So for me, editing was the most time-consuming job, and from now on I am thinking that I will ask someone else to do it.

Ekran magazine: In the movie, there’s a point where your character says “What’s wrong with shooting a movie?” So I was wondering what was the reality, and what response did you have when you decided to make this movie as an actor?

I asked many directors and film staff to help us to make this film, and I asked them to do this, and requested several things. Because of this I couldn’t really focus on my own acting in the film and I was a bit shy to see how I acted, so I cut those scenes so you can’t really see me. After this, my aim was to increase my career as an actor, but in reality it went off more than that. Many directors in Korea kind-of make jokes, and ask “How can I employ you, or include you in my film? What if you know more about film than me?” and I feel that I am a bit screwed.

Film3sixty magazine: How did your experience as an actor benefit or alter your role as a director?

Because I have a lot of experience with many other directors while acting, I realised that there are many ways of directing and there are various ways of communicating between the actor and director. Because of that experience, I realised that I had to guide my actors in the film in different ways depending on the personality of the person. So I found that for some actors it was okay to leave them alone, and then they would follow me, but sometimes I guided them through the details depending on their characteristics.

Hangul Celluloid: I believe this film has been said to be a film that you have always wanted to make. What was it about the story that made you want to make this film?

Of course the film is completed by how the audience feels, but what I intended from this film was not actually in the film itself, it was the process of making it with my colleagues and friends. As an actor, I thought that rather than give a pessimistic idea I wanted to be active when making this film, with a film that I can star in and complete. That, I thought, was important – to make this, show this film to people and extend my own work. Perhaps without that distinction, some of the actors might have given up on their career or have been stuck, so I wanted to make a point to people that I was being active.  In the last scene of the film, the main character says “cut”, and by saying ‘cut’ the film is over but the reality continues, and people who watch this film continue with their lives. So I regard it not just as an end but something that is continued in real life.

easternKicks: You said earlier that you asked directors for their advice and you have worked under many directors as an actor already. Which director was particularly influential for this film, and what advice did you receive?

Actually I didn’t really ask any director directly how to make this film, but as an actor I learnt directing styles not only from film directors but also theatre directors, and saw how they worked and dealt with actors. I also watched many films, and it was not those that are at the size of Hollywood films, but manageable ones. I watched independent films, and particularly films from Hong Sang-soo, and it made me joke with myself to the point where I felt that these are the types of films that I can cope with from the outset, and make myself.

Ekran magazine: We have a film within a film and it’s a question of fiction and reality. How much of what you used in the film was real? Especially with your characters, which are based on your friends.

As you know, this film is our second project and, when things went well, I wanted to show that there were also some struggles that might screw the project itself. For that, I deliberately used the negative aspects of the characters in it. So my characters are based on my friends and actors but I exaggerated the negative parts of their personality. So the main actor, Sang-seok, in reality is quite an active man but I took that out to elaborate the negative parts of his personality and show that he might screw up the film. Also with Tae-huI wanted him to not take any responsibilities, and to exaggerate that.
One of the scenes in the film that actually happened in my life is in the beginning of the film in Busan, when some total stranger came up to me and said “we don’t have enough time, how can you be so relaxed?” There are many religious people that come up to people and say these kinds of things because it is a con business, but in this case it was only this person coming up to me and saying that. So, I think that is one of the things I had in my head while making this film.

Film3sixty magazine: The character’s dream is to have his film screened at Busan International Film Festival. What was it like to actually be there with this film, was there a sense of irony and how was your experience at the festival with this film?

I think I sort of don’t have a sense of reality at the moment, sometimes I struggle and tend to get nervous when there are too many good things happening, and I wonder “What if I die soon?” Everything at Busan goes very fast, there are loads of interviews and there’s a lot of drinking. I think I was the happiest just before the screening of my film, and I thought such a reality shouldn’t come because I was so nervous. The same happened here, I was really nervous before coming here but now I see the reality that I have to go back to Korea, and I am a bit sad.

Film3sixty magazine: How did your experience in Busan as an actor compare to being a director?

Before this film I went to the festival as an audience to enjoy the film, but this time as a director I met people including other directors and that’s quite a different experience. As an actor, the directors tend to avoid or make an uncomfortable atmosphere around the actors because they are wondering if they should be hiring the person. But as a director, I found they were more hospitable, and they welcomed me as a director who has contributed this film so that was quite a different experience.

Hangul Celluloid: You mentioned a couple of questions ago that you watched a lot of films to help you learn to become a director, and you named Hong Sang-soo specifically. Did you choose him because of his almost linear approach to filmmaking, or is it that over the years that his budgets for films have become smaller and smaller? Why did you choose to mention him specifically?

Actually, I know Hong Sang-soo, and I nearly ended up being in one of his films. I like his films, and I especially like the way that he makes films according to what you said. I heard that he is quite spontaneous when he develops his scenario. So, with my film, I also had this complete diversion of a scenario. I realised I had to re-do some things again and I didn’t make a complete story but, instead, made it day-to-day by the process of editing. I shared these edited versions with my colleagues, we discussed it, and then we shot more footage and edited it again. Because of that kind of repetition the film looked like a patchwork in the end. As we had a lot of time and we only had one camera, it was quite easy to do this spontaneous decision-making and filmmaking. I found it quite interesting, and this is a similar style to Hong Sang-soo.
Actually, nobody knew the complete version of the scenario, not even the actors. I showed the first edit of the film to the cast and crew and they didn’t recognise it as the same film. I didn’t know the complete version either at the time!

Hangul Celluloid: Hong Sang-soo’s budget for films has decreased to the point where it’s basically just him with a camera. Do you aspire to make the same type of films as him, in terms of low-budget independent films?

Because we have the cases that such independent films appeal to the audience, the story itself can be unique and that can make a film on its own. So it’s the idea of the film rather than the budget, it’s a different style of filmmaking and a feeling you want to present. Maybe I want to make a film like that, and that’s the reality that I have at the moment. Also, I think that it’s still possible with low-budget films to do that, like Hong Sang-soo, and I think it’s effective.

easternKicks: You mentioned that some of the actors would have quit by now if they weren’t in the film. How hard is it to actually make it in the Korean film industry, and have things changed for you since you made this film?

Even before making this film, I was producing independent films, and even now I am working on a project in London. Overall the Korean film industry is growing, and you see many films appear and they make competition of over a million. But independent films are kind of going downward, and the funding support from the government has been reduced. Viewers are also quite limited and are reducing. So it is quite a limited market, and the possibility of this market is also limited. In terms of these actors, because there is not any sort of certificate to be an actor anybody can try-out for a film. There are too many actors in this business so that makes competition higher. Of course, if you do act well then you get the job so it is not a big deal. Within this film it shows the actors lives are quite difficult, but I think compared to other people in different industries, office workers etc, are struggling more than actors. But we like to complain about the toughness of life! So I tried to reflect ourselves and see the reality in the film. Apart from the independent film industry I think the main Korean film industry is growing.
Today I have quite bad news for the independent film industry, there is a cinema called Arthouse which is an artistic film cinema supported by the government. It’s been autonomous, and it had freedom to choose what to screen in this cinema and, mostly, it’s been about independent films. But, from now on, the government has changed the policy on how to fund this cinema from this year, changing its autonomy to an agency who will decide which films will be shown. Only then will the government fund it. The majority of independent film directors have boycotted this, because they don’t want to make this organisation that will choose which films will go in the cinema. But there is one organisation which said yes, and that’s not really well-known in the industry, and they are the only ones that are being supported and will decide which films to show in this cinema, and they’re only showing 24 films per year.

Ekran magazine: There’s a sentence “I’d rather die than live an ordinary life”, and I think the film really tackles the meaning of life and the questions that are posed to our generation. It reflects the way people around the world are thinking, and I was wondering how your own thoughts were reflected in the film?

I don’t know about the other countries, but within Korea we tend to read biographies of the most famous people in history. I used to think about historical figures such as a Korean inventor Jang Yeong-sil, and I thought maybe I can do more than he did. Then I came to think about the great kings of Korea, and I used to think about that when I was small. I believe everyone has their own world, and others have their own worlds and their own stories, perhaps we are the extras in their world. But, I realised we tend to spend time trying to make sense of our own meaning, and we don’t intend to spend time as we wish. Not just in Korea, but also around the world, we have to find a job and we have to get married, and we have to think about money and social relations. By doing so we tend to give up what we wanted to do and my wish is for people to not give up on what they want to do. So if you want to make a film then use an iPhone and film on there and if you want to become a singer then maybe you can play a ukulele at home. These are ways to make life meaningful, and that’s my feeling today.

Film3sixty magazine: Do you plan to make more films, and, if so, what do you look for as inspiration?

I’ve got a lot of stories in my mind at the moment, and perhaps the scenario will be done after screenings of my next film in Korea. I am still struggling with that film at the moment, and that might be different from what you see at the moment, I am editing that right now and I am thinking about what to cut. I have a few ideas in my head at the moment, and today I will shoot some scenes here, and I will think about my next story afterwards.

Hangul Celluloid: I wanted to ask you about the difference between the Korean title of the film and the English one, the English one is very positive but the Korean one is rather less optimistic. How did this difference in title come about, and which one do you prefer?

So, the film was shot between 2012 and 2013, and between those times there was the Korean presidential election, so the title changed from We Will Be OK to They All Died. In 2012, the title was We Will Be OK, and in 2013 I changed it to They All Died. I didn’t expect that any foreigners would watch this film, and when I submitted it to international film festivals I used the original title of We Will Be OK. Korean viewers will experience the differences, and it is quite striking. Koreans can see the difference, and We Will Be OK is quite an easy English sentence to understand in Korea so they might have a different experience from the different title. I didn’t expect foreigners would see this film, so I am thinking how to reveal the two different titles to them. They All Died is not necessarily less optimistic than We Will Be OK, the people in such a world die and a new world begins. That kind of feeling is being carried into We Will Be Ok.

easternKicks: What are you filming in London now?

So at the moment, as a producer, we are filming an independent film called The New World. The project that we are filming here is kind of co-production with independent filmmakers and producers, we will work together and the filmmaking process is quite collaborative. If I just think that I want to make a film that’s because I had this experience of going to a lecture on making films where I learned to make a film with an iPhone. I made a two-minute short which encouraged me to make a film, and now people can watch what I made. I want to encourage people to make short films that will grow, and eventually they will be able to make their own feature. I hope that, one day, they can release their film in Korea.



I'd sincerely like to thank film journalist Roxy Simons (who appeared in this interview as easternKicks) for transcribing this interview with director Baek Jae-ho. It is wholly thanks to her transcription speed and skill that the interview is online so soon after taking place.


Born in 1977, Jang Kun-jae studied cinematography at the Korean Academy of Film Arts and received an M.F.A. in Film & Image Production from Chung-Ang University. Jang’s debut feature film Eighteen (2009) won him the Dragons and Tigers Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2009 and the Nuovo Cinema Award at the Pesaro Film Festival 2010. After establishing his production company, Mocushura, he produced his second feature, Sleepless Night (2012), earning him awards in both domestic and international film festivals. Jang is currently working as assistant professor for the Film Department at Yong In University. JANG’s next project was a commissioned work for the Nara International Film Festival, which was produced by the Japanese filmmaker KAWASE Naomi. Shot in Japan in a combination of colour and black and white, the laconic A Midsummer’s Fantasia opened Nara in 2014 and went on the screen in Busan, Rotterdam and Hong Kong.

The following group interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on 6 November 2015, as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2015


Jang Kun-jae: (introduction) I was invited to this festival as an emerging director with my latest film A Midsummer Fantasia, which is my third feature film.

View of the Arts: Let's talk about your latest work, A Midsummer’s Fantasia. What was behind the project and what prompted you to write and direct the film?

Jang Kun-jae:
My previous film, Sleepless Night, was invited to the Nara International Film Festival. There I met the Festival Director, Kawase Naomi, who wanted me to work with her as a producer on another project. A Midsummer’s Fantasia was commissioned by NIFF and produced by Kawase Naomi, who is also a well-known film director. There were some conditions that had to be met before making the film though: we had to shoot the film in Japan and were required to have a few Japanese actors as well. It was like a secret contract (laughs). I wrote the entire story, and luckily had a lot of artistic freedom as a director.

Hangul Celluloid:
If I could ask you about Sleepless Night, one of my favourite films of the last year's London Korean Film Festival. I would like to ask you about the narrative itself, the performances felt very natural and while watching the film it almost felt like I was watching the real life rather than a film. In my opinion this sort of thing can only be done from a very personal prospective. How personal was the story of Sleepless Night to you? How did the story evolve?

Jang Kun-Jae:
At the beginning of filming, I wanted to put my thoughts and my worries as well as my lifestyle into the story. There were lots of discussions between the staff and a crew about how to film this. At that point, that I realised that my worries weren’t just my own, they were common shared worries. However, I did think that the main actor was my persona. As I was filming, our worries, gestures and reactions from those worries were mixed together to build a good chemistry and intimacy. As a director my main concern was that I wanted to know what the realism of this film was. I tried to look for my own way of creating realism.

Ekran: I would like go back to A Midsummer’s Fantasia and your personal view. Is there any personal message you wanted to convey through the film?

Jang Kun-Jae:
I always think how I could live happily, because my life as an independent filmmaker is very hard. There are always issues with money and there are always numerous temptations out there. An important topic in my life would be to look for happiness whilst working on my projects. I think my ideologies are definitely present in A Midsummer’s Fantasia.

Film3sixty: In terms of A Midsummer Fantasia, I loved it, I thought it was such a great film. I am curious about the second part of the film, the relationship between the boy and the girl. I found her very accurate and quite relatable, but also I felt sad for the male character. What was the inspiration for the love story, are there any cinematic romance tales out there that influenced you while working on the film? Any romantic films that you like that might have influenced you as well?

Jang Kun-jae:
There are Japanese locals in the films, as well as actors. Of course the main protagonists are the real actors. As you noticed in the film, looking back at their past story, they did have some sort of connection with the Korean people. With the regards to the second part, it was very natural for me to base it on chapter one. And as a director I wanted to make that part as natural as possible, especially the love story between the main characters. I don’t particularly like romantic films but as you have probably noticed my films are kind of romantic ones, which is it a bit strange.

View of the Arts: Your film narratives are subtle and most of the time show common people’s lives. Sleepless Night captures the drama of the present moment in the daily life of a working class 30-something couple struggling to have a child. A Midsummer’s Fantasia is also a romantic drama. Have you ever thought of writing a different script to what you have already written? You said you look for happiness in your project, but would you consider writing an entirely different kind of script, perhaps psychological drama?

Jang Kun-jae:
I have several projects in mind. I also look for new stories, and to be honest with you I like drama. I might make a thriller film, I am not sure (laughs). These days I am interested in social problems faced by the Korean young generation and Korean society which struggles with a lot of things nowadays.

Hangul Celluloid: Many film directors, established, new and emerging, talk about how difficult it has been to get their films made and screened. What were the main difficulties throughout your career in getting your films made, and have you felt you need to alter the stories you are telling in an effort to please people who have invested in your work or might invest?

Jang Kun-jae:
Fortunately, till now I was the producer in my films, only in order to get investment from public organizations, and until now there haven’t been any changes. If I wanted to make a commercial film and I needed a huge amount of money I would try to do what the investors would like me to do. But at the moment I have my artistic freedom. The films I have made so far didn’t raise much income, but I got what I wanted in terms of the message I wanted to convey.

Ekran: Going back to what View of the Arts asked about before, i.e. making a different kind of a film. When you look at the first part of A Midsummer Fantasia, it felt a bit like a mock-documentary. Hhave you ever thought of making a documentary, especially since you have been interested in human relations and life’s stories?

Jang Kun-jae:
I have a documentary project already and it is about artists and their lives. I am really interested in creative people’s lives.

Film3sixty: You seem like a very compelling filmmaker, what other filmmakers have inspired you when making films?

Jang Kun-jae:
I feel like I haven’t even made a first step as a director yet, it really feels like that. When I started to study films as a film fanatic, there were various director that, of course, inspired me while studying. However, for my future projects I feel like I should find my own way in doing things.

View of the Arts: You have been working in the indie film industry in Korea for a while. However, A Midsummer’s Fantasia was mostly shot in Japan. Is there a vast difference between shooting a film in Korea and making one in Japan?

Jang Kun-jae:
Japanese filmmaking style is gentle and very detailed. It also of a very good standard. Time moves quickly when you film in Japan. The Japanese film industry has been running for a while, whereas the Korean one is much younger. When it comes to my artistic freedom, though, it is more or less the same.

Hangul Celluloid: If you look at narratives of Sleepless Night and A Midsummer’s Fantasia they very much speak for themselves, they explain without too much exposition, at the same time almost allowing viewers to draw to their own conclusions based on their own feelings. Was that your deliberate intention of yours when you made these films?

Jang Kun-jae:
(Thinks for a while) That’s a good question. The basics for my films are what I wanted to contain e.g. how I see life at that time. You know sometimes you have a good day, sometimes there is a bad day, today’s thoughts might be different to tomorrow’s, and mine always change. In an hour and a half I don’t think I have the ability to show to the audience that this is what the world is like, so I like to show them in one scene what represents someone’s life at that point. It might be uncomfortable for an audience that is looking purely for entertainment, but I don’t want to give them a happy or unhappy ending, or any sort of boring ending.

Ekran: If the opportunity presented itself, would you be interested in venturing into Europe and making a European co- production?

Jang Kun-jae:
It would depend on a particular project. But when I was travelling around to different film festivals with my first feature Eighteen, I was looking at different co- productions. I was thinking that if I didn’t get funding in Korea, I would go to other countries to get investment.

Film3sixty: I would like to go back to A Midsummer’s Fantasia. How did you go about casting for the film? Also, in terms of the actors starring in a first chapter, how did you find those people and build the relationship between them and why did you decide to make the first chapter in black and white. 

Jang Kun-jae:
The main actor, Hyeong-kook Im, is my friend, we met in 2010 in Japan. I thought that actress, Saebyuk Kim and the actor Lim Hyung-kook, who played director Kim Dae-hoon, would be great in those roles. In terms of the black and white filming, I wanted a portrait style of filming so I suggested that to my cinematographer, and we did testing for black and white. We decided to set the camera to black and white because I was worried that I would later change my mind about the colour. So we stuck to black and white only, that’s for the first chapter of the film of course.

View of the Arts: After watching A Midsummer’s Fantasia and Sleepless Night, I found the main actors’ performances very impressive, effortless and undertaken with natural acting. How did you achieve that? Do you have your own way of working with actors or do you give them the freedom to express themselves, or do you guide them often?

Jang Kun-jae:
If I don’t give them any guidelines on filming, we can’t film the scene we want to film. They look like they put no effort into acting, but they acted very sensitively. Especially in Sleepless Night the actors had a lot of experience. What I required in that film was that their performances had to appear real, by playing natural. I was lucky with my actors because they knew exactly what to do. In relation to how they chose to react to the other actors, I asked them to listen to each other, comprehend what they said first and then react to it. This method was the one used in the film, that’s why the audience feel that the actors performed very naturally. When it comes to A Midsummer’s Fantasia, it was all about emotions. That was very important. And if I felt differently to how the actors were feeling, I would have faith in them and let them do whatever was necessary.

Hangul Celluloid: I wrote number of the synopsis for this year’s LKFF, and while most were fairly easy to compile, I found writing an overview for A Midsummer’s Fantasia incredibly difficult, by the very nature of the narrative. How would you describe your film’s narrative if you were writing the synopsis?

Jang Kun-jae:
(laughs) I have marketing team for that. This is not my job but I will try (laughs). A Midsummer’s Fantasia is about a Korean film director who searches for an inspiration while travelling to Japan (laughs). It is a very hard thing to describe, I really don’t know.
HyunJin Cho (Festival Producer) added: This type of film is against any kind of marketing in my opinion. I don’t think the film can be felt in a two line overview.

Hangul Celluloid: From the personal view, it is a beautiful film, and can’t be described in a few lines, that’s really why I asked the question. You have a director and a young woman, the come together
and there is that special connection, and you can’t say anything more than that because anything more needs to be seen. It is just a beautifully layered and nuanced film. 

Ekran: I would like to ask you about your creative process, you are a scriptwriter as well as director. Is there a special process that you go through? How does it work for you?

Jang Kun-jae:
Obviously, I write first but when I shoot I think about my story very often and sometimes I edit what I previously wrote. My role changes all the time, after shooting a film I turn into an editor. I was a producer, director, editor and scriptwriter on all my three features. I think I am more of a filmmaker than a director. I am like a handy man, I do everything (laughs).

View of the Arts: How long does it take you to complete a film?

Jang Kun-jae:
Normally it takes from one to two years. The last film took 13 months without a break, non-stop, no weekends for me, there was only filming (laughs).


I'd sincerely like to thank film journalist Maggie Gogler (who appeared in this interview as View of the Arts) for transcribing this interview with director Jang Kun-jae. It is wholly thanks to her transcription speed and skill that the interview is online so soon after taking place.