Hangul Celluloid: The first 25 minutes of 'Remember O Goddess' have been completed as a short film. Was it always your intention to make a feature length film of the story?
Yoon Jung Lee: I wrote the original story 17 years ago—when I was 16—and had forgotten it. Two years ago, I found the notebook where my story had been lying dormant and decided to make it into a feature length film. So, I shot the first segment hoping that the short version would be a push to help fund the rest of the film. In the short film, I intentionally left some questions unsolved in the plot, such as who sent the cigarette or who is Kim Jin Young—the name mistakenly considered as the lead character’s.
Hangul Celluloid: I have spoken to other directors who have mentioned difficulties in getting short films screened in Korea. Did you also find this to be the case? And do you feel the fact that 'Remember O Goddess' is a Korean/American joint production has resulted in the film being perceived in any way differently by the Korean film industry than a solely Korean production?
Yoon Jung Lee: Yes, I have screened all of my short films more internationally than domestically. But I can’t provide you a reasonable analysis on this matter since you can’t hear sincere feedback from those people who rejected your film. Some of my films look like American productions since I worked with American actors, but obviously, ‘Remember O Goddess’ couldn’t have been discriminated for that reason. The short version ‘Remember O Goddess’ is solely produced in Korea. The rest of the film will be a joint production.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you feel that your work as Script Supervisor on films such as 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird' and 'My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart' helped in getting 'Remember O Goddess' screened in Korea?
Yoon Jung Lee: No. People who are in charge of screening decision couldn’t have known it. They might have recognized some names from the major film industry in the ending credits, but I don’t expect the festival judges had paid attention to the credits while they were watching hundreds of films.
Hangul Celluloid: What led to the decision to use the Kickstarter project to try to get investment for the completion of the feature film version of 'Remember O Goddess', rather than other means (I believe that your film is the first independent production to use the Kickstarter project)?
Yoon Jung Lee: The major financial sources for independent films in Korea are the local or national governmental film grants. I’ve applied for them with several different projects and never have succeeded in getting support. In addition, they don’t offer on-going submission opportunities, and they have all different timelines. So I have to spend about a year to raise a barely sufficient amount of money for making a micro-budget film. Think about it this way. There are about 10 different funding sources; average 5 people will make each funding decision; then you spend a year waiting to hear from just 50 people—they don’t actually tell you much. On the other hand, Kickstarter funding takes only about a month; you get exciting feedback from hundreds or thousands of people from all over the world. There was no reason not to give it a shot.
Hangul Celluloid: At the time of compiling these questions, you have achieved 18% of the necessary $30,000 pledges of investment. What are your feelings about the speed with which you're moving towards your target?
Yoon Jung Lee: Kickstarter funding is all-or-nothing, which means that if we don’t hit the goal by the time the campaign ends, we will return home empty-handed. So I feel nervous no matter how fast or slow the campaign moves forward. And at this early stage of the campaign, we got a significant amount of pledges from our friends or our friends’ friends. However, since I’m not extremely social or popularly known, this friendly well is already drying out. Now it’s time for us to speed up reaching out to the nice strangers who care about independent arts and films wherever they come from. Yet I remain hopeful about the future of our campaign thanks to the amazing supporters like you who I’ve met through running the campaign since I launched it 6 days ago.
Hangul Celluloid: The short film version of 'Remember O Goddess' tells the story of a man who has lost his memory and is both searching for himself, so to speak, and the woman he perceives as his lost love. Watching the character feeling totally lost while staring across the city vista implied to me references to modern city living causing (almost) enforced anonymity and the desperate need of individuals seeking increasingly elusive connection with (and/or love from) others, especially considering the main character's obviously glee when the shop attendant says "See you again soon". What themes are you addressing within the narrative (of both the short film and the feature film)?
Yoon Jung Lee: I appreciate that you recognized my intention very precisely. I can’t even think of what to add, but I’ll try.
In the short film, I was interested in living conditions in a modern city like Seoul and how people react to it. There is an insert cut of the tall apartment town that glows like an island in the darkness when the hero begins to write a letter. That shot was created with the (expensive but gratefully donated) CGI effects removing all the other lights in the scene and making the extremely tall buildings stand out oddly. In Seoul, those tallest apartments with ridiculous luminary decorations are considered as a dream-place to live in. But I imagined that the people living in those luxurious cells might be dreaming something else.
In the following story to be made, I want to address this: although we often feel absolutely disconnected, even when surrounded by a huge crowd in a large city, but that never changes the fact that we are a friend, a son or a daughter of somebody. The audience will be able to learn who our hero met in his past, and the people who were there close to him while he was looking for someone far away.
Hangul Celluloid: Was specific social commentary being made within the small scene where the main character receives a telephone call from a hospital demanding money before carrying out an operation on his mother?
Yoon Jung Lee: Yes. The scene depicts an instant relationship among the people living in the modern cities. You can reach out to anyone through phone calls, text messages, emails, and all the other communication tools, but it’s so hard to get your message across. A sender and a receiver often exchange totally different messages, and conversations get interrupted before they reach an agreement or understanding. I wanted to show it in an awkwardly funny manner so the audience will have some time to digest the situation in their own ways.
Hangul Celluloid: There is a lot of very funny and quirky humour in 'Remember O Goddess', as there is in both 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird' and 'My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart'. Were you responsible for bringing some of that humour to those major films, or did working on those films influence the way you approached the 'Remember O Goddess' script?
Yoon Jung Lee: I would not say that I was responsible for creating some of humor or tones in those films that I worked for as a script supervisor—that was not my job. I was rather keeping an eye on having consistency in the tone of humor in each shot and scene, according to the director’s vision.
I guess my films reflect a certain side of my personality. The funny-but-sad or tragic-but-awkwardly-happy mood continuously appear in my films and scripts. I’m not always happily funny, but I can’t stand serious seriousness at the same time. Luckily, I was able to join movies that I like the most—this doesn’t happen all the time in the film industry, you know. I have learned a lot from the two directors who are highly proficient at playing with the diverse tones of humor.
Hangul Celluloid: Can you tell us more about your choice of the title 'Remember O Goddess'?
Yoon Jung Lee: A literal English translation from the Korean title will be ‘Do Not Forget Me,’ which sounds too dry or heavy. I also considered ‘Forget Me Not’ to go a little poetic, but it didn’t sound right to me either. So I dug into classical literary works—which I often do when I can’t think of a good title—and in Homer’s Iliad, I found the enchantment “sing oh goddess” repeated throughout the whole epic. The voice of chorus in Greek epics is always interesting to me because it speaks to the audience as well as to the characters, which a title of a film may do. I also found it interesting that the act of enchanting to a goddess shared a similar desire with one of writing a suicide letter to an unknown love. So I replaced ‘sing’ with ‘remember,’ then I deleted ‘h’ from ‘oh’ in order to match it with my previous film’s title, ‘O Sweet Virgin,’ borrowed from Mary’s prayer.
Hangul Celluloid: You have worked in the film industry on both the major and independent films. What do see as the main differences of working on each side of the industry?
Yoon Jung Lee: The dynamics among the people who are involved in the production become critically important in independent filmmaking. In the film industry, we share a certain level of expectation on the responsibilities and performances of each filmmaking role, so when you complete recruiting the crew members and actors, you’ll be able to expect how the production will progress and even how the movie will come out. However, when you make independent films, there is no firm agreement on the job responsibilities and performances among the filmmakers no matter where they come from. Building secure relationships and common expectations with your crew and actors is the key to end up with a good film—or even just a completed film.
Hangul Celluloid: Considering your limited budget for ‘Remember O Goddess’, how did you approach filmmakers who have worked on big budget Korean films to also work on your independent production?
Yoon Jung Lee: First of all, I had the contacts. Many of them were my friends or my friends’ friends. But since they are all busy professionals, you can’t just rely on friendship. They work for their passion in film, but not for their friendship with anyone. So most importantly, I had to convince them that we would finish every step of filmmaking very quickly, since it was very hard to get their schedule open for a long time for a non-paid job. I spent only a month for pre-production, four days for shooting, a week for editing, seven days for creating music, and three sessions for ADR and sound mix. The whole production took about two months from recruiting the crew members to distributing the DVDs of the finished film with my thank-you note to the people who were involved in making of the film. As long as you are prepared, working with the great professionals in a limited time can be very productive.
Hangul Celluloid: You also created other short films/media presentations/installations prior to 'Remember O Goddess'. Can you tell us more about them? Are any of those short films currently available to watch?
Yoon Jung Lee: I made a series of personal experimental films on 16mm or super8mm. ‘I Wish, On TV’ is one of them and it’s available for viewing online: https://vimeo.com/14043479. I strongly prefer to screen this piece on film, but I hope you can still grab my idea of experimenting on a specific film technique of in-camera-double-exposure by viewing it on digital streaming video. I made a musical film titled ‘O Sweet Virgin’ and other narrative shorts, which are not available online. I also did video projection/installation designing for theater performance ‘Closer,’ dance-based-media presentation ‘Silence,’ and many other music concerts, dance and mixed-media performances.
Hangul Celluloid: Was it always your intention to direct films from the outset of your career? How did your work as a Script Supervisor fit in with those plans?
Yoon Jung Lee: My ultimate goal is directing films in the major film industry so I’ll be able to focus on directing job. I’ve been writing the scripts that seek that aim. However, I don’t want to wait forever till someone recognizes my talent and tells me “you are now a director.” I always want to go back to the set after spending several months or a year writing for myself. Working as a script supervisor fulfils my desire to work for the films that I want to see being made. That’s the initial place where I’ve been wanting to direct films. I have the films in my mind that I want to see in theaters. That’s the most important thing.
Hangul Celluloid: In terms of numbers, do you feel that female directors are fairly represented in the Korean film industry?
Yoon Jung Lee: I used to teach at The Korean National University of Arts one semester, one of the privileged film schools in Korea. They had the nicely gender-balanced classes, but I haven’t seen as many female filmmakers or directors in the industry. The jobs open to women in the industry are quite limited. We have many female script supervisors, but few 1st AD’s. I don’t know any of the female cinematographers or lighting directors in the industry. And I don’t think they celebrate female directors as much as the male directors. However, as many talented female filmmakers have been emerging recently, I expect we will be able to see more interesting films made by women in the near future.
Hangul Celluloid: How do you feel your work relates to that of other female directors or do you not consider whether a cinematic work is made by male or female, instead focusing on narrative, content and realisation alone?
Yoon Jung Lee: Honestly I don’t necessarily relate myself more to the works of female directors than those of male directors. We have small numbers of the films directed by women, and there are so many great works done by male directors throughout the history of film. I think I don’t care so much about which gender the director of a film belongs to. However, I am conscious of the way my gender may interfere or interact with the experience of viewing my films. I was asked several times during the Q&A sessions after screenings at the film festivals if there was a male screenwriter who wrote the script of ‘Remember O Goddess.’ I intentionally avoided having my name appear in the opening sequence because I didn’t want the audience to recognize that this film is directed by a woman before they actually see it.
Hangul Celluloid: How important is the International market to you as a filmmaker?
Yoon Jung Lee: As I said earlier, my films have been appreciated better outside Korea than inside. The international film market tends to embrace more diversity than the Korean independent film market, which is very small. So the international market allows me to trust my own vision and go beyond the limit that the Korean market is likely to draw.
Hangul Celluloid: I've asked the next questions to a number of Korean directors and received vastly differing answers, so I'd like to ask you as well: There is somewhat of a misconception among some in the UK (namely those who may not have seen that many Korean films or have only seen films released on DVD in the UK) that Korean films are inherently violent. What are you feelings about this misconception?
Yoon Jung Lee: I understand why they think that way. The Korean movies that depict violence in the society are quite good and unique in that sense. The Korean audience also embrace them because they address the darkness of the society while the counter medium TV has failed to do it right. However, I’m against those violent movies representing Korean cinema since the other important attempts in Korean cinema are likely to be overseen by the international audience.
Hangul Celluloid: And finally, what would like to say to people reading this interview?
Yoon Jung Lee: Most importantly, please check out the short version ‘Remember O Goddess.’ It’s not late to consider backing our project after seeing it. I don’t want to ask you for charity, but I desperately want to get connected with the people who support our vision. We have a long road ahead, so please join the new wave in Korean independent films.
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.
Further Information and Links:
Lee Yoon Jung's continuing efforts to secure funding/backing to complete her feature film 'Remember O Goddess' are taking place via the Kickstarter project - a funding platform for creative projects.
Full details of the project and how you can help her towards her goal can be found at:
'Remember O Goddess' Synopsis:
In the middle of the night, a man reports the disappearance of himself to the police office. He has lost his memory. He can only remember from the moment he found himself left alone in an apartment. He tries to find any clue as to who he might be, but nothing comes out. When he plucks up the courage to go out, he meets a girl at a convenience store, who he thinks might know him. Instantly she becomes his only hope and joy, but when he returns, she has disappeared. Then his quest to find someone who remembers him becomes greater than his need for his own memories. Will he be able to reconnect with a lost love?
The first 25 minutes of the film have already been completed as a short film and screened in both Korea and the US. You can watch it for free on the official website at: http://rememberogoddess.squarespace.com/movie
Please note: Yoon Jung Lee has said that she prefers her name to be written with her surname last, rather than surname first as is in the case in Korea, because she now lives in the US.