By Lee Hyo-won
The script usually plays an integral part of filmmaking, but it is virtually non-existent for internationally acclaimed director Kim So-yong
. For the 39-year-old, intuition, spontaneity and creating everything from scratch with amateur actors are the special ingredients.
The Korean-American made an international breakthrough with her first film "In Between Days
" (2006), winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival among others. She is now back in Korea for her next project "Treeless Mountains", with support from the Cannes Cinema Foundation.
"You always have to keep (gut feeling and intuition). It's like natural instinct. Sometimes I think people forget it because you're trained to behave in certain ways, trained to fit into society... But I think it's really important for the creative process to keep your sense of intuition", she said in an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe near Hongdae, northern Seoul, Thursday.
Born in Busan, Kim immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. Her own experience inspired "In Between Days
", which traces the delicate heartstrings of a troubled teenager, who, while having to deal with her new surroundings, falls in love with her best and only friend.
"It's important for me to make films that express certain feelings that cannot be expressed by words. There are certain nuances that you cannot describe by adjectives, it could somehow only be communicated through film. It's like a certain `neuggim', feeling or emotional state that everybody has that's kind of inexplicable", she said.
Kim worked with two non-actors, Jiseon Kim
, a design student at the Parsons School of Design who was recently crowned Best Actress at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (where "In Between" also won Best Film), and Taegu Andy Kang
, an aspiring jewelry designer the director had cast at a Toronto dance club. The two 22-year-olds had also immigrated to North America at a young age. Kim gave them a basic idea of the story and she directed them to deliver certain lines on the spot. The actors were never given a script.
"Ji-seon and Tae-gu are very open, they're like a blank canvas. I tell them anything, and they're like, oh, that's how they're going to be". She gave them two guidelines, first, not to look into the camera, and second, to count numbers to themselves in certain situations, less in some, more in others. "They were just themselves", she said.
Kim has left her New York home several times to create movies with husband/partner Bradley Rust Gray
. For her husband's award-winning film "Salt" (2003), which Kim produced, Kim explained that they "just packed up everything and went to Iceland. OK, we're going to make a film, just the two of us. For `In Between Days
' we did the same thing, like, found the cast and drove everyone up to Canada", she said.
She has "left home to come home" this time with their seven-month-old daughter Sky for "Treeless Mountain
". Currently in the pre-production process of casting actors and location-scouting, Kim will also participate in the upcoming Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival in October.
"It's a lot more difficult to fly 15 hours and come to Korea and say, OK we're going to make a film. So there's a lot of learning. The way we, my husband and I, make the films is very different from the Korean production. It's just a different style of working, so negotiation has to happen.
"Everyone's saying you shouldn't do that, but once we arrive, we're like, of course this is what we should be doing… It feels like we're on the right path, following intuition. We're here, so we're seeing how it goes. It's crazy, it's totally crazy…". she laughed.
"I think being a director is not such a big deal. People think it's a big deal, but it's not a big deal… It's a privilege to be able to do what I do. (Being a director) is not a big deal in the sense that it's something to be humble about because it's a privilege. If I met a neurosurgeon, who's saving people's lives, I'm like, oh, my gosh, that's so amazing!" said the director.
But after watching Kim's beautiful gem of a film, seeing this petite woman _ with eyes glimmering brightly and exuding rays of soft charisma _ it's hard not to be amazed.
Yet, the filmmaker said "Once you become a filmmaker, I don't think that's the only thing you have to do for the rest of your life. It's so boring like that. I think that, if I'm like 55, and I feel like I want to become a flower-arranging specialist, then I'd like to go and do that… Because why not?
"Yes, it's a different medium of art. You express yourself differently. If you find out you have a passion for, then you just need to find a way to do it. And I think that's not such a bad way to live life", she said, smiling.
Kim had originally majored in business in college, but took up painting, performance and video art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she obtained her MFA. She is a recipient of the New York Foundation's Video Artist Grant and Puffin Artist Grant among others. The director has also exhibited her installations and films/videos throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan.
Director Kim So-yong
personally requested The Korea Times to facilitate her search in finding the two girls who will make the magic for her upcoming film "Treeless Mountain
", to be filmed in Busan, Nov. 3-Dec.3.
The movie, set the port city during the 1970s, is about two young sisters who spend a long summer with their aunt, separated for the first time from their mother, who left them in search of their missing father.
For the older sister, a six-year-old, Kim is looking to cast a child up to eight years old; for the four-year-old, she is looking for a child between four and six years of age.
No acting experience or training is necessary _ in fact, the director prefers working with "a blank canvas".
Visit Open the link
for more information about the director and her husband/creative partner Bradley Rust Gray