'From the moment of my birth, I encountered hanji'. - Director Im Kwon-taek
The director appeared in Seoul on Monday at the film's prescreening. Hanji, or traditional Korean paper, is about people who make or have interest in the old craft. Although award-winning actors Park Joong-hoon, Kang Soo-yeon and Ye Ji-won were also present on Monday, they were just supporting roles as Im stole the spotlight.
"The concept for this film ["Hanji"] started in a pub when I exchanged shots of liquor with Min Byoung-lock", Im told reporters. Min - a professor, film critic and head of the Jeonju International Film Festival - suggested that Im tackle hanji for his next film.
"I was looking for my next project after doing films about pansori [traditional Korean narrative singing] and Korean painting. I accepted his offer, but did not know it would torment me during the production.
"I realized it was my fault to decide to make a film about hanji. Since the world of paper is so deep and broad, I regretted my decision", Im said. Min attended the prescreening with Im.
It took about a year for Im to research hanji and another four months to shoot the film in Jeonju, North Jeolla, known for its hanji tradition.
While working on "Hanji", Im said he found himself falling for its beauty. "From the moment of my birth, I encountered hanji", referring to his old home where the walls were covered in hanji, a common type of wallpaper in the 1930s and 1940s.
In previous films, Im focused on shedding light on the beauty of Korea. The world's authoritative film festivals took note.
But Im is well aware that his new film can come across as propagandistic, making it less appealing.
"This film is getting less attention overseas because it makes no bones about the quality and excellence of our paper. I believe someone had to film hanji, because it is losing its ground. I think I've done the right thing", he said.
Im's film has failed to please domestic film critics. Renowned critic Lee Dong-jin said the film failed to merge its documentary format with the drama of the three different characters.
Im is often dubbed a legend in the nation's film industry. His lengthy filmography is complemented with medals and trophies from international film awards.
After debuting in 1962 with "Farewell to the Duman River", Im produced many anticommunism films at the government's request. During that time early in his career, the country was under military rule. It was a burden on him, he said.
"I had to produce films that the government wanted", recalled Im. In order to explore his artistic creativity, he focused on very Korean topics from the late '80s.
Of his previous films, "The Surrogate Womb" (1986) and "Seopyeonje" (1993) received rave reviews and awards overseas.
With "Hanji", Im tried to change how he works. He used digital cameras for the first time and treated actors with a more open mind than he had in the past. "I used to be a type of person who established rules and set boundaries and urged actors to stay within those parameters. But this film was different. Every time I talked to actors, especially with Park, I realized this was a good way to make films".
"Hanji" opens next Thursday nationwide. Three major distributors, Lotte Entertainment, Showbox Mediaplex and CJ Entertainment, are involved in investment, distribution and marketing. The original Korean title is "Scooping Up the Moonlight".
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2015 51st PaekSang Arts Awards