Inteview With Director Lee Yoon-ki
By Paolo Bertolin
Director Lee Yoon-ki
last year made an auspicious debut in feature filmmaking with "This Charming Girl". The film won the New Currents Award at the 9th Pusan Film Festival and secured Lee a solid reputation in the international festival circuit being invited to Sundance and Berlin among others.
This year, Lee was back with his second film "Love Talk", released locally on Nov. 11. An intense drama focusing on three wounded characters whose paths cross against the backdrop of the Korean expatriate community in Los Angeles, "Love Talk" made eyebrows rise for characters actually do talk, and a lot, whereas dialogue was almost absent from Lee's previous, name-making film.
However, it was equally enchanting for its jazzy roundedness and sensitive character portraits.
Question: How did you start your filmmaking career?
Answer: It's a long story. I didn't study cinema when in college. I went to business school in the United States, but when I got back to Seoul I joined a group of friends who liked movies and gathered every night to watch films. We bought a 16mm camera and started to make short films, but it took three or four years before I started writing. I finished my first script seven or eight years ago, and that was "Love Talk".
Q: So "Love Talk" was actually the first script you penned?
A: Yes, "Love Talk" was my first screenplay. After that, I wrote several more and among them was the script for "This Charming Girl". Originally, "This Charming Girl" was a short novel by Woo Ae-ryeong, and it astounded me when I read it, so that I decided to adapt it and asked for the rights from the writer right away. But then it took two years to get "This Charming Girl" to the screen, and it was solely thanks to the support from KOFIC (Korean Film Council) that I could get the film started.
Q: How did you manage to complete a sophomore film so rapidly?
A: I think it's because I had prepared for "Love Talk" for a long time. Besides that, the story of "Love Talk" does not require a huge budget. The only problem is that it needs foreign locations. Actually, I myself didn't want to make a new movie that quick. The chief producer of LJ Films, however, asked me to make a second film quickly, and told me we did not need much time because I had already prepared long for "Love Talk". I took one month to think it over, and then I suddenly came to the conclusion, "why not?" I don't know if I made the right choice, but I really wanted to make "Love Talk", because it has been on my mind for such a long time. Now, of course, I feel the burden and confusion of coming back so fast, and I'm still wondering if I did the right thing or not.
A scene from "Love Talk"
Q: Most people were surprised by the stark difference in style between "Love Talk" and "This Charming Girl". What can you say about this change?
A: Yes, "Love Talk" is very different from "This Charming Girl". "This Charming Girl" was an adaptation of a novel. "Love Talk" is my original script, so it is very meaningful to me. Some of the characters draw a lot from people I met during my time in the United States, and I almost kept the names of the real people for my characters. Apart from that, one big change from the previous film is the old-fashioned mood of the story. Before becoming a director I used to love old-fashioned movies, and used to rent from the video store a lot of movies from the 1940s and '50s. That's where my penchant for the old-fashioned comes from.
Q: The protagonists of "Love Talk" are first generation Koreans in the United States. How would you describe your depiction of the Korean-American community?
A: To many, the Korean-American community, and especially the one in Los Angeles, is unique, and I had a strange, negative impression about it. Koreans in Los Angeles have a tendency to be hostile towards each other. They seem to organize together in large areas of the city, with lots of Korean shops, but they actually don't cooperate with each other. They just seem to isolate themselves. At the same time, they entertain a strange relationship with American society, as if they are afraid to mingle with American culture. Thus, they feel it more comfortable to stay isolated. My story depicts the struggle of some good people trying to live their lives in spite of the hostile environment surrounding them and cannot do anything to radically change things.
Q: The three main characters share a trait in their trying to cope with their past, but also in their inability to be outspoken about their feelings.
A: My protagonists are ordinary people, yet their inability to express their inner feelings is something that makes them perhaps extraordinary compared to the side characters in the film. Actually, I thought that the three protagonists represent the emanation of just one and only character. I wanted to show what could be happen when such people, who share the common trauma of painful memories and who want to get over it, meet and interact with each other, when they don't want to hurt others and don't want to be hurt by others.
Q: You already made two films in two years, should we expect a third one in 2006?
A: Well, I actually made three films in two years, cause in between "This Charming Girl" and "Love Talk" I also completed a TV movie called "Hard Goodbye". Now I'm going to take a rest for about one month, because I am exhausted. Then I'm going to think about it. I am actually working on two or three other scripts, all very different from both "This Charming Girl" and "Love Talk". I don't' know why, but I think I have to change every time, try different styles and different stories.