Ryoo Seung-wan can be called something of a veteran director, accumulating a ten-film repertoire over the last decade, but his style is still evolving amid a mixture of success and failure. Soldiering on, Seung-wan has kept his eye trained to the future – and rolling in the success of his latest feature, "The Unjust", has only strengthened his footing on the international film scene.
The Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) saw the filmmaker modestly take stage at the helm and direct packed audiences at his latest filmic venture, "The Unjust", and the nostalgic look at his fledgling career back in 2000 with "No Blood, No Tears". We caught up with the director in Sydney to find out more about the man behind the kicks, punches, blood and gore of the screen.
Seung-wan has been forcibly labelled the 'action kid' of the Korean silver screen, and at times a 'Korean Tarantino' – a mould he's seeking to break. He debuted a decade ago at age 27 with the action title "No Blood, No Tears", and the action typecast has held firm in audience and critics' eyes alike since then.
"The film called 'No Blood, No Tears', I had to make this film just to survive. It's now been almost ten years since I made this film, and every time I see this I feel like I'm being tortured", said Seung-wan with an air humour in his voice.
"This KOFFIA therefore makes me feel both happy and sad. This is really an extraordinary opportunity".
This came into contrast with his latest film, "The Unjust", which opened the festival to a sold out cinema, addressing corruption, crooked diplomacy and the tragedy of being the good guy in a bad system.
"It may appear this film holds a very complicated structure and also a very dark reality. But what I try to convey through this film is the reality of this world, where people have to make wrong choices but have no choice doing so.
"I could also say that this film talks about how people can risk their lives and make wrong decisions just to live it".
Contrasting the two films - the two ends of Seung-wan's career thusfar - there is a distinct maturing in his style. While he admits that he draws on an expansive setlist of influences and conventions when making his films (even if unconsciously), "The Unjust" shifts from the obligatory action flic violence-by-interval formula and trades choreographed, gratuitous violence for deeper characterisation.
"I always think that I should actually evolve throughout my films, so I don't think of my current film or self as important. As life's all about, film can be both successful and can also lead to failure, so I don't think the past is too important - walking to the future is important.
"I'm not trying to be a famous director, I'm trying to be a competent director".
Considering his previous film flopped in the box office, this attitude has propelled Seung-wan back into the director's chair despite an air of insecurity after his latest let down.
"Just before The Unjust, that film before was not successful, so it was really hard to make another one after that.
"I guess making films is just endless challenges. You have to get people to invest in the film and also contact all the actors and actresses. So, it's all about getting rejected and also rejecting.
"But this eventually has all passed okay, I've actually survived it, so I don't think it was a very difficult challenge. The most difficult challenge now would be that I have to think of a good idea for the next film".
Or he could adapt the screenplay of another writer - a strategy that worked in his favour with "The Unjust". While usually taking the reins over most aspects of production in strict authority, including the writing, Seung-wan let the authoritarian grip loose on the set this time around, focussing on his creative vision instead. Though his philosophy and work ethic on the set is unwavering.
"My philosophy on my films is that I want to draw the world that I want to convey and the people living in that world, so who they are and where they are. And also the stories that these people actually make, and what kinds of stories these are, and conveying the story is the most important thing.
"When I assume that there are 100 seats for one film, I don't think that 100 people are actually watching it, I feel that 100 films are being made at that one spot. We can't really force people to implement [the films'] messages into their heads. People eventually look at what they want to look at and listen to what they want to listen to. We can't force it. That's rather a lecture than a film, and that's not our role [as filmmakers]".
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"[HanCinema at the KOFFIA 2011] Director Ryoo Seung-Wan Talks Failure And Success To HanCinema"
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