This week HanCinema sat down with writer/director Lee Yoon-jeong-II and probed her about her team's recent drive to gain sponsors for her new film noir "Remember O Goddess". The film has been made into a 25 minute short and Yoon hopes that through the support of international cinephiles and enthusiasts, she and her team of talented actors and crew will be able to obtain the funding required to produce a feature length version of this gripping and heart-felt examination into the human condition.
There seems to be an abundance of talent working on this project. How did you manage to get them all on board for this independent film?
Half of the crewmembers were my colleagues/friends who had worked with me on other major films or other independent films; the rest of them were my friends' friends. However, since they are all professionals who don't work only for friendship, I had to be able to convince them that I was ready to realize my vision through the script. More importantly, I made the schedule extremely tight so that the production could fit in the gap between their paid jobs.
Actor Kim Jung-tae's performance seemed to me to be right on the money. What inspired you to approach him specifically for this role?
I usually write scripts with the existing actors set to each character in my mind. That helps me to make the characters more actable, I believe. However, in this case, I was a little unrealistic in that sense, because I had Bill Murray or Kitano Takeshi in my mind for the lead role. So when I finished the screenplay, I started to browse almost every single Korean male actor listed in the alphabetical order on a database. When Kim Jung-tae came up on the computer screen, I just stopped there and called everyone who might know his contact. Until then, He had mainly played the villain roles, but his acting style was different from other villain-specialized actors. He went quiet to make his character more evil rather than exaggerated the expressions. His lack of expression expressed a lot. That was exactly what I was looking for from my main character. The only concern was whether he would ever take the role or not, because we had to ask him to act for us for literally no money. Surprisingly, he accepted the role as soon as he finished reading the script because the character was unlike the previous roles he played. I believe I was so lucky to be able to cast him for this role.
The film is heavily entrenched in the film noir genre. How do think this genre will go down with Korean audiences given its melodramatic themes and tendency for melancholy and intra-personal despair?
Korean audiences are familiar with the term "Film Noir", but it seems everybody sees it in a very different way. Some think that dark gangster movies are film noir; others think that it should be a story of a detective who wears a trench coat all the time; or some others think that it's a stream of old-style violent movies; few people will make a connection with some sexy female character and the genre. So I didn't expect that Korean audiences would perceive the short version 'Remember O Goddess' as a concrete film noir. In terms of the narrative, the main conflict between our hero and the girl from the convenient store is obviously melodramatic. Although we were going to make more 'noirish' story in the rest of film, I thought the short version would be accepted as a love story to the audience rather than as a film noir. It turned out that I had misunderstood Korean audience. The short was screened under the category of "A Short Film About Love" in Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival in Seoul that curated the shorts according to their genres. In the screening with three other 'short films about love', the tone of Remember O Goddess stood out embarrassingly from the other short films. I ended up with being asked by several audiences and filmmakers why I had submitted the film to the "love" category instead of sending it to "horror/thriller" category. So I learned that even if people could not easily define film noir in their own words, once they saw it, they would recognize it. I hope that after I complete the whole film, the film will be accepted as a contemporary film noir that has developed the original theme and form of film noir but also has depicted the emotional status of the people living in the modern cities in 21st century.
The first 25 minutes of "Remember O Goddess" was gripping and well paced. How does one produce a short like this with the intention of expanding it into a full-length feature? To what extent will the full-length version differ from this very excellent short film?
The short version was initially made with the vision of extending it to a full-length feature film. You might have noticed that some of the plot questions are left unsolved. For example, who sent the cigarette to Kim Jin Young? Who is Kim Jin Young if it's not the hero's name? And of course, who the hell is this guy? I intended those unsolved questions would connect the first chapter and the rest of the story. In the short film, I focused on how our hero was disconnected from the world and how the living condition in the modern cities enforces people to live anonymously. In the rest of the story, I will expand the story addressing how many chances we are missing to be connected with others and how we don't even know we had the chances. You'll be able to see the story of the people who were there close to our main character but not discovered by our hero. I am hoping that we could raise more funds than we had for the short so that we can try more stylistically experiments to integrate the characters' intra-conflicts with the audio/visual form of the film.
The film contains some noteworthy noir themes and motifs. The prevalent darkness and claustrophobic settings, themes of personal despair and the human condition, even a femme fatale of sorts emerges. What is your own personal relationship with the genre and what are your hopes for its reception as part of the genre?
I was introduced to the genre by 80's and early 90's Hong Kong noirs such as the series of Better Luck Tomorrow. I was so into the Hong Kong gangster movies that my old brother rented from the local video shops. I can't explain how a 10-year-old girl fell in love with the gangster movies that excessively exploited all those gunshots and the machoistic proverbs; but I did-I believe I was not the only one. However, as you know, the narrative conventions and the theme of Hong Kong noir are not even similar to those of French or American film noir. Later I 'studied' old French and American film noir when I started to watch movies more seriously. Then I fell in love again. I was fascinated by the uncertainty of life that the genre illustrates. You can't really summarize the story of a film noir or fairly deliver its theme in words. On the other hand, I liked that the form of film noir directly spoke to the audience. Even though the genre originated from the hard-boiled detective stories, I think that film noir has to be film, but no other form of art can substitute what it does on film. Speaking of my film, as I mentioned above, I believe and hope that people will instantly notice the 'noirish' moment of the film, although they can't tell what makes it film noir.
How would you describe the film's tone and mood, as well as the message or social commentary the film conveys?
What the film seeks to do is creating an original tone and mood because the film doesn't fall in any one existing film genre. The overall mood was built on the ground of film noir; the awkwardly comic moments of the film was influenced by American independent black comedies; but the acting style of Kim Jung-tae who mainly created the tone of the film rooted from Korean realism film acting. So I can't describe the tone and mood of my film in several words, but I'll probably be able say that it doesn't belong to one tradition.
Speaking of social commentary of the film, I wanted to address the human condition living in the modern cities such as Seoul, Korea. There are two shots that I actively expressed this intention through the art works. One is the establishing shot of the tall apartment village in the night scene when our hero begins to write the letter. With the gratefully donated CGI effects, we removed all the other lights in the shot but the ones glowing from those tall apartments so they stood out oddly like an island from the background. In Seoul, those extremely tall apartments are considered as a dream-place to live in. But I think that people who live in those luxurious cells may be dreaming something else.
The other shot that contains my social commentary is an insert of a newspaper that the man steals from the next door. On the front page of the newspaper, there is the article and the photo of the former president Roh's suicide and the date on the newspaper is the real date of the day when his suicide occurred. Like our hero, Roh killed himself by jumping off a mountain peak ten days before we started shooting. When I heard the news, I decided to secure the day's newspaper and use it in the film as a dedication of the film to the former president Roh. I cannot say that I understand his death as I see my main character's suicide, but I felt empathetic towards his decision to leave this society that enforces people to feel isolated.
Your KickStarter campaign seems off to a good start, with 52 backers pledging $6,825 of the $30,000 you are aiming for. Why should people or companies get involved in this project? And how will the full-length version add to the fantastic short you have already produced?
As of now we have 86 backers pledging $11,647. I feel very grateful and lucky. To the people who may be thinking of being involved in our project, I want to say that lots of people will be able to relate themselves to the characters who feel lost and disconnected but doesn't realize that they are missing the chances to reach out to their dear people. Also, this is the first attempt for a Korean independent film to seek for fundraising opportunities worldwide. Since independent films are not limited to the national borders, it should be worth to encourage the international cooperation of making independent films from the early stage of raising funds.
Albert Lee, the programmer of LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, commented on this short, describing it as "an elegant meditation on memory lane, time, and love..." This kind of feedback is really encouraging but have you received any negative responses thus far? And has any feedback prompted you to reconsider/reexamine the future structure of the project?
One criticism that stood out to me was that we should have spent more money to push the film's stylistic achievement beyond what we have reached as it was completed. Since I wrote the script, I knew, of course, that the script contained various possibilities of experimenting the film form in both sound and picture, but the result turned out to stay in the limit of the ordinary narrative films-which can be not a bad thing. However, I made the decision to complete the short as well made as the budget and time allowed, but I was aware that I would let go of the stylistic potential that the script had embraced. Now I am hoping that we could raise more funds for the feature film than we had for the short, so we'll be able to go for a stylistically satisfying independent film.
In your opinion, what is the current state of Korea's independent film industry and what are some of the barriers and issues facing young filmmakers as they attempt to penetrate the market?
For the past 3-4 years, Korean independent films have emerged to a great extent. Especially last year, all of the interesting movies that brought up the buzz among film-lovers and filmmakers were independent films. There are the demands of audience who want to see the new types of films, and there are more supplies of independent films that try to express a unique view on film and the world where we live.
The biggest obstacles that young filmmakers face on the way of making their films are, in my opinion, fundraising and getting distribution. The source of funding is quite limited; the distributors and the screening venues that are willing to work with independent films are also very limited; the opportunities to be exposed by the press are even more limited. It means that a limited number of people make those decisions of funding and distribution for independent films. It may impose restrictions on the imagination of the young filmmakers. Indeed, that brought me to decide to go out and ask the international public to help us fund this film.
I wish you all the best with this project, I know that I personally enjoyed the first 25 minutes and would love to see more of the same in the future. Do you have any last comments you would like to pitch to would-be sponsors, fans, or supporters?
Thank you, Chris, for supporting 'Remember O Goddess' and giving me an opportunity to talk about my project. (To the readers) I'm so grateful that you took the time to consider our film. I hope that you will check out the first 25 minutes of the film first, and then consider supporting our film. Through running this campaign only for 10 days, I've got connected with the people around the world who seriously cared about the future of our project. That's exactly what I wanted to express in the film: we feel often isolated and disconnected, but that doesn't change the fact that we are a friend, a daughter, or a son of somebody. You can become a friend of all these amazing people by backing us and following the film's progress. Thank you again for reading this interview.
To find out more about "Remember O Goddess", visit their homepage at http://rememberogoddess.squarespace.com/
The first 25 minutes of "Remember O Goddess" can be viewed online for free here (English subtitles are available), and if you wish to help support this independent film project, they have a Kickstarter campaign up and running until 10th May 2012.
"Remember O Goddess" was made into the feature film "Remember You - Movie".
- C.J. Wheeler (Chriscjw@gmail.com)
"[HanCinema's Interview Corner] "Remember O Goddess": FILM NOIR, ADVENTURE and LOVE"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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