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[Interview] Chung Sum and Lee Doh

2019/09/21 | 232 views | Permalink

Born in Damyang in 1965, Chung is working on his new project, "Cinema Odyssey". Born in Busan in 1972. Lee's documentary,  "She Loves to Massage Feet" (2003), was invited to the 5th Seoul Woman Film Festival and received the Excellence Award for Best Picture.

On the occasion of "Moon, Thread" (festival entry) screening at Ulju Mountain Film Festival, we talk to them about the inspiration behind the film, its many metaphors, working with a girl actor, the casting, and many other topics.

What was the inspiration for "Moon, Thread"?

Chung Sum: It comes from my personal experience from losing my own mother. I was on the road when my mother passed away, and in Korea in particular, it is almost a sin if the son is not with his deceased mother. It is a huge fault and a huge guilt one needs to bare and I felt extremely sad and guilty for not being there when she died. One morning, it was raining outside and I woke up and all of a sudden, I had a sense of extreme sadness and I missed my mother so much. I wanted to make a film of that emotion and that was the incident and the inspiration behind the movie. As for the whole framework of the film, I borrowed it from Greek mythology, the Thread of Ariadne in particular, and that is the main motif.

Can you explain the ending, particularly the thread being connected to the moon part?

Chung Sum and Lee Doh: The red thread starts from the foot of the grandfather and then goes through the hand of the young girl and then eventually to the moon. The moon symbolizes mother, so it is a way of connecting the members of the family and also the medium through which the girl can connect to her mother. It is a medium of connection, a medium of expression of the girl's longing for her mother.

Chung Sum: There is something I need to explain more about, something that is cut out from the film. It was written on the original script but had to be removed because we could not shoot it. In the story, the mother who is missing left the house and the family, and the girl is waiting for her to come back. But what actually happens to the mother is that she loses her sanity and throws herself to the lake and kills herself, basically. However, no one knows what happens to her, the girl does not know, but when she leaves the house with the red thread, something like an animal instinct leads her to the lake, and then she connects herself to the moon, which symbolizes her mother. 

Why is the thread red though?

Lee Doh: Our previous film had a red scarf that the female protagonist wears. However, we did not choose red for a particular reason, we just thought red was suitable for the character and the situation and this is what happened to this film also. Perhaps we thought red was more suitable because of the visibility on screen.

Chung Sum: Once we started shooting, we had a framework and storyline, but then we were not really following line by line, the film was evolving with each take. It took us on a journey of finding the images and connecting them together, rather than a written form transferred visually. Through this journey, I feel there might be something in my subconscious that made me choose the color red, I am not sure how to explain it.

Can you tell us a bit about your cooperation with the girl-protagonist and particularly the scene where she finds her grandfather dead?

Lee Doh: She was amazing! She never acted in front of a camera before, she is practically a non-actor. She is the daughter of an actress we know, but this does not mean we did not audition, we auditioned hundreds of kids. But after all, we liked this girl because of her naturalness, there is nothing artificial about what she does, how she behaves and she was THE character. So, we chose her, but we took a risk for casting someone who had no experience. Therefore, as you can imagine, we had to explain everything, we had to make sure she understands everything very well and she followed our instructions so well.

Chung Sum: About the scene you mention, she got scared, and she cried a lot and we had to remove her from set and calm her down. We told her it is not the end, that the grandfather is now on a journey to some place else. It took time, long time to step out of her fear and perform. We chose her for her naturalness and because she was frank with her emotions and perhaps that is why she got so immersed in her emotion in that scene and that is why she got so scared. We could tell at that point, that she was "in the zone", really into character.     

Can you tell me about the way you worked the movie as a duo?

Chung Sum: We had two different roles. I worked the original version but after the revision of the screenplay, we did it together (with Lee Doh). During the shooting, I was in charge of the technical part and she was in charge of directing and dealing with the actor's performance.  

How was the casting procedure for the film, particularly for the man who plays the grandfather, who mostly sleeps in the movie? Was it difficult persuading someone to play that role?

(laughter) Lee Doh: He is a non-actor too, he is actually the owner of a rock bar and he paints. He also starred at our previous film, as an extra, but this time around, we asked him, because there was a professional actor we wanted for the role but we could not have him. We thought it was not a difficult part to play but he said that pretending to die is very difficult for him because he has to hold his breath and stay still for long periods. For the mother's part, she is an aspiring actress, not in any major movies yet. We casted her strictly based on her appearance.

Chung Sum: The grandfather had to stay still with his eyes wide open, but it was summer time and we had so many mosquitoes and the line producer wanted to get rid of the bugs. So he sprayed all over the place and the fumes would go to the man's eyes and nose (laughter) but he did his part, without ever complaining, and he did really well.

Can you tell us a bit about the location the film was shot?

Lee Doh: The film was shot 100% in Jeju Island and that is because we know a male dancer who leaves in Jeju. If we wanted to use that house and create that set, it would cost us a lot of money, because we had to look for a space that fits with our image for the film. But he found this very small abandoned house in the middle of nowhere and he fixed it and he was living there for a couple of years. He renovated the place in a very natural way, like by picking things from the road and placing them in the premises and thus, he created his own space. When we visited the place, we thought this is a perfect set for our film and he agreed to let us use this space. Regarding the cave dance in the film, that place was not open to the public, he just knew about it and he let us shoot there, with no interference from tourists etc.

Like the moon, the clock and the candlelight in the film also seem to represent metaphors. What are these metaphors for and why did you choose this method to express yourself?

Chung Sum: All these symbols are used to express the girl's sense of loss and death, in general. The death of her grandfather and her mother are not directly expressed on screen but the girl senses them. I wanted to express the theme of death conceptually, using symbols. The clock is stopped and therefore time has stopped and it is the girl that starts moving the clock and then time flows from then on. That means that the girl wants to revive her father, because the "reviving" of the clock happens after his death. Also, I think time is the only thing that is infinite in the world, nothing else, everything is finite and time here is one part of a balance indicated by time-infinite and death-finite.

The candle light, first of all, it was a choice of our art director in terms of the mise-en-scene, in order to create an ambience that we wanted to show. At the same time, the candlelight involves a sense of risk, because if the wind blows, the candlelight will disappear. This gives a sense of instability and insecurity. Originally in the screenplay (which we could not shoot due to the weather conditions), when the girl is in the forest with the thread, we would place candle lights in the area. Also, the original idea was that the house would not have any electricity, so we needed candlelight.    

Interview by Panos Kotzathanasis

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"Moon, Thread" is directed by Chung Sum, Lee Doh, and features Kim Eileen, Moon Jin-woong, Jung Yun-ha, Hong Ra-moo.

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