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[Interview] Kim Yu-ri, Kwon Han-sol, and Ok Soo-boon on Korean Teenagers' Difficulty With Independence


Kim Yu-ri graduated with a degree in Film Making from Kyungsung University in Busan. After graduation, she began working on commercial and independent features and has been making several short films including How Long Has That Door Been Open? which received the Grand Prize in the Korean Shorts competition at the 2014 Jeonju International Film Festival. "Sub-zero Wind" is her first feature film.   

Kwon Han-sol played small parts in "The Discloser" and "Steel Rain". "Sub-zero Wind" marks her first protagonist role.

Ok Soo-boon played small parts in "Cinema with You" and "Little Forest". "Sub-zero Wind" marks her first major role.

On the occasion of "Sub-zero Wind" (festival entry) screening at the 25th Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas, whrere it won a Special Mention bythe International Jury, we speak with them about the movie, teenagers in Korea, Christianity, loneliness, and other topics

Can you give us some details about how you ended up working in cinema?

Kim Yu-ri: I studied cinema and theatre and after I received my diploma, I went on working in films in the script-writing department and I also shot my own short films. Through the money I earned during that time, I managed to shoot "Sub-zero Wind".

Kwon Han-sol: When I was in high school, my major was film and theater and I first started acting in theater plays. I wanted to go to college but that did not work out, so I started auditioning and I realized that I prefer acting in movies instead of theatre.

Ok Soo-boon: Since I was a child, I would watch dramas and movies and I always knew I wanted to act. However, during school and even college, I did not study movies and theatre at all, but after a while, I decided I wanted to go back to my first dream, acting.

Can you give us some details about the significance of the title?

Kim Yu-ri: In Korean, there are two meanings for the title. The first is the literal one, which means very cold wind, but in the movie Young-ha's name, is also part of the Korean title of the film "Young ha eui ba ram" and ba ram means hope and dream. So, on one hand, you have the cold wind and on the other hand, Young-ha's hopes and dreams. The movie is about how the two characters become adults and how they survive through their experiences and the environment they grow up in is compared with a very cold wind. The movie is also about how they try to find their hopes and their dreams, and for example for Min-ji, who will she be close to, by the end of the movie and how she will survive all of her problems

One of the themes of the film is Christianity. Can you tell us a bit about the situation with Christians in Korea and the reason who chose to deal with this topic?

Christianity is the main religion in Korea. Even in my close environment, almost all of my friends and family are Christians. It is a very common religion in Korea and it is very easy to become one actually. Therefore, I chose it as a theme, because it is so common. Becoming a religious person can be the result of very good intentions at first, but at the end I questioned myself as to how people manipulate religion and how it can be hurtful to those around them. So the theme is really about how you practice religion. In my movie, you cannot really know what is good and what is bad and thus I can express this way of thinking about religion.

The film shows that the life of teenagers in Korea nowadays is quite difficult. How close to reality do you think that is?

Kwon Han-sol: It is a particular situation, but it is the reality that there are a lot problems in Korean families and, although it does not actually go as far as in the movie, it is still a reality that teenagers go through a lot. For example, the university tuitions are really high.  

Ok Soo-boon: Not all problems the teenagers face appear on the surface but everybody have their own problems and even if they are family or financial problems, everyone has their own issues who have to go through during their teenage face.

Kwon Han-sol: Korean kids do not express themselves right away, they tend to keep everything bottled, even from the people close to them. However, when someone is close to them for a long time, then they start opening up and eventually tell a lot about themselves.  

Kim Yu-ri: In Korea, it is very difficult for teenagers to express themselves and to do anything on their own, to solve a problem by themselves.  

Do you think it is more difficult for girls than boys?

Kim Yu-ri: I cannot say that these issues have something to do with sex, there are no differences between girls and boys, no discrimination or anything, but the problem really comes from how you express yourself and how you think about your problems and how you want to solve them. I feel that this is the important thing, to be aware of your situation and to be able to express yourself and a lot of kids don't say anything and they keep everything to themselves.

When I was writing the script, I went through the news and I found a piece about a father who divorced his wife, but for seven years they lived together. He hated the woman he was living with so much, that eventually he kidnapped the kids and held them hostage and one of the kids actually died. When I heard of this, I was thinking about how this family lived in peace for seven years, because you cannot really function normally for such a long time and then have a problem that big. It is about little problems that become big problems and there must be a reason that all this happened, but I am not sure if it is a cultural issue, a Korean issue or just this particular family

In the film, Ok Soo-boon's character seems to be marginalized in school because she is fat. Is that the case in Korea, that fat people get bullied?

Kwon Han-sol: My brother is in middle school so, I can answer this one better. Nowadays in Korea, there is not so much bullying, but more the concept of the "insider" and the "outsider". The first category is about people who have a lot of friends and are really outgoing, and the outsiders are the exact opposite. There is no actual violence or bullying in school. In the past, however, there used to be a big issue with violence among teenagers, but not right now.

Kim Yu-ri: Violence in schools is not physical, as it used to be before and in the movie you cannot see any bullying really.

Ok Soo-boon: In essence, the problem of Mi-jin is that she is very timid, shy and she is alone because she does not get along with other people, maybe because she is a bit fat but also due to her personality. So, it is not an issue of other people bullying her but of her own state of mind, which eventually becomes her everyday life.

Kim Yu-ri: Because her parents died during the time she was twelve to fifteen, the result was that she became shy and timid.  

Young-ha eventually starts working as a bar hostess. How difficult was it for you to play that part and did you do any kind of research for this aspect of the role?

Kwon Han-sol: I did not do much preparation for that part because I only had a photo the director showed her before she went to the actual bar. I did not want to prepare much, because my character is going from being a teenager to the adult world for the first time, and I wanted to feel the feelings of the "first-timer" she would have. Also during the movie, I did not prepare everything because I wanted to feel "in the moment", just like the character does. It was also my first time of being in such situations and I felt that not preparing would actually help me portray this "in the moment" concept.

I felt that the scene where Young-ha wakes up next to her father suggests that something sexual happened on his side, but it is still somewhat vague. Why did you choose this approach?

 Kim Yu-ri: The point of the movie is not about sexual harassment, is really about how Young-ha is growing up how the two girls deal with everything and about the irony of the fact that everything around them is changing but they do not really know how to deal with the change. So the point is not about what the father did to her and where he touched her, it is not really necessary to film it as realistic as it really happened, because from Young-ha's point of view, it is about who did it to her not what he did. It is her own father, whom she trusted. After the incident, we see it on her face, the surprise, and the feeling of betrayal and that is what the scene is about.

The relationship of the two girls is quite complex. Min-ji is completely faithful in her love for her cousin, and Young-ha also loves her cousin, but at the same time, she kind of exploits her a bit, ordering her around for example. Can you elaborate on this relationship?

Kim Yu-ri: You cannot say that Young-ha is a bad person; she acts that way because she is very young and that is who she is. The main reason she is like this is because she tries to be like her mother; family is very important to her. Everything that she learns is about her family but also derives from her family. The movie is also about how she becomes like her mother, because for her, family is also the most important thing. On the other hand, Mi-jin has no one to rely on and is not because she is very kind or very loving, she acts like that because Young-ha is the only one she can rely on. From a very young age she went through a lot, with her parents dying and living on her uncle's house, she became more mature earlier than Young-ha, and that is why she wants to be more helpful to others, and particularly her cousin, who is her only family, in essence.    

Ok Soo-boon: Young-ha is my character's best friend, the only one she can rely on, and that is why Mi-jin is acting like that.

So, do you think that it is inevitable that we become just like our parents, is that one of the messages you wanted to communicate?

Kim Yu-ri: (laughs) In the movie, we can see that Young-ha becomes more and more like her mother, but at the end, she is completely alone because everybody leaves and she leaves everybody. At one point, Young-ha's mother tells Mi-jin that "you have to live your life alone" and I was very worried that people would believe that, as Young-ha believes, that people are on their own, when they leave. If Young-ha just continued her life like this, she would become very much alone, but because Mi-jin was with her, I wanted to show that Young-ha could become like her, someone who helps others. At the end, the movie stops on Mi-jin's face, because I wanted to show that Young-ha is finally with somebody that would accompany her through her life and that she is not alone, as she thinks she is. And the title, the meaning that refers to the very cold wind, refers to Young-ha and her surroundings, but the essence that comes from Mi-jin is very warm, and that is a very hopeful message that I wanted to communicate.

Since the story unfolds in three time frames, you had to have three actors for each role. How difficult was the casting in that regard, and how did you go about directing them?

I started with auditions and first casted the 19-year-old characters, who are present here at the moment, then the 12-years-old and lastly, the 15-years-old. The actors were not famous neither had a lot of experience in the field, but I did not want someone who could perform well due to practice, but someone who could match the character's feelings and overall characters. For each pair of characters, I did a month of rehearsals with each duo together, repeatedly. I wanted the actresses to have a lot of questions for their characters, and that is why I did not give them complete answers, but instead I asked them more questions about the characters, in order to make them confident about their parts. Because the characters are friends but also cousins, the actresses had to become very close with each other, and that is why I was so patient with the procedure and did so lengthy rehearsals. Because the characters had to match each other's feelings and feel the synergy.        

Can you give me some details about your future projects?

Kim Yu-ri: I am currently writing scripts, but what I find most interesting is writing about young people and teenagers and their stories and I want to continue on this topic for my next movies. I am currently writing a scenario with the producers that did "Sub-zero Wind".

Kwon Han-sol: I do not have a next project but I have a movie that will come out in March. The title is "Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage" by Lee Jeong-beom.

Ok Soo-boon: Nothing yet, but I will try and have more auditions.


Interview by Panos Kotzathanasis


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