Lee Ga-kyung was born in Jeonju City, Korea. She is working as an actress and a film director both. She has acted in the films: "The King", "Illang : The Wolf Brigade", "The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale", and directed the short film "Escape - Short".
On the occasion of her short film "The House of Rising Sun" (festival entry) screening at Ulju Mountain Film Festival, we talk with her about being both director and actor, the song that gave its title to the movie, her family and the inspiration for the film and many other topics.
You have a successful career as an actress, mainly in mainstream cinema. Why did you decide to pursue filmmaking?
In 2015, my father suddenly passed away and after that, I made a 9 minute documentary about how I felt in my daily life after his death, and that is how I started making films. The scenario for "The House of Rising Sun" is somewhat related as well, because my feelings towards my father are also part of the script.
Why did you choose this specific song by The Animals as the title?
There is a personal reason. This is actually one of my favorite songs and my father used to really like playing guitar and when I was young, he used to play this song for me and so I have a lot of memories about the specific track, and I actually played it in his funeral. So the reason I picked it as the title of the film is the memories it brings, from my father.
The film seems to deal with three topics. Tradition and the troubles it creates the importance of family, and following one's dreams. Can you elaborate on these topics?
Seems like Korean people are restricted by tradition and there are many cases where family members get into argument or even fight whether we should bury the body of a dead relative or cremate the body. There are a lot of disputes in families who are tied to tradition. I was thinking about why they should fight, they are family members, they should love each other.
About the dream, I wanted to show that this family is united because of the girl. She had a dream (of becoming a ballet dancer), and the reason I chose the mountain is because she is chasing the dream as she is climbing the mountain. I wanted to use a character who unites the family through her dream.
Traditionalism and the influence of the supernatural seemed to have found its apogee during President Park Geun-hye's term. Do you think that the upcoming generation will manage to get away from the bonds of traditionalism and the love of the occult?
We have a long history of shamanism, shamans and psychics. It so much rooted in Korean society, there are many people who have jobs related to shamanism so probably, it will not go away easily for the next generation.
Regarding the President, if she was my aunt or my mother, I could totally understand her because it is kind of a common practice, but she was the President, and she kind of depended on the cult to govern the country. Well, personally, I kind of understand the tradition, and many people get consolation from this kind of practice, but this does not mean that it is something the President should also do. Actually, as I know many politicians in Korea go to psychics and ask questions, it is kind of a common practice.
Why did you choose to include a psychic in the film?
It had to do with the way I wrote the script. It was around this season when my father passed away, near Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving, three of four days later. What we do in Chuseok is go to the mountains and take care of our ancestors' tombs. Whenever we went up to the mountains, my father would tell me that this is where he wanted to get buried. But he passed away after the Chuseok and he wasn't sick at all, he just passed away so suddenly. At that time, my family was going through a lot of things, financially it wasn't really stable. One of the reasons was that my younger brother (I have three siblings) had leukemia and we had too many issues to deal with. So, one of my sisters decided to go see a psychic. There are many kinds of psychics but one of them they have a god or spirit they talk to, they have a connection with the spirit and the spirit is talking through the psychic. In my sister's case, the psychic, speaking for my father, said that he was happy now, but very lonely. I was thinking maybe because he was cremated so I suggested to my mother to move his remains to the mountain but she refused. So, I was thinking maybe if I was child, what I would have done. This is why I included the psychic in the scenario.
So, do you identify with the girl in the movie?
I definitely identify with the little girl, and also, for the two other kid characters in the film, I used the real names of my brother and sister. (laughter).
Can you give us some details about the scene with the breaking of the glass? It seems also as an act of defiance.
Yes, it is a very significant scene for the film and for me, because when I visited the funeral house my father's ashes were, I really wanted to break that glass and take the remaining out. The protagonist is a little girl, and breaking the glass is a little shocking, and yes it is an expression of defiance and her willingness to chase her dream.
This scene and the one with the slap are somewhat violent. Was it difficult for the protagonist?
For the slapping scene, we did two takes. During the first take, the man did not slap directly in the cheek, he slapped at another place in order to avoid hurting the girl and it did not work out very well, so we had to do it again. However, during the second time, she did not take it too personally and she was not shocked; she understood that this was acting. She cried in the scene, but this was acting, not because it was hurtful, so she really took it as a proper actress.
In general, was it difficult directing child actors?
Yes and no. (laughter). For example, the youngest one would stare at the camera (laughter). I had to tell her not to do that and also, she was 6 years old at the time, and she did not know how to read. So, during the reading, she came with her mother, and she seemed really distracted, and I was a little bit worried and I talked to the mother, but she said that her daughter may seem distracted at the moment, but she actually remembers what you are saying. And indeed , during the shooting, she remembered everything and she did a really good job and I was surprised. Since this was my story, I met with them before the shooting and I explained my feelings and they seemed to kind of understand and this tactic worked quite well.
How was the casting process for the film like?
In Korea, we have a website for filmmakers, and when a filmmaker wants to shoot a film , they upload a kind of a recruitment ad there. Many people applied for the film, we actually had about then applications for each role, and that is how we did it.
And how about the woman who plays the grandmother in the film?
She is actually a famous actress (Lee Yong-nyeo). I did not want to portray a typical Korean grandmother, who are usually nice and gentle but she does not look like that. Yong-nyeo has played the shaman and psychic a lot of times in Korean dramas and film. In the end, she is the one who actually consoles the girl. The man who died is her husband and she is the one who should be the most upset, but actually she kind of feels what the girl is thinking and that this can be something that can unite family members, and I thought she was a good fit for all these elements, and that is how I cast her.
How was your cooperation with cinematographer, Ryu Myung-hwan?
Let me start with how we met. As an actress, I participated in many short films and the cinematographer was the one I worked with when I was acting and he was about to graduate his school, and I kind of asked him to work with me.
It is the first time I am shooting a narrative film and was very difficult but we worked closely together on how to shoot, how to frame the scenes. However, we had to shoot this in just three days so there were some scenes we were not able to shoot so I could have done this a bit better, but we were kind of chased by time.
How was the shooting like? Did you enjoy the procedure, and is there a memorable moment?
I was very very tired. I wasn't able to sleep or eat properly but I was really enjoying the process; I did not feel I was tired or hungry at all, even if I was supposed to be tired. I enjoyed the fact that I was shooting something that I wanted to talk about, to share it with the audience. And everyone was really cooperative, even the children actors, the parents of the children. In general, everything went pretty well.
One episode that I remember is when we were shooting the psychic scene, the wind was so strong. The taro place is usually outside, inside the tent. So, it was supposed to be there but it was too windy and we couldn't get the sound of it. We had to give up shooting the scene during the day and change it to a night scene. During the process, I had a big argument with my producer, whom I knew from elementary school, and maybe that is why we were arguing more. This is an episode I truly remember because actually, he is my boyfriend and we are planning to get married, and maybe that is why I was fending at him (laughter).
Are you planning on continuing as a director or an actor for your next projects?
I think my main job is acting and I think I want to continue acting in both independent and commercial films. Actually, I worked for many commercial films but I am not that popular yet; however, I will continue to act because I really enjoy this job. Regarding directing, I am not a writer, so it is really difficult to find a story that is not about myself. One day, if I am inspired by something and there is something I really want to talk about, then I will consider directing again.
Interview by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Interview] Lee Ga-kyung"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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