[Interview] Shim HyeJung
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
Shim HyeJung directed a number of experimental features, such as "Dancing Hunter & Rabbit" in 2014, "Searching for Nasi Goreng" and "Carnival "in 2016, "Lost Voices" in 2017. She also directed a documentary, "The Camel and The Arab", in 2013 and fiction features "Kimchi" in 2012, "Heels Over Head" in 2016 and "Camellias in Bloom" in 2016. All her movies have been selected in many Korean film festivals over the past years.
On the occasion of her latest film, "A Bedsore" (festival entry) screening at FICA Vesoul, we speak with her about the concept of the bedsore, family issues in Korea, casting an actress who never moves, "Parasite" and other topics.
The story of "A Bedsore" seems very real and all the characters are well analyzed and with a proper back story. How did you manage to accomplish that?
My mom was very sick for a long time and the story of the housekeeper was also based on my mother's situation. I know the problems a family can have when there is a sick person in the house, and I based the characters on these experiences.
How did a bedsore ended up being the initiation point of the story?
When you have a family problem, it may not appear clearly on the outside, but inside, it rots. A bedsore is a wound that you can only see underneath the clothes, it is not visible outside, and is, in essence, a metaphor for the family issues.
The issue of the fate of the elderly members of families, particularly if they are sick, seems to be a global one, since the state does not usually provide proper care for them. What is your opinion on the subject?
It is not only family problems that I wanted to show in the movie, but that everyone has a bedsore inside of them, and that is the desire to be loved and I also wanted to show how the relations between the family members are developing. And to answer your question, in Korea right now, there is the issue of what the government should do about the elderly and what the family should do, and this is a turning point for our society right now.
The way the daughter and the son are treated in the film by their father is much different, and actually leads the daughter to feel the victim of injustice. What is your opinion about this difference?
In our society right now, there is a specific role for male and female children. The latter are expected to do the family's "manual labour" while the former to be in charge of financial issues. Therefore, there is an injustice in the case of the family in the film, since the daughter takes care of her family but the brother does not, even though in his mind, he is. It is an obvious difference that exists between age/generation and sex.
Ji-soo's character highlights all the issues a woman can face inside a family. As a daughter, a mother and a wife. Can you give us some more details about that? Is that a reference to the Confucian "laws" about women?
As I mentioned before, all characters in the movie have a bedsore. Ji-soo is a middle class woman who lives well, but her husband is seeing another woman and she still remains in her home without divorcing him. She just acts like this because she wants to retain her financial status and continue to live well. This gives her a "bedsore" and nowadays in our society a lot of middle-class women, even though they have these kind of problems, they cannot really solve them.
You are right about the Confucian laws. The Korean society is very conservative right now and those problems are obvious. It has changed for the better in comparison with the past but the issues still persist. I have a daughter and I still have to take care of the errands of her parents, and these kinds of problems do not even change.
What is the situation with illegal immigrants who work as in-house caretakers in Korea? How difficult is it for an immigrant to attain citizenship at the moment?
In Korea, we have a lot of Koreans of Chinese origin so all the men that come in the country deal mostly with manual labour, construction for example, and women work in restaurants or as housekeepers. Because their culture is similar to ours, they can understand the food and how to take care of people. I do not know if there is a kind of insurance for the elderly in Europe, but in Korea there is no such a thing, so we have to pay people to take care of them, and that is why we hire housekeepers, although their pay is very meagre.
Why are the children so quick to accuse the housekeeper about their mother's issues?
A bedsore is very difficult to be taken care of, you have to turn the person on different sides all the time to prevent it. However, because it actually happened to their mother, they started accusing her while the son was not happy with the housekeeper and the bedsore for him was an excuse to kick her out. Their behaviour, however, is unfair towards her.
The base of the film is dramatic, but Soo-ok is the source of much comedy, particularly through her interactions with Chang-sik. Why did you choose this approach and how difficult was it to balance comedy with drama?
I did not want to do a comedy, not really, but then I like this kind of humour points in the housekeeper's life. Housekeepers do a very hard job and they have to face a lot of sadness but still we see that they have a bright side and they can find joy in their work, and I wanted to show this aspect also. Therefore, even though the bedsore shows the rotten side of people, I wanted the bright side to be there also.
How was the casting process for the film like and how did you guide the actors? Was your approach different for the veterans and the younger ones?
Kim Do-young, who plays the daughter is a good friend of mine and also a filmmaker but for the rest of the family members, I saw them in TV dramas or the theatre and I always wanted to work them. So, when I finished the scenario, I proposed to them and they accepted.
I had a different approach for each character but because they were veterans in theatre, I did not direct them much during the filming process. Before the shooting however, we prepared a lot, we did a lot of readings, a lot of practice about their movements and I told them which tone they should use during the dialogues.
Did you allow them to improvise a lot?
Yes, I let them be free during the shooting but they are not actors that improvise a lot.
How do you convince an actor to play a part where she does no nothing? (Jeon Guk-hyang) (laughter).
(In English) Very good point (laughter). This was the hardest casting part actually, because the emotion of this character is very important for the movie. Jeon Guk-hyang has shot a short movie with me in the past, and that is why I think she accepted.
The scene with the fight among the family members is the most intense in the film. Can you give us some details about the way you shot it and how you guided the actors for it?
I like having many fight scenes in my movies, even my short ones include a number. I have my opinion about fight scenes, and I do not want the tension to go down at all during these sequences, so I only do one or two takes, because after that, the energy and the chemistry is not the same. First, I do a master shot, I do the scene from beginning to end in one take, because that is the best energy that you could have.
Why do you like to have many fight scenes in your films? (laughter)
Maybe because I also like to fight (laughter).
Do the actors enjoy these scenes?
They like them a lot.
During the latest years, Busan and Jeonju Film festival have tried to "promote" women directors, probably because Korean cinema seemed to repeat itself lately. The result were film like yours, "House of Hummingbird" and "Moving On" this year. What is your opinion about this change?
I am a woman, so I am very happy with it (laughter). There are a lot of women that come out, because now there are a lot of opportunities for them. Before, as you said, the industry was male dominated with a lot of crime thrillers, but the quality started to decrease. So, now the women put more personal and fresh points of view in their movies, so Korea can now have more female spectators that feel the movies address them and thus can appreciate more. But still, there are not many big feature films that are directed by women and I hope there will be more opportunities for women, not only in the independent sector but also on the commercial one.
However, would you say that is more difficult to shoot a movie in Korea than a man?
Yes, because the producers are the people who invest in the movie, and they are not really interested in woman's stories, and because the tickets sold are much more if the main actor is a male, they cannot ignore this fact, since most women's filmmakers' stories feature women main characters.
What do you think about "Parasite"? (laughter).
I really liked the movie, I found it very detailed and profound and I envy him because he is one of the directors in Korea that can do whatever he wants, without any limits and have his own style. Because of him, we now have an important place in international cinema and Korean movies are now more exposed to the world. I am very proud to be part of this industry and I am happy for his success.
Are you working on any new projects?
I am writing a script at the moment based on a short stories collection which I want to make into a feature film. It is a love story about a woman who picks up trash and knows what people like from that trash and falls in love with her neighbour.
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 email@example.com.