Based in Incheon city, Joo Young has worked for the Incheon Women's Film Festival for a long time as a general manager and programmer. From 2011 to 2016, she was a festival director for the IWFF. She finished the filmmaking course at the Hankyoreh Education center in 2017. She directed her first short film "Late Afternoon" and "Uncomfortable" is her second film.
On the occasion of "Uncomfortable" (festival entry) screening at Ulju Mountain Film Festival, we talk to her about women in Korea, her inspiration for the film, men in Korea, her next film and many other topics.
How close to reality of Korean women is the story of the film?
There is no serious incident in the film and I believe that is a comment regarding the fact that any Korean woman could experience what is happening in the film, in their daily lives.
The inspiration of your film is personal experience?
The first thing that inspired me, after getting divorced (in Korea, married women are called hyongsunim, a term that can be used for your dear friend's wife, which stays on even after divorce, or agassi, which means unmarried woman), I have been hearing these stories about women who are called by those terms, and then I started writing the script and soon expanded it into a full story. I feel that many women in Korea feel this kind of uncomfortable experiences, but especially after they are getting divorced, they are at their most vulnerable. Therefore, I wanted to express that, after getting divorced, women feel like "Oh, I was the woman of this man, I have been recognized by society as the woman of this man", and that is why they feel so vulnerable, as they are single. I wanted to express that.
Do you feel that Korean society is still male dominated?
Compared to the past, people say it is much better now, women and men are much more equal. However, it is still there, it is very deeply rooted everywhere and in the past, men have been violent towards women, or women were frequently yelled at or subjected to impolite behaviour, but they do not do that anymore. Generally however, I feel that it is still underlined all over society, so it doesn't matter that the men are kind or gentle because the male-dominated society is still there, since men can be both gentle and dominant at the same time.
Men in the film are portrayed as drunken fools. Is this your actual opinion?
Many Korean people, especially men, drink a lot. I cannot generalize, but in general, Korean men drink a lot. I am not sure which scene made you think that men are behaving foolish but it seems some of the men think it is ok to do something, but other people who look at them, think they are foolish. In that regard, the male characters in the film do not think they are acting foolish. For example, the man in Hyun-nam's company would stare at her when they were drinking and the commissioner would offer her a better position, and she feels offended and that the men are trying to hit on her. But the men just think they are gentle and nice to her.
The men are trying to be nice to her and her friend wants to drink more with her, because he feels so close to her and thinks there is no problem with that. But from an outsider's perspective, this could also be perceived as something completely different. This is what I want to tell with the story, that something that feels ok with someone can make another person feel very uncomfortable, there are two perspectives.
In the beginning, her friend and colleague acts as her friend, but as time passes and he drinks, he starts flirting with Hyun-nam. Is he actually in to her though, or is does he act like that because he is drunk?
Maybe the man did not think too much about it, but the thing is he is not really in to her, like madly in love but had good feelings for her from the beginning, and then, when she got divorced, he thinks he may have a chance with her now, maybe it is easier to approach her. That is why he acted like that.
We have cases of women being sexually harassed but these kinds of cases increase after getting divorced, when men find it easier to approach women. These things can happen before getting married, but after getting married there is not much approach from other strange men, but after divorce, it increases, so many women feel, "I have been the woman of this man, I have lived that kind of life".
Hyun-nam feels uncomfortable most of the time, but there are two scenes where she feels comfortable; when she is in the karaoke with her female friend and when she is by herself on top of the mountain. In that regard, do you feel that women are better without men in their lives?
I am not trying to say that women are better without men, but I believe that women have to tend for themselves first, to change themselves first, because I think there is a society that imposes that on them, and thus women are trying to fit in the society and try to restrict themselves. Therefore, what I am trying to say is that she has to realize that and then stand on her own first. The title of the film in English is "Uncomfortable" but in Korean, the title is actually the name of the mountain the protagonist is climbing. It is a small mountain in Incheon, it takes about 30-40 minutes for a man to reach the top. I do not know why I started talking about this (laughter) but this is a very restricted space and that is why she encounters many people there and within this restricted area, I wanted her to understand herself and experience the change within herself.
Can you tell us a bit about the scene when she swings the lead of a trash can against her friend to fend him off?
Until they went to the mountain and they started drinking, she never said she felt uncomfortable, even if she did feel like that. But after she spoke out to the commissioner she started to express the fact that she feels uncomfortable and the scene you mention is the apogee of this attitude.
How was your cooperation with Lee Yoo-ha?
I had an audition to cast her, and she had a busy schedule but the image of the protagonist fitted her pretty much so I waited for her to audition.
I talked to her a lot before the shooting. The other female character who appears in the mountain is also a very important character for me, so the three of us met often before the shooting and we talked a lot. About how our lives were and, in general, what women go through, psychologically. Yoo-ha did not have many lines so she had to convey her emotions just through her facial expressions. She felt that was very difficult but the fact that we had a lot of conversations before, I think it helped a lot for her to act.
Was it difficult to fund the film? In general, what is your opinion about the current state of the independent movie industry in Korea?
I was very lucky in the case of "Uncomfortable" because I got funding from three different entities: Ulju Mountain Film Festival, Incheon Film Commision and Korean Film Commission. I was very lucky and many people envied me. I thought that I could support my steps very well because I had lot of funding but that wasn't really enough for me, I thought that I could support our staff well, but actually, it was just enough to make the film. Next month, I am shooting another film, I am not getting enough funding, just ¼ of what I got for "Uncomfortable". Normally, it is really hard to get funding and even if do, it would be as much as I did for "Uncomfortable" at the most.
What is the new film you are shooting about?
It is a similar story, about three women who are joined together because they play guitar, it is their hobby. One protagonist is in her forties and she really likes playing with them, but one day her husband tells her they have to move close to his parent, in another area. But the woman does not want to go because of that guitar thing and the fact that her life is there. Therefore, she is planning things to do so they do not have to move there.
Actually, if the woman does not want to move, since they are a couple, they have to talk about it. If she does not want to go, maybe they should not have to go, but in Korea, the husband normally has the economic power, he is the breadwinner. So, if he has a strong voice and if he thinks they have to move, there are not many women who could voice their opinion. Most women would not say that they do not want to go, they will try to persuade him using "side" ways, mentioning how beautiful the place they live now is, for example. If that does not work, women in Korea will just give up. The protagonist is lovely and bright and she is coming up with a plan with the two other women so they do not split up, like trying to make the house the couple live in not to be easily sellable. It is kind of a humorous film.
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] Joo Young"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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