Son Tae-gyum was born in 1986 in South Korea and graduated from the Department of Cinema Studies at Chung-Ang University. With "Fly By Night" (2011), he won the Cinéfondation third prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. In 2012, he joins Korean Academy of Film and directs "Bicycle Thief". In 2013, his "In the Summer" wins Busan Film Festival's Sonje Award. "Baby Beside Me" is his debut feature.
On the occasion of the screening of his film "Destruction Babies" in Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema, we talk to him about his career, the film, single parenthood, indpendent films and many other topics.
In 2011, you won the Cinéfondation third prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Are you proud of this accomplishment, and do you think it helped your career?
Of course, the prize helped me a lot. Thanks to that, I was invited to a lot of other film festivals and I've been noticed by the audience. Before I received the prize, the future was unclear, but this changed everything. But the moment of joy is fleeing. People forget it soon. Moreover, I was stressed out because of the strain. So I had to work hard to make the next film.
Can you tell us a bit about the Korean Academy of Film?
It is a good and strict national film school. If you want to apply there, you should have your own portfolio. There is a one-year course in which you can make a short film and a full-length film. They support production costs and provide equipment, and many mentors give good advice. It is famous for its very strong critique in the classes. Sometimes, too much criticism led us to frustration, but one can still learn many things.
"Baby Beside Me" is your first feature film. Can you tell us a bit about the experience of shooting the movie? Are you satisfied with its success?
The process of filming a feature-length film was a completely new experience. Because the filming period was long, I felt like I was going to work somewhere like a public service every day. And it took a lot of nerve to maintain good relationships with all crew. Above all, the production budget was not sufficient. So I received a lot of help from people around me. I always felt like I was in debt.
Perhaps there are a few directors who are satisfied with their first work. I am happy that I completed the filming feature, but I still think there are too many mistakes. So I just want to take more pictures and have more experience, to do better.
The film takes a very interesting approach at single-parenthood, since it presents it through the perspective of a man. Why did you choose this approach, and what is your opinion on the matter?
Although a single-parent family is not always very special or tough , I just wanted to create a character who experiences significant difficulty.
Most young men may not know how to handle a baby. Maybe some men think childcare is a woman's job. So I thought 'Which are the stereotype gender roles?' So I wanted to create a situation where ordinary gender roles were reversed.
It's difficult to explain, but in general, I think we should not force others to have a stereotypical gender role. And we shouldn't blame others easily, if we don't know the details of their life. Also, I wanted to show the growth of a young man who acted like a little boy, through the process of taking care of his son by himself.
The film also shows what young Koreans think about the military. Is this the common opinion among them at the moment, and what is yours?
As you know, every South Korean man has the duty of national defense. And the South Korean men who carry out the duty will have similar ideas (They have to stay in the army for about two years).
Military life is too tough at first, but when you become a sergeant, you usually feel relaxed and comfortable. So when I was discharged from the military, I felt anxiety. Because I felt that I wasn't ready to enter society, and I was afraid I could not adapt well.
Despite the military life being a kind of imprisonment, I considered the irony of the notion, because it is also difficult to adjust to society.
The protagonists in the film are close, even living in the same house, but everyone seems to keep secrets from each other. Why is that, and do you think having secrets can actually benefit a relationship?
I don't think having secrets is always beneficial in relationships. It seems to vary, depending on the relationship. I just wanted to portray characters who are not good at expressing emotions and unable to treat each other kindly. It is interesting to know their inner-minds when they express their innermost thoughts at a very serious moment. Also, I saw many of those people who grew up in a harsh environment around me.
Lee Yi-kyung gives a wonderful performance as Do-il. Why did you choose him for the part, and how did you guided him in the film? In general, how do you choose your actors?
I discovered the actor in the Lee Song-hee-il's film "White Night - 2012". I really loved his sharp image. So when I wrote my script, I though that he would suit the main character. So I called him personally , and fortunately I was able to cast him.
We discussed a lot. And we practiced a lot with other actors to understand the situation of the main character. Fortunately, the actor had a lot of passion. Also, he understood the main characters through various experiences in his teenage years.
Except for some leading actors, the rest of the cast was selected by audition. I had a lot of private conversations with actors through auditions, because I was so curious about their real lives and philosophies. And it is also important whether the actor's personality resonates well with me or not.
Korean cinema is probably at the top of Asian cinema at the moment, particularly through the plethora of major productions. How is the situation with independent productions, though?
The independent film scene is always difficult, as is the case in other countries. However, because there are more diverse voices than before, the market will become more active, hopefully.
But nowadays, many independent films are released in theatres by large enterprises. And many independent film directors are preparing to make their debut in commercial films.
What kind of films do you like to watch and which are your favorite filmmakers?
I'm omnivorous. I like various movies and directors. From Dardenne brothers and David Fincher to Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Particulary, I like directors who deal with alienated people. and I also like stories about values(stereotypical) overturning.
What are your plans for the future?
It's simple. Making a second feature film. Do a satisfactory work for me and the public. It doesn't matter whether it's an independent film or a commercial one. I'm trying to get a chance to make a film, and writing a script.
Actually the financial situation is still precarious. So I have several part-time jobs. Of course, I like living as a laborer, but sometimes it is hard to concentrate on the film work. My ultimate goal is to live as a film director until death.
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] Son Tae-gyum: My ultimate goal is to live as a film director until death."
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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