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[Spoiler] [INTERVIEW] Director Hong Sang-soo (Part 1 & 2)

2011/09/07 | 1397 views | Permalink | Source

The lights in director Hong Sang-soo's study never go out. After releasing "Ha Ha Ha" and "Oki's Movie" in early summer and fall, respectively, of last year, he is back with his 12th report "The Day He Arrives" set for a release on September 8, which is still interesting, again detailed and a particularly beautiful record of a winter.

You had originally planned to shoot a movie in Buan after "Oki's Movie" right?

Hong Sang-soo: Yes, I had. But I couldn't think of anything although it was time to. So my producer got a residence hotel in Insadong for me for about two days to organize my thoughts. And I was smoking on the verandah there when I saw Bukchon and thought, ah, how about I shoot something there? But instead of going with my previous method of seeking out the moments that are repetitive while the story moves forward, I wondered what it would be like to go with an idea that repeats itself in its entirety. I started with the thought that a man would go to the same place three times and then we'd see what happens.

Was there a particular memory or impression you'd had of Bukchon?

Hong: No. I rather told myself that I shouldn't have any organized thoughts or images about that place. Because if I did, I would drive the movie in that direction. It was just a 'Let's try going there. And let's see what relationships come about of the broken fragments that pass through me'.

Actress Kim Bo-kyung plays both the ex-lover Kyungjin and bar owner Yejeon. Why was it that you decided to go with two characters who look alike yet be very different in attitude?

Hong: It wasn't intentional. It just turned out that way while shooting the movie in order. After deciding to do the movie with Kim Bo-kyung, I remembered that Seongjun (Yoo Joon-sang) would go to his ex-girlfriend's house when he gets drunk, so after we shot that scene, I decided that he would meet a new woman in Bukchon. And after that, Kyungjin would appear only in text messages. Up till "Ha Ha Ha", I at least had a rough idea of how the story to a movie would develop but starting with "Oki's Movie", I didn't think of even about that. Even with "The Day He Arrives", I roughly decided on the cast and locations, and came up with the scenes only after starting to shoot the movie. Having the female characters be similar came from such a process as well. It may be standard to do foreshadowing and setting up points of connection for scenes that'll appear in the movie at a later point but I really went with my instincts for this movie, with nothing set in advance. It's sort of hard to explain in words but my senses would open in every direction possible in the mornings. There wasn't even a rough central idea I was going with.

Scenes from "The Day He Arrives" [JEONWONSA]

Why do you throw yourself into such experiments when the method you use could be very dangerous?

Hong: I'm inducing myself to do different things. From my debut to third movie, I wrote out everything down to the script. Then "Turning Gate" was the first movie I shot with just a treatment. But after filming "Ha Ha Ha", I told people that I want to stop going with the method of thinking everyday over a treatment. I had the strong desire to use a different method. So I gradually cut down on the treatments as well until I just stopped thinking about a movie's development starting with "Oki's Movie". Let's make myself move within a different mold and see what comes out of it. That's what I became curious of.

In "The Day He Arrives", it was interesting that you pointed out that most people agree to statements that link extreme remarks such as "You look strong on the outside but are actually very weak". And it was fun to see that women confessed they are like that as well even after hearing that it's a universal trick.

Hong: It's what actor Kim Eui-sung told me while we were having a beer after the first filming session for the movie. In a way, everybody thinks they are complex beings. Yet they are seen in excessively simplified ways by people which they feel is unfair so if you tell them these sort of things, they mistaken you for understanding you well.

Do you think of yourself as a complex person?

Hong: All human beings, including me, are complex. But we're always forced to speak of ourselves in simplified ways. And yet there is a limit to expressing what someone is like through language. So that's why people listen to music and look at paintings. They want to break away from that excessive simplification brought upon them through language and experience themselves in their original state or at least somewhere close to it.

What sort of stimulation or energy does actor Yoo Joon-sang give you whom you've worked with for "Like You Know It All", "Ha Ha Ha" and "The Day He Arrives"?

Hong: I just... like him. I like him a lot. He is someone with a drive that doesn't irritate me. His honesty doesn't irritate me either and I like his energy. His energy has a clean color. And I think he's a lot of help when we work together. He doesn't irritate me even when he's talking a lot. It's cute. (smile)

I still have a lingering image of how Seongjun (Yoo Joon-sang) looks terrified out of his wits.

Hong: I usually don't say these kind of things but I think that closeup was saying something important in its own. I actually had thought of a different scene for the ending but I decided that I'd like that instead. I liked the eyes as well.

Yoo Joon-sang's eyes?
Hong: Those eyes too and those of the sky as well. (laugh)

You've gone black-and-white with "The Day He Arrives", the second time for you to do so after "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors". And I remember you saying in an interview that it was because you were "concerned that the large amount of information delivered through color may dull the delicate emotions portrayed by the characters". Does the same reason apply for why you went with black-and-white for "The Day He Arrives"?

Hong Sang-soo: It may have just been a notion when I said that back then but I don't know if it's actually true. I shot "The Day He Arrives" in color and tried switching it to black-and-white just to see what it's like but it looked better. And I was lucky. You need to shoot black-and-white films a bit differently, such as with the lighting and all, but the contrast was already strong thanks to the structure of the lights for the scenes shot indoors and the clothes that the cast wore, Kim Bo-kyung's white blouse in particular, looked nice in black-and-white. It goes down to personal taste but I guess I thought that winter in Seoul went well with black-and-white. "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors" too was set in Seoul in the winter.

When I watch your movies, I sometimes suspect that your characters might be based on actual people. The male characters in particular are very much like you on the outside and their jobs are film directors or professors of film major. What's the reason you make these choices which could easily be misunderstood by people?

Hong: There may be certain characteristics of someone that I may use for my own characters but I never use someone in my movie in his or her entirety, whether it's me or anybody that I know. I too am just an ingredient to a movie. And no matter how hard I may try to depict on that person as close to who that person actually is, it just won't happen. Because even if you used something that somebody said, it'll be different when said by someone else since the actor will be the main ingredient but the context in which it is said will not be the same. The character that is created after an actor comes in touch with the character I had in mind, will both try to pull the other closer to themselves, and a new character is created from that tension. So I'm not pressured when someone says they're reminded of someone after watching my movies. I actually don't like to get too close to a real-life character to the extent it makes me feel uncomfortable. But the ingredient itself will lose power if it strays too far from reality and will self-destruct itself when it gets too close to it so that's why there's the struggle of power. If there's one standard I go by, all that's important is that that person who served as a model isn't offended after watching my movies.

And luckily it looks like nobody has complained so far. (laugh)

Hong: There was once. Some time ago, there was a professor who after watching "The Power of Kangwon Province", half jokingly said that my movie copied the gatherings him and his fellow professors have. But I had never even thought of their gathering. I guess that's just how typical of a gathering it is. (laugh)

I may be jumping to conclusions but the scene where Yoo Joon-sang tells film students, "Why do you keep following me around!" reminded me of when it was said that all film students in Korea are imitating your movies.

Hong : I did not think of that at all when writing that. Now that I think about it, I guess some people could see it in that way. But I have better things to do than say such crazy things in my movie. (laugh) Those students were that guy's excuse to go to his ex-girlfriend's neighborhood but he wanted to get rid of them since he no longer needed them. Normal people would've come up with more natural excuses but he isn't someone who can think like that so he said something stupid.

Scene from "The Day He Arrives" [JEONWONSA]

You surprised many people by working with French actress Isabelle Huppert on your next film "In Another Country" (translated title). How did you come to work with her?

Hong: There was a different vibe about Isabelle Huppert compared to other French actresses. While I felt distant from other actresses although they are beautiful, I felt very close to Huppert. I had met her once in Paris before and she had recently come to a dinner a Paris cinematheque retrospective. And we talked about how we like each other as director and actor and said we should work on a movie together if the opportunity ever came around. Then she held a photo exhibition in Korea in May and she contacted me so we were having lunch when I asked if she could appear in a movie of mine that I'm shooting in July. It was more of me just asking her with the mindset of too bad if she can't, rather than an official proposal, but she said yes right away. And that's when I thought it must be fate! (laugh)

Did she adjust well to your unique style of directing? She's known to be quite a particular actress.

Hong: She wasn't particular at all. You should meet her yourself some time. I like her. She works sohard. And she's cute as well. Of course, she's firm in receiving the protection she needs to in order to act. But she's not the type that asks of a lot of things unnecessarily. She worked really hard. So hard!

The preview and both the title and credits to "The Day He Arrives" are someone's handwriting. Is it yours?

Hong: I used to shy away from writing things myself in the past. That's why I've tried using other people's handwriting or fonts that already exist. But from a certain moment onward, I started thinking that the fonts don't go with my movies. That's why I tried writing things myself and people told me it looked okay so I just went with it.

From what I remember, you wrote the titles for "Ha Ha Ha" and "Oki's Film" in your handwriting as well, but I think that's when the tone of your movies started changing a bit. I also thought that the relationship between the director and the characters in your movie is gradually becoming close.

Hong: Hmm... That's true in a way. And in my own way I think that's the way things should be. I think the dark feelings, or feelings of being in debt, that had accumulated in my heart since I was a teenager, are being released through my movies one by one and as they reveal themselves under the sunlight, I think I somewhat break away from the memories in my past. And that has helped me depict on what is closer to who I am right now.

I think that's why your movies have become more fun and at ease recently.

Hong: Is that so? Well that's good for me. (laugh)


Senior Reporter : Beck Una.

Photographer : Chae ki-won.

Editor : Lee Ji-Hye.

Editor : Jessica Kim.

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