[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]
Whatever you (or I) think about it, The King of Pigs is a significant achievement. It was Yeun Sang-Ho’s first feature length film by director Yeun Sang-ho, it was independently funded, and it was the first South Korean animated film to be invited to the Cannes film festival. He has a lot to be proud of. I got a chance to sit down with him prior to the first screening of his film at the festival. It was a nice, relaxed chat, and we talked about the state of animation in South Korea, his own contributions to The King of Pigs, his future projects, and a whole lot more. I wish we’d gotten more time, because I had a lot more questions about the process of making his film, but I’m still pretty happy with what I got.
Yeun Sang-ho is a really cool guy, and I’m definitely excited to see what else he has up his sleeve. I should have asked him for a hug. He probably would have given me one too.
What is the current of state of South Korean animation?
Honestly, there is not really an animation market in South Korea. Usually there are TV series or 3D movies for children, and sometimes, very rarely, a theatrical release of a feature. Last year we had fortunately, we were able to have quite a few theatrical features, but that’s really rare.
Why did you want to start making animated movies?
I like animation to begin with. Ever since I was young, I liked animation, especially Japanese animation, and naturally I just started making animation. I began with shorts, made quite a lot of shorts for about ten years. They’re mostly for grownups.
How did it feel to Korean animation invited to Cannes?
I actually heard about the news when I was at the Busan International Film Festival, and there are many Japanese animation directors that I admire, especially Kon Satoshi, known for Perfect Blue. I admired their style, and I tried to make a film that’s similar to their style, and Kon Satoshi has gone to Venice with Paprika, and I always wanted to follow their path and try to become an animation director like them. So I was really glad to hear that I was able to go to Cannes. Honestly, I kind of was shooting for going to Cannes with this film, and I’m really glad that it happened.
So the film was at least in part based on your own experiences?
Yeah, it’s based on my experience in school. What I saw, what I heard, and it’s the kind of experience that most of the boys in general would go through in South Korea.
[To the translator, who was a young guy who grew up in South Korea] Is that what you went through?
Pretty much, yeah.
[Back to Yeun Sang-ho] Are any of the characters in The King of Pigs based on you?
Mostly the three main characters. I especially focused on Jong-suk, and at the ending, I focused very much on portraying this character based on myself, and also what I would have wished something like that would actually be put in this character when I was young.
When you initially had the idea, was it based on your own experiences or was it from a desire to make a movie about class inequality?
Initially, I had a dream while I doing military service, and the dream was about three friends (including myself) taking revenge on someone by committing suicide, and the dream was about that, but it didn’t go so well. When I woke up, it was horrifying, and I wrote a note about it, and eventually it became this movie.
And then, by the time I was going to write a feature, I found this note. I initially wanted to make this feature about social class, and based on this note that I found, I thought that I would be able to extend this and make it into this film.
How many people worked on the film?
Fifteen or sixteen people.
How personally involved were you in the animation process?
For the background, I drew about half of the film. For the picture, actually animating characters and the movement, I drew about 10,000 out of 30,000.
What are you working on next?
After The King of Pigs, I made a short that’s about 30 minutes long about my army experience… or about the army. And the next feature I will be working on [is roughly translated to] mean “fake religion” or “cultic religion,” and it’s going to be released early next year. I’m working on that right now.
What’s that about?
In Korea, there are many cultic religions, primarily based on Methodist Christianity, actually. Something that would derive from Christianity, not really a dominant thing, more cultic. And [the film] will take place in this village that is going to sink, meaning by the national plan for a reservoir. So they would actually sink the whole area for the reservoir. So the village is going to get sunk, so the story takes place in that village.
So the cultic religion is in that village?
So the religion gets involved in the village. It’s an apocalyptic village, and fake religion gets into that village.
Would you ever make a live action movie?
Not yet. I was offered a few times to make live action films, but mostly the conditions that I would like to have were not really met. If I get sufficient conditions, then yeah I will.
Would you ever make a comedy?
I actually made a short called Love is Fourteen, and that was a comedy. But for a feature, it’s not planned yet. I would definitely like to produce a lot of comedy, though, because I like comedy, especially slapstick.
Do you try to put autobiographical elements in everything you make?
Not really. The short I made called Hell was kind of a fantastical horror short film, and Love is Fourteen was a comedy. I would say that The King of Pigs is the first film that is based on my experience. [The implication that none of his experiences have ever been comedic makes me sad – Ed.]
If you were ever given the chance to work with a Japanese animation team, would you?
I am actually quite familiar with the Japanese staff from Mad House, which is an animation studio, but I noticed there are some systematical differences between Japanese animation and Korean animation, and in order to work with them, I think there would need to be some kind of system change beforehand.
That’s all my time. Thanks so much!