In my previous discussion with director Christina Yoon, we talked about her short film Motherland and the influences she pulled from to write its story. One aspect I forgot to mention is that the short is up for Oscar consideration. That’s actually what intrigued me about the film as I’ve never been quite sure how discussions for awards happen.
Yoon explained, “One of the ways you can submit to the Oscar’s live-action short category is to win at an Oscar-qualifying festival. We won ‘Best Narrative Short’ at the Provincetown International Film Festival. With that, we were able to submit it on the academy website and they ask for a letter of proof that you won and for all these other documents. At that point, you’re in the pool and you’ll be viewed by and voted on by the academy voters.”
That explanation makes it sound fairly easy, but it goes to show how much more control filmmakers have in the modern era. Instead of waiting for the academy to recognize them, indie creators can take their fate into their own hands and give themselves a better chance at standing out from the crowd. Motherland is certainly worth consideration for an award, though it has racked up quite a few indie festival wins already.
Moving on from Motherland, one of the aspects of Yoon’s life that intrigued me from our chat was her brief stay in Korea. Having worked directly with Korean studios and talent, I figured she would be a good resource to ask about the Korean film industry. I showed her my DVD copy of Bichunmoo, and while she didn’t know that particular film, she did provide insight into how Korea’s film industry operates.
“I’m not an expert, but when I worked there for two years, I got a sense of it a little bit,” Yoon told me. “I never worked on a feature, but I did work on branded music videos and web series. There are no unions there and it is very small. It’s very small: smaller country, smaller population, smaller film industry.” She explained that after a certain level of fame, actors don’t need to audition for roles anymore.
Similar to Hollywood, who you know plays a big part in which roles are offered and how far you’ll wind up going. It’s not impossible to make it as a relative unknown because the crews on each film are so tight-knit. Yoon suggested that maybe because there are no real protections for workers, everyone working on a set feels like a family. “I feel like the sense of family within the crew was really strong on the crew I worked on.”
This got me thinking about how Korea’s film industry didn’t truly hit the international stage until the early-to-mid 00s. Yoon said, “I feel a lot of that is because Korea developed economically in the 80s and 90s. Before that, they were a pretty poor country.” It doesn’t help that the Korean War in the 50s hindered any true economic growth for more than a decade. That and Hollywood still doesn’t do a great job of highlighting foreign films in 2023, let alone over the span of my entire life.
Despite the past, Yoon believes the Korean film industry has tremendous potential for growth. “The actors are so good, in my opinion,” Yoon enthusiastically told me. “Just in general, the bar for actors, even the average actor, is so strong. I think they’re making really great things these days. I’m very impressed with what’s coming out of Korea.” I can’t deny that claim, either. Just check Netflix and you’ll flood a laundry list of K-Dramas and other international films taking viewers by storm.
With that look into Korea’s industry off the docket, I wanted to end my conversation with Christina Yoon by discussing what she hopes to do in the future. I had mentioned last time that Motherland acted as a proof of concept for a longer version, but that has been put on hold. The decision to temporarily shelf the project was informed by the recent WGA Strike, which lasted nearly five months. Hard times call for hard measures and while I would like to see what Yoon can come up with, she has grander plans in store.
In fact, Yoon is developing a feature-length film and it so happens to be a horror project. “My feature project is a psychological horror film about religious trauma in the Korean American community,” Yoon shared. The catalyst for her creating films comes from her desire to see social change happen in Korea.
As Yoon described to me, “I made a short about the Korean beauty industry and standards and the plastic surgery phenomenon. In the film, a girl goes to the black market in Queens, New York, to try and get plastic surgery. That one is exploring some of the experiences I had while living in Korea that I noticed about their culture.” This got me thinking about other genres that Yoon was interested in since a lot of these films seem ripe for a horror adaptation.
Mainly, though, Yoon wants to make projects and talk about subjects that haven’t been made or told yet. Some of that will be drawn from her own life experiences while others will be simply to provide another point of view. “All of my work that I’m writing and developing is very specific and very unique in terms of the world and its characters,” she stated.
That got me thinking about the budgets of films. A lot of people have aspirations of becoming a filmmaker but are truly looking to direct tentpole studio films with budgets in the hundreds of millions. I was curious if Yoon had those kinds of dreams or if she felt her talents were better suited to smaller-scale projects.
“I’m open to it [bigger budgets] if it is the right project and if I think that the quality can be maintained,” Yoon said. “I don’t think that more money makes something a better film at all. Often, it’s the opposite, I believe… For me to derive something that I have no personal connection to just seems very random and outside of my realm. I wouldn’t be interested in doing that.”
That’s not to say Yoon isn’t open to longer projects. As I mentioned above, K-Dramas and the like are taking off on Netflix, so a TV series or some kind of serialized project is always a possibility for Yoon. She’s also really into TV and is currently writing pilot scripts along with turning her attention to direction, writing, and show running something. The plans aren’t firm just yet, but there is a possibility for something beyond the realm of film.
To wrap everything up, I asked Yoon about her film inspirations, but even she admitted that her answer was fairly basic. “I really love all of the old masters. All the greats of 50s, 60s, 70s cinema.” She did mention Wong Kar-Wai, which at least piqued my interest. Even if her inspirations are the same that you’ll hear most film students say, you can’t deny that Yoon is pulling from a very talented pool of directors. All have made films that defined specific eras of Hollywood and continue to inspire others to create to this day.
There is a bright future ahead for Christina Yoon. Whether she continues to go the indie route or eventually joins the Hollywood system, I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we hear of her.