One of the more interesting films I saw at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival was Eungyo, also known as A Muse, a film about an aged poet who falls in love with a young girl. I got a chance to sit down with director Jung Ji-Woo and talk about the film and whatever else I felt like talking about. It was a good discussion, but the language barrier is always a problem. A 30 minute interview becomes a 15 minute one and things are always lost in translation. Even so, he still said some interesting things, even if what I heard was somewhat condensed.
I really need to learn Korean, huh?
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]
Aside from Moss, which you did the screenplay for, is this the first time you’ve adapted another work for a film?
There was one other instance, a film called Modern Boy.
Good movie.[Legitimate shock on his face] You saw it?
Yeah. So how do you feel adapting other works vs. creating your own narrative?
Basically, the work is the same. Whether rewriting a scenario from a novel or creating, trying to visualize those works you have to start all over again. It becomes an original work.
How true was Eungyo to the original novel?
It’s very different. The novel was based on the perspective of two men looking at a girl. In the movie, I also incorporated the process of maturing of the teenage girl.
When casting Dr. Lee, did you ever consider casting an old man from the beginning?
I think it would have been easier to make the movie if I had cast an older actor. To make a younger actor into an older man takes a lot of time and a lot of money. And it was very difficult for Park Hae-Il to act 30 years older than he is. But I think he was able to portray an older man, and he was able to find an older point of view in the process.
In the scenes where the younger Park Hae-Il is having sex with Eun-Gyo, the age difference is less creepy. Was that part of your decision to cast a younger actor?
It’s a good point. Before the film opened, there was a lot of concern about the love scene between an older man and a young girl, because it’s very controversial and scandalous in Korea, so many people could have found that gross. But even though the story is of an older man and a young girl having sex, it doesn’t look that way. I think the character was visualizing himself as a younger person. He wasn’t a 70 year old person having sex with a 17 year old. He was younger.
The first sex scene isn’t very explicit, but the later one is really explicit and really long. Why is the second one so explicit and so long?
Also a good point. I wanted people to feel the longing after seeing the first scene. But the one at the end, the poet’s feelings towards the scene had to be painful and it had to be hard. I wanted the viewers to feel the same way. And while I was editing it, I had a hard time looking at that long scene. I wanted everybody to suffer. [laughs]
Did you have any trouble convincing your actors to do that scene?
I pointed out what I felt the characters were and what I was going for. I explained every single detail to them. Especially with scenes like that, if we don’t have enough conversation there could be some misunderstandings and it could lead to unfortunate incidents. I find that it’s very important for me to communicate and have conversations with the actors and everybody involved.
In the films of yours that I’ve seen, there’s a lot of romance followed by an extreme moment of violence. What’s the rationale behind putting such violent acts in a romantic context?
It wasn’t my goal to have violence in the movie, but when people’s emotions arise, violence can come out of that. I think if you see it that way, I think people are very weak. They are not able to accept reality.
Is there something about crimes of passion that draws you to them?
Rather than the violence being the point of the scenes, I want to portray how the person’s emotion evolves leading up to the violent act.
There’s been a big trend for Korean directors to move towards Hollywood. Is that something you’re considering?
I think it would be a fun experience, but speaking with my predecessors, filming in Hollywood has a lot more difficulties than filming in Korea, so there’s a little fear.
Would you consider a multi-language film outside of Hollywood?
I’m already working on such a project.
Could you tell me about it?
It takes place in Brussells, in Belgium. We’re still working on the storyline, so I’m not comfortable talking about it.
Is it going to be a romance?
Is that the only project you’re working on?
I’m working on two projects.
Can you tell me about the other?
Also not a romance. It’ll be released before that other film. It’s a low-budget film that deals with societal issues.
Do you plan to work with any of the same actors or are you going to try for a different cast?
I want to work with new actors.
Are there any actors, in particular, you’d like to work with?
There are so many talented actors. Among the actors that I’ve worked with, I would like to work with Choi Min-sik and Jeon Do-Youn (stars of Happy End) again
You wrote the screenplay for Moss but didn’t direct. Would you do that again?
No [laughs]. It was very hard to write that screenplay.
Going back to Eungyo, how do you feel about its success?
I expected a lot more success at the box office, but it opened on the same day as The Avengers.
Ow. That’s too bad.[laughs] I’m very satisfied with how it turned out.
Are you happy with the movie itself?
I’m very satisfied.
If you had to rank your own films in terms of quality, where would Eungyo be?[laughs, really hard]
There is an old Korean proverb: if you bite every single one of your fingers, there isn’t one that wouldn’t hurt. That means you love every one equally.
But the one that hurts the most is Modern Boy. [laughs]
You said you’re moving away from romance. Are there any types of genres that you’d really like to work in?
I have always been interested in suspense thrillers and have been since I was a child. So now that I’m moving away from romance, I want to work on something really suspenseful.
That’s all of my questions. Thank you very much!