Q&A with The Unjust Director Ryoo Seung-wan


[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the weeks as we bring you more reviews!]

My final Q&A for the festival was also the longest, and the hardest to transcribe. The recording itself was pretty terrible (if you are an Android user, do not use Tape-a-Talk, it’s awful), and some things that were said I could not hear. I tried to paraphrase as little as possible while still keeping all of the important information intact. I think I succeeded, and that what you read properly reflects what actually was said. Aside from that, the translator was not very good (much like that found in the film!), so some of the responses do not properly answer the questions. This was beyond my control, but, again, I think I did a pretty good job of keeping it together. The talk (like the others) was really interesting, and I highly recommend you read it. A personal highlight: “It’s easier to shoot a scene where somebody is getting stabbed 45 times, but shooting a scene where someone says, ‘I love you’ is really difficult.” He’s a really interesting guy. Check below for more!

Q: How much of how the film works and how the police work is a direct reflection of reality and how much is exaggeration. Is it an accurate representation of things that are going on in Korean society or is it more embellished?

Korea is a lot better than this movie. There are certain things that are happening in Korea nowadays as is depicted in this movie. There are some facts and there are some exaggerations, but I want to say that I love my country!

Q: What drove you to make this film?

A: At the time, I was playing with the relationship of a person who struggles for survival, trying to take over other people’s lives. As for the Korean political state, a few years ago we elected the wrong president, and drove those things out into the open. 

Q: This is the first time you made a film based on somebody else’s script. Was that problematic, or were you pretty much in agreement?

A: It wa specifically tough because I was translating another person’s words into mine. The thing about getting other people’s scripts is that you don’t have to name the characters. The hardest part of writing is naming the characters.

Q: You have been compared with this film to Sidney Lumet, do you agree?

A: Most of the films I make are homages to great directors, but this one I have specifically tried to get out of the those films. So instead of using or getting influenced by other films’ characters, I tried to use characters that I met. It’s an honor to have Sidney Lumet’s name used near my film. It’s an honor.

Q: The violence is really aggressively brutal, how beaten up did the actors get?

A: This movie is actually the easiest movie for my actors in terms of violence. While I’ve been shooting other films, I realized there are easier ways of filming action. Actually, filming action sequences in this film is unbelievably easier than the films I have done before. But that’s industry secret recipe, so I can’t really disclose it.

Q: What’s it like working with your brother [who played the prosecutor in the film]?

A: You might think that because he is my younger brother, it would work but I think it gets in the way when making a film. Working with the family is really tough. The reason I continue to work with him is that when I look at him, he is the best actor available at this time in his age group.

IN ENGLISH: Just my taste

Q: What are your next projects?

A: Well, I don’t think far in the future, so I only know about the one directly following this one. It will still be an action movie in tradition with the genre movies, but I will be putting a lot more reality into it. I want to promise everyone that the next movie with feature more exploding actions than The Unjust.

Q: Why do you shoot action films over some other type of films?

A: It’s a lot more difficult for me to shoot a conversation with a man and a woman than filming a fighting scene with thirty thugs. It’s easier to shoot a scene where somebody is getting stabbed 45 times, but shooting a scene where someone says, “I love you” is really difficult. Shooting a kiss scene gives me a horror of an actual horror film. It just makes me shy.

Q: Do you find a difference between an American and a Korean audience?

A: It’s hard to compare because the audience here tonight is somehow different than the general audience. It’s better. The audience reaction tonight thrills me, so it’s hard for me to compare that to the general audience reaction that this movie will probably get. If the Korean audience acted like the audience here tonight, then I’d probably be a millionaire by now… but I took an economy airline here.

Q: In a conversation [outside of this Q&A], you mentioned that when you showed this film in Italy, the film was really serious, because I guess they found a lot of similarities in what was found on screen to the reality of the politics, so they didn’t seem to enjoy it as much. 

A: The reason that I think the Italian audience was serious is because the national identity and characteristic is somehow similar to that of Korea. Well at least for the American audience, the fear and the horror of the Bush administration was realized on screen as The Dark Knight. For the audience of Italy, there has been no such movie. 

IN ENGLISH: Why so serious?

Q: What’s your favorite Korean movie?

A: Park Chan-wook’s. Oldboy, JSA, etc.

IN ENGLISH: I love them, but I hate them. They make movies very real, and I hate them.

Q: Where did you get your source material?

A: In Korea, there are many soccer teams. If you go to one of those early morning soccer practices, and you will see old and colorful, distinctive men. There cycle goes: in the morning, they practice. At lunch, they drink, and later on in the afternoon they think about it, and then the next morning they go back to practice. If you hang around them, you get a lot of source. For this film specifically, I talked to a lot of police detectives and political and social reporter to do research.

Q: If you were to make an American movie for an American audience, what would you make to be successful here?

A: Even a few years ago, I was thinking I could make an American movie, and there were a couple projects that I was actually working on, but right now I’ve lost all appetite for making an American film. The reason being that I can only imitate, but there aren’t much knowledge that I have about the American lifestyle. If I would have to make a movie that doesn’t reflect my lifestyle, then it would be a fake. It feels more right when I make a film about where I live… and crucially, studying English is very difficult.

Q: It seems to me that a very important character in the film is the city of Seoul. Everything is happening against the backdrop of the city. People live and die, betray each other, but the city stays the same. 

A: Sometimes I think that not just Seoul but New York, Hong Kong, big metropolises turn people into monsters. Sometimes in these metropolises, the transition is too fast for somebody to follow. The City of Violence [which screened earlier in the day] is about a small city that, in the course of it, becoming a bigger city and the people are turning to damnation in the course of it. I think the idea that it turns people into things to be very interesting.