It is day 4 of the 13th Far East Film Festival: Udine. Spencer Murphy met with South Korean director Kim Min-suk to talk about his debut film ‘Haunters‘, which screened on the festival the previous evening.
Spencer Murphy: Thank you very much for your time! First question in relation to the screening last night, were you happy with the response you received from the audience?
Kim Min-Suk: It was really good. I truly loved it.
SM: ‘Haunters‘ is your debut feature. What is it about the scrip that made you decide that this is the right debut for you?
KMS: Before I made this film I worked as an assistant director to Bong Joon-ho and Jee-woon Kim, so I worked on ‘Bittersweet Life’, ‘The Host’ and ‘The Good, The Bad and the Weird’. The script idea for the ‘Haunters‘ wasn’t planned, it came suddenly. One day I went to Bong Joon-ho to pick up a microwave and he asked me what my first film will be about. I didn’t know, but didn’t want to tell him that so I told him that it would be about the supernatural and that’s how it began.
SM: While working with those directors, did you get any influence from them on your own style?
KMS: Well, the technical things you can learn from anyone, but indeed working with these two directors in a way thought me how to see the world of a film.
SM: Bong Joon-ho’s ‘The Host’, while being a very genre film, is very much about Korean culture and is very character driven. Is that something you were trying to do in your film as well?
KMS: I worked with him on ‘The Host‘ for a long time and when you spend that much time working with someone it is natural to get influenced. ‘The Host’ contains Bong Lee-ho’s political views and views of Korean society, and I share them, so naturally that might show in my work.
SM: Staying on the subject, are there any broader influences on your work, particularly American?
KMS: Oh, there are many American directors I like and I’ve been indeed watching many American films, so of course I’ve been influenced by them as well. One of my favourite Western directors is Ridley Scott.
SM: Since you mention Ridley Scott, his film ‘Alien’ is very aesthetic and you can see that influence in ‘Haunters’ – it’s very stylishly shot. In terms of approaching a film, are aesthetics the priority for you or do you like to focus on your characters?
KMS: This is a very tough question, but I think the essence of the film is the story and it depends on the characters.
SM: The reason I ask this question is because currently there is a lot of criticism of Western critics towards contemporary South Korean film that there is too much emphasis on the visuals rather than the scripts. What are your thoughts on that?
KMS: That may be right, but it my case – that was my feature debut and I felt I had to be really good. If you’re not good for your first feature you are less likely to make a second one. So maybe you could say it was a matter of vanity, but I basically wanted to show what I can do. Perhaps at certain moments I wasn’t able to keep the balance between the visuals and the story, and as I said this may be because it was my first feature.
SM: You’ve been involved in some very successful projects, like ‘The Host’. Was there a lot of pressure on you about your debut feature achieving the same level of success?
KMS: Of course, there was pressure. But not from the producer or because of my previous experience, rather because it was my first time. When you don’t know what’s going to happen and if you’re not experienced you feel in a way incomplete and pressured. I’m sure I’ll feel it in the future as well, but I’ll get better. On this particular project the pressure came from myself.
SM: Have you seen a film called ’Scandals’? There are some similarities between it and ‘Haunters’, and I was wondering if you were influenced by it?
KMS: Yes, indeed I saw the film many years ago and then right before I started shooting ’Haunters’. You could say I was influenced, but I was not trying to copy it. When you see a film over and over – the atmosphere comes to your films.
SM: One of the members of the Coventry East Asian Film Society actually has a question. I will pass you on to her.
Elena Rapondzhieva: Something I noticed in the film was that the villain character was staying in a hotel room, number 1407. There is a film, based on a Stephen King novel, called ’1408′. I was wondering whether there is a conscious reference to it, as the camera seemed to specifically linger a few times on the room number.
KMS: There wasn’t a particular reason to choose that number and there is no connection to the Stephen King novel. There were indeed two times when the camera focused on the room number, but I just wanted to show that this is his place.
SM: I have one technical question about the visuals of the film. There was a stunning visual technique in the film, where the villain “freezes” the people in their place. Was that a particularly difficult shot and how did you achieve it?
KMS: You might not guess it, but ‘Haunters’ is actually a relatively short-budget production. The villain’s eyes were indeed CGI and it took a lot of time and a lot of money. But everything else was basically done by the actors. They had to stay “frozen” and the actors found it quite difficult, because it is hard compared to walking or acting. It was also quite difficult for all of them to stop and start together at the same time. For me it wasn’t hard, but for the actors and my assistant director, who was working with them, it was definitely a challenge.
SM: There is a resent trend in South Korean cinema of violent revengeful films like ‘I Saw the Devil‘. ‘Haunters‘ on the other hand is much gentler. So what is your opinion this trend?
KMS: Maybe they weren’t introduced to Western audience, but there were actually a lot beautiful and gentle films produced in Korea in the past few years, so I wouldn’t call it a trend. And as for ‘Haunters’, the initial goal was to get the rating PG15, because the leading actors are quite popular among teenagers and I was aiming for the younger audience. I could have done it more violent, but getting that young audience was very important.
SM: There are some South Korean films, which become very popular in the West, for example ‘Bittersweet Life’. And Bong Joon-ho is strongly targeting European Festivals. Do you have any aspirations to produce films for an international market?
KMS: I wasn’t thinking of the international market when I was making ‘Haunters‘. My main target was getting the local audience. The only hope I have for the world is peace. (laughs)
SM: Do you have any plans for ‘Haunters 2′? What projects can we expect from you in the future?
KMS: I never thought of a sequel. It is the time for me to write the script for my next project, but I haven’t started yet and I’m a bit worried about that. My next film will be a mystery-action or a mystery-thriller, so it’s going to be a bit different from ‘Haunters’, but you’ll still have the same feel while watching it, as it’s obviously directed by the same person. The new film will have a character, who is of the forever-an-outlaw type.
SM: We will certainly be looking forward to your next film. On behalf of myself and the entire Coventry East Asian Film Society – thank you very much for your time!
Transcript by Elena Rapondzhieva
Photography by Andreea Dascalu