(interview made for KoreaFilm, at Cannes Film Festival 2010)
Mr. Jang Cheol-soo, Bedevilled, your first feature film, was selected in the “Semaine de la Critique” section of the Cannes Film Festival. To what extent is this film inspired from real events?
Real events made me decide on the film’s message and gave me the confidence for adjusting the film’s substances and degree of expression. Someone told me that the story is too strong, heavy and dark, but, when I thought of the real events, it was not unrealistic at all.
Did you have problems with the financers, producers and censors because of the taboo issue or the sexual and violent content?
Of course it was very hard to be financed. When I was casting the actresses, top actresses rejected the roles, because they were worried about ruining their good images. So I tried to argue that this film reflects the reality of the society and has meaningful messages. Since the domestic distributor hasn’t been confirmed yet, we haven’t submitted the film for censorship.
Why have you decided to tackle Korean women’s social status in your first feature film?
I saw many women who have lived their hard life under the poverty and a male-dominated society, on top of the burden to maintain the family. Naturally, I thought much about living in the Korean society as women and mother. I wanted to wipe their tears and I also wanted to make such a film which can resolve their deep sorrows, despite its cruel aspects.
Bedevilled, as other recent Korean productions, makes use of a crossover / mixture of film genres. What’s the origin of this trend within Korean cinema?
This trend seems to be based on Korean audience’s taste. Most of Korean spectators want to feel sorrow and happiness in one film. And Korean directors seem to be repulsed by Hollywood genre films. So they mix the genres and add their own colors.
What are your expectations for this film from national and international audiences?
I hope audience can ease their agonies and sorrows by the representative, Bok-nam. And I hope they can think about other people’s agonies and sorrows watching the character of Hae-won. And I hope the film will be remembered as an unforgettably strong film.
You have studied visual design in Seoul. How has this background helped you with your film projects?
It makes me confident to control the esthetics of the film. What I mainly did was to suppress the shooting, lighting, production design, costumes and make-up, which makes the things outstanding aesthetically.
You have worked as an assistant director for Kim Ki-duk on several films. What have you learned from this reputed Korean filmmaker?
Director Kim Ki-duk didn’t study the film at Academy, but makes films following his instincts. So he didn’t teach me film theories. I needed to learn by myself. What I learnt mostly was an instinct for survival. I was very moved when I saw his driving force and courage. The only theory that he taught me was: “To make audience can’t remove their eyes off the screen.”
This year, Korean cinema enjoyed a strong presence in Cannes Film Festival. How do you feel as part of this Korean wave on the Croisette?
The eye-catching things that I could see on the Croisette were the various sights of Cannes Film Festival, the ads of Hollywood Movies and the fever of the media to cover the stories. Among them, Korean cinema was wriggled with its presence. Of course, I can find Korean films easily, because I’m Korean, but I was so proud of Korean films which competed with world cinemas beyond being categorized as one of the Asian cinemas.
How do you see the current situation of Korean cinema?
I am not sure exactly what you meant “situation of Korean cinema”, but I’d like to let you know that Cannes award winning films Poetry [by Lee Chang-dong] and Hahaha [by Hong Sang-soo] are not running well in Korea. I don’t know whether the audiences or theaters are to be blamed first, but the Korean film industry is focused on blockbuster movies. The great auteurs known to you are all of the auteurs that Korean cinema’s got. If young directors want to talk about their own stories, they need to solve it in genres secretly, hahaha.
What can you tell me about your future film projects?
To do the next project in Korea the first feature needs to be doing well. I’m thinking about many things, but no one can know whether I can do next project. But I’d like to make a whole different film, so that nobody will be able to guess that I am the director, as it wouldn’t seem to be the film from someone who made Bedevilled. That’s basically what I’d like to do whenever I make a new film.