* This post is written by Korean Class Massive, one of the Korea Blog’s Worldwide Korea Bloggers.
Sorry for the delay about last month’s Director Lee Joon-ik but he has been probably the most exciting director we’ve had so far, how does one talk about this guy in one neat coherent post? June’s Year of 12 Director screenings have featured the most number of mainstream releases and each movie has been extremely well received. Just to give you a quick history on Director Lee. He started out distributing films which then turned into producing before becoming the super awesome Director that he is today. Director Lee’s films all feature simple yet gripping plot lines with twists and turns that demands every second of an audience’s attention. But the main reason why we love Lee Joon-ik is because he seems to be a Director who wants to mend the world, using his films as mediums to put out deep and thoughtful messages into the universe. The King and the Clown was a film about a love that transcends any sort of sexual attraction; a bond between two bros that is truly unconditional and admirable. Sunny features a message that is very relevant in today’s world where the sanctity of marriage seems to be overlooked and divorce became the easy option. We see the honest love and commitment of a wife to her husband in what we thought was a dead marriage, the lengths at which she would go for her husband, showing this modern world what real love is. And of course, we all know how we feel about The Happy Life.
When we arrived for the Director group interview, Mr Lee was already sat downstairs in the KCC with an excited smile on his face. He seems so friendly and approachable, we forget that we’re interviewing such a prominent figure in the South Korean film industry; it was more like sitting around a camp fire listening to a uncle tell us of his exciting adventures in life, ok maybe that’s going a bit too far… Mr Lee was decked out in hipster glasses, fashionable red Nikes, trendy tee with a skinny jeans and blazer combo, and just in case you didn’t get the message, a signature Director’s hat was casually slung over the back of his chair; just too cool. Lee Joon-ik began the interview by apologising as he was a bit jetlagged but he answered all our questions cheerfully and enthusiastically. You can also tell that Lee Joon-ik is popular in the UK as this was probably one of the fullest group interviews ever and a wide variety of questions were asked, from Mr Lee’s history, career, film visions, opinions on industry happenings to his friendship with Jeong Jin Yeong whom we’ve seen appear in a MASSIVE percentage of his films. (Yes that last one was from us).
Someone at the interview had clearly done their homework as he asked about King Yeonsan in The King and the Clown who is considered to be the worst tyrant of the Chosun Dynasty. Mr Lee explains “yes he was a violent king but he could only be that way given all the things that had happened to him in his life”. So basically people are not born evil but all evil is a result of a person’s wounds. As Mr Lee explains “some do evil deeds not because they are evil as a person but because they can’t help doing so as a result of the things that have happened to them in their lives.” It was a deep and awe-inspiring moment. Just one of the many messages Lee Joon-ik tried to portray in his film. Which lead us to ask if he intentionally interweaves these deep philosophical questions into his films? MASSIVE thanks to Mr Hangul Celluloid for transcribing this brilliant answer:
It’s not a conscious effort, but I think it comes out subconsciously because of the person I am. I have a lot of sympathy for humanity and humankind. Everyone is born, enters society and ends up with a lot of wounds caused by that society, and when I shoot films, I really want to heal the pain that the characters are going through and it’s a huge pleasure to be able to do that. In a way, doing this almost treats my own wounds. Ultimately, the lines in the films are all directed towards myself.
We officially love Director Lee Joon-ik. Of course we also couldn’t help asking about his friendship with our new favourite actor Jeong Jin Yeong. Mr Lee charmingly explains how Mr Jeong had actually refused to work with him when he was first offered a part in Hi Dharma saying it was poorly written. Mr Lee who was the producer at the time got angry about the rejection and called him demanding to go to his house right now to talk about this more.They ended up meeting at a nearby coffee shop where Mr Lee talked for 3 hours and finally charmed Jeong Jin Yeong. The next day Mr Jeong meets up with Mr Lee in his office and over a game of chess Jeong accepts the role and a beautiful working relationship is born. And if you’ve watched a few of Mr Lee’s film, you’ll have noticed that Jeong Jin Yeong is shown playing chess in quite a few of the movies, we definitely spotted it in the evening screening!
After watching The Happy life, we were also all very interested to find out if the actors were really playing the instruments especially Mr Jeong who seems so musically talented, first drums in The King and the Clown, then the guitar in Happy life and of course Saxophone in Sunny. Lee Joon-ik reveals to us that Ahjussi has actually never picked up a set of drum sticks before. Before filming commenced, there was solid band practice for everyone where Ahjussi actually went through a hundred drum sticks due to the MASSIVE amount of practicing, whilst all the guitarists were going home with blisters all over their hands. Rock and roll! Mr Lee also revealed that:
If roles require Korean actors to do something they haven’t done before, they won’t shy away from it, and they’re extremely persistent until they succeed in achieving what they want to achieve. In the case of ‘The King and the Clown’, Kam Woo-seong, who played the jester who was made blind, practiced tightrope walking for a long time and even installed a rope in his house, and he subsequently preformed all of the rope walking in the film himself.
So if you haven’t seen The King and the Clown yet, it’s definitely worth a watch! We owe it to Kam Woo-seong who worked so hard for the role! Mr Lee also revealed that he himself recently bought a drum kit and he has a secret dream that he will one day be able to play the drums on stage. In fact, his real dream is to be like Bill Nighy’s character in Love Actually; Rock star. We pray that your wish will come true soon Mr Lee!
Another very interesting question asked of Mr Lee was that men were normally portrayed as a bit of a silly character whereas women always play really strong characters in comparison. We had a glass shattering moment when we noticed the strong theme of girl power in Mr Lee’s film. This was further reinforced during the evenings movie when we see the only female characters of the film being the strongest; the fierce female warrior and the stubborn mother in law of course. Mr Lee said that this was done unconsciously although he is a big fan of the Monty Python movies. We would like to thank you Mr Lee for the messages of girl power.
Lee Joon-ik is currently working on a fantasy drama film based on a female of a well known Korean myth. It sounds very exciting and we really can’t wait. Mr Lee’s films are always gripping, we hope he never threatens to retire again! These group interviews are always very interesting so if you want to read more about what happened check out Mr Hangul Celluloid who always takes the time to transcribe these interviews. And don’t forget this month’s director Lee Hyun Seung and tomorrow’s film screening of The Blue in you, book now.
Also fun fact: Lee Joon-ik tells us that Jeong Jin Yeong planned a long holiday to Scotland in July, so to everyone in Scotland, keep your eyes peeled, and to Mr Jeong, we’d like to apologise for the erratic weather, but hey, at least you’re getting a proper authentic Scottish holiday!