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Hey, boys and girls, the New York Asian Film Festival introduced us to How to Use Guys With Secret Tips, a delightful and fresh departure from the predictable romcoms so abundant in Korea these days.  Director Lee Won-seok sat with us to discuss his first feature.

Dig it!


How to Use Guys With Secret Tips

Lee Won-seok


The Lady Miz Diva:  What was the inspiration behind the film?

Lee Won-seok:  Actually, if you go to Korea, they tell you what to wear, what to eat.  The popular shows are how to dress, how to look good - instructional.  I went to a bookstore in Korea and all the top five books were self-improvement books.  I thought that was pretty interesting, so I wrote a movie about the manual.  How to live through the society, that’s how the movie started.


LMD:  The self-help guru in the film is hilarious. He’s got a bit of Willy Wonka to him.  Where did he come from?

LW-s:  Actually, in the first draft I wrote 7 years ago, Dr. Swalski was the main character.  In his video, there’s a guy and girl and they’re trying to get out of that video.  At the end they come out of the video.  That’s why in the movie we have has the set crumbling.  That was the original thought and it was never made and got changed over the years.


LMD:  You came from a marketing background.  How much of your own experience do we see in the movie which is set in an advertising agency?

LW-s:  I told my writer I don’t want to do a story about the advertising industry because I still talk to those people and there are a lot of people who could get offended.  Other than that, I didn’t think it was a fun industry to portray.  Then my last writer, No Hye-yeong {Screenwriter of 200 Pounds Beauty, Please Teach Me English}, she brought the story.  It wasn’t my choice.


LMD:  What was it like as a first time feature director to work with Ms. No, who’s written quite a few hit films?

LW-s:  It was very interesting because as a first time director, I wanted to make something really different and show off.  I was going toward a black comedy direction and it wasn’t going anywhere.  We had different writers before; a lot of famous romantic comedy writers, but it just didn’t work out because I was pushing it toward my direction and we just couldn’t compromise.  Then No Hye-yeong came and she told me, “You wanna make a movie? Then Let me do it.”  She came up with the story and with that I changed and put all these video manuals between it, so it was good working with her.  We had a really good relationship.


LMD:  How did you decide how much of the animation and special effects to put in without being too cutesy or distracting?

LW-s:  See, I didn’t want to make a cutesy movie, I wanted to make it very dry; just the manual.  I was influenced a lot by American B-rated films and also modern filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze.  So I tried to get their style in and old Fellini - Juliet of the Spirits - style in it.  I didn’t really think about it.  We shot a lot of manual stuff and graphics and we thought it was too much, so we left it out.


LMD:  Watching the movie was really refreshing after a tiring day.  How did you maintain the film’s upbeat energy? How did you judge the rhythm of it?

LW-s:  I used to be a DJ, so I liked how you make a crowd pull up and pull down - that kind of rhythm.  So I wanted to make something where people watch it and they feel good about it.  But there’s a lot of slow parts…


LMD:  It doesn’t feel like it.

LW-s:  Oh really? I’ve watched it so many times. {Laughs}


LMD:  Did you watch it last night with the festival audience?

LW-s:  Yeah.  I wasn’t gonna watch it, then I was just wondering how people were going to react?  I never had to show it to an American audience before.  So maybe 20 minutes in, I walked in and in the beginning I heard some laughs here and there and I got really nervous.  I thought maybe I should go away for 20 more minutes? I stood there in the hallway and watched the whole movie sideways.  It went really well.  I wasn’t expecting that, especially from New Yorkers.  People laughed and laughed and I was really moved by the audience.  I was so worried that nobody was going to show up for the movie.  It was a good crowd.


LMD:  Coming from the advertising world, what did having to get your point across in 30 seconds with a commercial or one-shot ad teach you on your first feature?

LW-s:  For me, when I did reference for my film, I had a lot of commercials that were done by other directors.  I love commercials that are very compact but they tell a story and they have a point - a laughing point, or a dramatic point.  So I had all these collections of commercials and I showed it to my writer and I said something like this or that. 


LMD:  This movie makes a comment about the standards of beauty.  It is about a woman who transforms herself physically to achieve her dreams.  You had a gorgeous actress, Lee Si-young, under a lot of bangs…

LW-s:  We had a hard time with her hair. {Laughs} She complained about it every time.


LMD:  …but you can tell she’s beautiful under the bad hair.  Would the movie have worked with a plainer actress?

LW-s:  There’s no plain actress in Korea. {Laughs} I think she’s the closest one.  When the investors said they wanted to go with Lee Si-young, I said okay because the way she lived her life is very close to the character of Bona.  She was very unknown two years ago, then all of a sudden, she began to get popular.  She became big and she worked really hard to get there in two years, so I thought she would really understand her character.  So I met with her and I heard she’s a collector of Gundam figures, so I bought her a giant Gundam when I met her and we just went from there.


LMD:  So much depends on the chemistry between Lee Si-young and Oh Jung-se. Did you have a lot of readings or rehearsal to help create their onscreen relationship?

LW-s:  Yeah, we had a lot of readings.  Maybe I shouldn’t say it, but some Korean actors don’t like a lot of rehearsal because they get offended, like I’m looking down at them, or I’m not trusting them or something.  But I spent a lot of time with Oh Jung-se cos he’s not that famous an actor.  It was funny because I got drunk with him and we were in the bus stop and nobody noticed him.  When we were shooting the movie and people passing by were asking, “Who’s the main character,” and I’d say, “It’s this guy,” and they’d say, “You’re kidding?” When I said I wanted him as my main character, everybody thought I was joking.


LMD:  You really put him through the wringer.  There’s the dog humping his leg, the nude scene with the kid poking his butt and the other humiliating situations he’s put through.  Did he owe you money? Did you have a grudge against him?

LW-s:  I told him, “This will be your chance. This will be my chance. If this doesn’t work out we will have to move to another country. Give me whatever you have, because I’m risking everything on you.”  Everybody was so against it.  There was this idol guy that wanted to do it, but I told the company that I only wanted to do it with Oh Jung-se because since Lee Si-young was the main character, I wanted to make it into comedy.  Since I can’t do a black comedy, now I wanted to make it really funny.  We wanted people to come and laugh at us so we wouldn’t be just another Korean romantic comedy.  It was a stalemate between the company and me for about three months.  Then the production day comes and I won.  The other actor got offended, so he just dropped out.  Jung-se really did well.  I don’t think anyone else could’ve done it.


LMD:  He’s being beaten up by Lee Si-young for at least two lengthy scenes.

LW-s:  Lee Si-young is a boxer; she made it to the national team.


LMD:  Tell us about the scenes where’s she’s roughhousing with him inside the elevator and on the porch.  It sounds like the blows to his face actually connect.  How many retakes did you do?

LW-s:  It was a present for her, the punching.  I added it at the end since she was a boxer, but she didn’t like it.  The elevator was originally one line of direction. Then they went at each other in the elevator and we were laughing so hard I forgot to cut, so it went on.  We did like two takes, but the takes were like three minutes long, but Si-young wasn’t happy with it, so she wanted to go one more and Jung-se has his face all swollen up.  But the worst one was at the beginning in the soap opera scene; that was a hardcore slap. I told the extras casting company that I wanted someone who could slap someone really hard, so his face got really swollen.


LMD:  So often, Korean romances have that tragic downturn that casts a pall over the whole film.  Here everything is light and upbeat, even the dramatic moments.  Was it your intention to keep away from the heavy?

LW-s:  Yeah, I didn’t want to go very heavy.  I don’t like romantic comedy, so when we were shooting, it was too much.  Like the scene on the stairs when Jung-se comes to see her and he says “Did you sleep with him?” and then he goes up the stairs and goes, “Did you? Did you?”  That scene was getting so heavy with her almost crying, I couldn’t handle it, so we had to do something, so that was improv.  Here, that got a very different reaction because people took it very seriously. In the Korean theatres, people took it as a laughing point.


LMD:  Would you like to eventually branch into US filmmaking?

LW-s:  Of course.  I think every Korean director wants to come here to make films.  I wanna make a comedy and go all the way, but in Korea, it’s really hard to go all the way.  I wanna make something like The Hangover or Anchorman, those kinds of movies.


LMD:  What’s next for Lee Won-seok?

LW-s:  The next film I’m doing is a period piece, a very serious one.  It’s a 400 years ago story that’s very serious, but I’m trying to use a lot of electronica music and opera music.  It’s a very dark movie.  It’s like Amadeus; Salieri and Mozart in a Korean version.  The script’s already out and I read it and I really like it.  I got signed and I’m just preparing.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 8th, 2013



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