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Having screenwritten hits like Confession of Murder, The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, Hong Won-chan makes his directorial debut, with the thriller, Office. Hong spoke with me about tweaking the genre to address larger societal issues and working with star, Ko Ah-sung.

Be warned. Thar be some spoilers!

Dig it!

 

OFFICE

Hong Won-chan

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Youíve been the screenwriter for many well-known films, what was it about Office that inspired you to direct?

Hong Won-chan:  When I first saw the original screenplay, I felt that the thriller genre in film usually tends to focus more on the genre itself - the suspense and whatnot - so they tend to lose any social issues or message they want to portray.  I felt that the screenplay, while being in line with the genre of being a thriller, could also portray social issues that were going on in Korea, and also be a vehicle for social commentary, so thatís really attracted me to this project.

 

LMD:  I felt like the way Mr. Kim snaps and how the detectives call him a psychopath and talk about his depression that thereís partially a comment about people being able to seek mental counselling when theyíre overcome by stress. Was that part of your intention?

HW-c:  I donít know if youíve seen the Korean drama, Misaeng?  It deals with a guy who is struggling in the workplace and trying to get through the rungs of the ladder, but it also deals with group culture and the culture of an organization.  In Misaeng, some of your bosses and colleagues help you out and it sort of describes the workplace with a warmer point of view, but with Office, you could say that it deals a lot more with the darker side of being in a group culture.  It does sort of take it to the extreme and it could be an exaggeration, but these darker sides do exist today in Korean culture.  My friends who are working for conglomerates in Korea, they tell me all the time that this is a reality for them. 

So, I feel in terms of genre, from the beginning we differed because I was trying to tell that side of the story more than reaching out and helping.  At the beginning of making this film, from a genre and storytelling point of view, I wasnít really considering reaching out and getting help.

 

LMD:  There were a few confusing moments for me regarding the possible presence of Mr. Kim.  I understood when the boss sees him in the garage, itís a dream, but when other employees see him around the office after the initial act, Iím not sure what is happening?  Is there ever a point where thereís two people murdering in the building?  There are several scenes that can give that impression.

HW-c:  I would say like there is a fantastical element to that.  The characters are seeing Mr. Kim through Mi-rae {Ko Ah-sungís character}.  Or, I think thereís a second interpretation, which is the guilt they experience for what theyíve done is making them see Mr. Kim.  You could say the bad vibes that Mr. Kim had catches on to Mi-rae through the knife and so thatís what theyíre seeing, or itís a psychological thing, where they see him because of the intense guilt that they feel about what theyíve done.

 

LMD:  Keeping in mind your intention to do something different to a genre film, how did you balance how gory or violent you would make Office?

HW-c:  To begin with, Iíd like to say that I really donít like violent or gory films.  Especially if something has ghosts in it, count me out!  When actually first saw the original screenplay for this film, it was closer to the horror genre than a thriller, so I actually told the producer who gave it to me that I canít do it because I canít watch it.  So we went through a lot of rewrites and thatís how it came to more of a thriller form, but I would say there is a mixed genre there a little bit, because it started out as a horror film.  But in the filmmaking process, I really tried to minimize the gratuitous violence because I was confident that I could get the effect I wanted through only having them at certain very distinct scenes or moments.  I felt like that made it more impactful, rather than just throwing violence everywhere. I feel like at a certain point, if you just keep throwing violence into every single shot or scene, the audience gets desensitised to whatever suspense that you do want them to experience.

 

LMD:  What did you see in actress Ko Ah-sung that made her right to play Mi-rae?

HW-c:  First of all, I liked that she wasnít too pretty.  I mean, sheís beautiful, but as you probably know, the beauty standards in Korea are just very westernised and very cookie-cutter style.  Thereís a very standardised beauty goal you want to aspire to.  So, that results in a lot of actresses looking pretty much the same.  I really felt the distinct quality that Ko Ah-sung has, is something that not many actresses in their early twenties possess, so I really appreciated that she retained that.

 

LMD:  Besides the New York Korean Film Festival, Office has also been featured in several other international festivals like Cannes.  Having said there are messages that related closely to Korean society, what do you think international audiences are responding to when they watch your film?

HW-c:  I think when audiences outside of Korea see this film, they really get to accept and be interested in what the culture is like in Korea, so I think thereís a sense of curiosity.  I feel like even though it differs to a certain degrees; the hardship of being in a workplace, dealing with bosses, I think thatís sort of universal if you go anywhere.  I think Korean culture does take it to extremes, but I think itís somewhat similar everywhere.

I think the most important thing is that they react to the genre of it being a thriller first and then they react to the social message.  When I was making this film, I wanted to have a social message, but I didnít want to lose the fun of the genre of being a thriller, so that was something I was very conscious about.  Because I was faithful to the genre of being a thriller, I feel like viewers would react to that first and then they would also accept the social message that came within the film.  I feel like genres are universally shared, whatever culture youíre in.

 

LMD:  Now having directed your first feature, are you happy to go on directing, or do you feel more comfortable as a screenwriter?

HW-c:  Now that Iíve debuted as a feature director, I think I would want to continue on with directing.  I do feel like there are pros and cons to being a writer or director.  First, being a writer, I donít think I was stressed out as much, because when youíre done writing, you give your script to the director and youíre like, ĎHere you go. Have fun.í  But when youíre a director, thereís just so much detail that goes into filmmaking and thereís so much to think about, so youíre just constantly stressed out. 

But I feel like because thereís so much going on, when you complete a film, I think thereís a higher sense of achievement that you are able to feel.  So I would like to focus more on directing.  Iím not saying that Iím totally gonna not write at all, but for now, I would like to keep on with directing.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov 6th, 2015

 

Click here for our Exclusive Interview with the star of Office, The Host/Gwoemul and Snowpiercer, Ko Ah-sung.

 

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Photos  

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Stills courtesy of Little Big Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

 

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