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Little did we know when we spoke with Director Ryoo Seung-wan over the phone for the Los Angeles premiere of his Korean blockbuster, Veteran, that he would be here in the flesh as part of the New York Korean Film Festival. Since then, the Lethal Weapon-inspired caper has gone on to become one of Koreaís biggest US box office hits.

Director Ryoo reflected on Veteranís success, the dangers of reading one's own press, the possibilities of making a non-action film, and gave us some clever (and hilarious) strategies for making a film with oneís spouse as producer.

Dig it!

 

NYKFF 2015/ VETERAN

Ryoo Seung-wan

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Congratulations on the success of Veteran.  When we spoke in September, it was already a hit in Korea, but now itís the third highest-grossing Korean box office hit in the US.  What do you think the US fans are relating to so well?

Ryoo Seung-wan:  In terms of responses from US audiences, I have a sort of smaller sample because Iím getting the responses through journalists like you and the reviews and also from audiences who come to the film festivals to see the film.  But for me, the numbers arenít of any importance to me.  US numbers may mean something to people in Korea, but I feel like if you think about the entire film market in the US, the numbers arenít, like, great.  So because numbers are the kind of thing that changes continuously, I never tend to put much meaning into numbers.  And also, not just in the US market, but back at home in Korea, I tend not to attach too much importance to the box office results.

So, whatís important to me for this film is actually not the numbers, but each individual who watches this film and roots for this film.  So, if there is a US audience member that really enjoyed this film, I feel like that is because Veteran has touched upon something thatís universal.  I think it would be two things:  The first thing would be itís a story about justice, and itís also about the importance of the relationship between one person to another and the respect that is involved.

 

LMD:  That said, from The Unjust, to The Berlin File, to Veteran now, each of your films is progressively more known around the world.  Does each continuing success afford you more freedom back home to make any type of film that you please?

RS-w:  It would definitely influence my filmmaking.  But I think more importantly, the hurdle that an artist has to jump over is actually him or herself.  So, I mean if you are always trying to come up with creative ideas and also have the courage to implement them with conviction, I feel like you are able to create anything you wish to create.

Sometimes I feel like commercial success can become a burden, because all of a sudden you have areas that you have to keep on thinking about.

 

LMD:  Perfect segue.  It seems natural the fact that once the pie gets bigger, more people want a piece of it.  More people want to have a say in your project.  How are you able to shut out the exterior noises from investors, or a film company, or whoever, that might want you to make changes, or put in a particular hot star, and keep focused on the vision that you have?

RS-w:  So, like you said, itís absolutely true about so many people talk about me, and so many people try to chip in with their opinions.  Like, not just Korean audiences or press, but if you go on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, so many US writers are also trying to chip in with their opinions.  But itís actually impossible to sort of shut that out completely when people are continuously talking about you.  However hard I try to ignore all that, itís still something that you canít completely ignore.

So, my strategy is, rather than just trying to pretend that you canít see all that, my strategy is just to go straight on and just to read every single thing that is out there.  Basically, if Iím reading all that, itís like youíre on a roller coaster where youíre going high and low and everything. {Laughs}

So, through that process, you kind of go through phases: You go through a period where youíre like super stressed and then you come to the point where youíre like, so frustrated, and you say, ďWhat the hell do you want from me?Ē  And then the next phase is, ďWell, if youíre so sure of yourself, you make it!Ē {Laughs}  Then the next phase is where you come to the realisation that itís actually impossible to satisfy everyone in this world.  So, the next phase after that is, ďWell, okay, you guys say whatever you want.Ē  So every single time Iím working on a project, I think I go through those phases.  Itís extremely painful and frustrating, but itís just become part of my filmmaking.

Maybe Iím a masochist. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Director Bong Joon-ho was here in New York earlier this year telling me about producing the film HaemooÖ

RS-w:  {Laughs hysterically} He went crazy! He was under big stress.

 

LMD:  He did say it would be his last time as a producer.  He told me one of the things he hated about producing was saying ďnoĒ to his director.  I didnít realise that Veteranís producer, Kang Hye-jung, is actually Mrs. Ryoo.  What is it like for your wife to tell you ďnoĒ on a film set?  Does it make it easier?

RS-w:  One thing Iíd like to say first of all about my wife, is that she is a person who says, ďitís possible,Ē when everyone says, ďitís impossible.Ē  She is that way today, and sheís always been that way, even in the past.  So, whenever I feel like sheís going to say no to one of my requests, then I come up with a problem about our children to distract her.  So I create a diversion.

 

LMD:  Thatís dirty.  I guess when you marry your producer, these are the tactics you use?

RS-w:  {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Filmmaking is such an all-encompassing endeavor, when you and your wife finish filming for the day, are you able to leave the set on the set?

RS-w:  So regarding that aspect, I have to say I have to be very grateful toward my wife.  The reason Iím able to separate those two aspects of my life is due to my wife.  To tell you the truth, itís not a very easy task to be working with your wife.  Because we work together, there are times when we are together 24/7, except for when we go to the bathroom.  But it can be hard because the stress of the workplace spills over into your home, or the stresses of your home life also spill over to the set, so in that sense, it can be pretty tricky.

But despite all that, I feel like it is such an immense fortune for me to be able to have someone who unconditionally supports me and believes in my work and is my rock, regardless of any sort of financial gains or support.  Regardless of all that, itís an amazing thing to have someone who is unconditionally there for you.

Tales about my wife I think I will have to wrap up here.  She knows how to read English, so I donít want us to go any further.

 

LMD:  That last line, sheís gonna love.  You should frame this part of the interview, and when she gets mad, point at it and say ďRemember this?Ē

RS-w:  {Laughs}

 

LMD:  When we spoke previously, you mentioned that you meant Veteran purely to be more of a fun, caper movie, than your last films, which dealt with darker characters and subjects.  You specifically said it was the opposite of The Unjust.  Yet, thereís still a serious sense in the film of the inequality of how the rich are treated versus the poor or working class.  Perhaps itís just the films that were seeing in festivals, but it feels like weíre getting more films from South Korea with this as a prevailing theme.  Do you have a sense of this, as well?

RS-w:  When Iím working on my projects, Iím not able to see the current Korean films that are coming out right now, so I feel like it would be a little difficult for me to diagnose a certain trend in Korean cinema, but like you said, itís definitely a sort of phenomenon thatís been going on right now. But you know the saying that films are a mirror to the current social situations?  So, I feel like Korean filmmakers, what they are experiencing or feeling through Korean society is being reflected through the films they are making today.

I think in Korea right now, not just the issue of the rich versus the poor, but thereís been a lot of debate and fighting over certain values and standards.  As you may know, weíre still a country that is divided into North and South Korea, and itís not even that the Korean War is over; itís a truce.  It was never really the end of the war, so technically, you could say weíre still at war.  So weíre the only country in the world where the remnants of the Cold War are still in the ground.

And even in South Korea, weíre already divided in two from North and South, but in South Korea alone, we are divided West to East and weíre fighting about that.  So, this is a very deep-rooted power struggle between these two forces on the west side and the east side, where these two forces continually fight to gain power over each other.  And I feel that this power struggle, itís being led on into younger generations, as well.  And then there is the struggle between the older generations and the younger generations, and then thereís females and males, like women versus menÖ  

I feel like itís become a mathematical equation where youíre taking things apart, that everythingís coming apart into different factions of the power struggle.  On top of that, then thereís the issue of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  Because we are in such warring states in Korea, I feel that these sort of things are expressed naturally into the films that filmmakers make.  That the stress that these filmmakers experience is also expressed through the filmmaking process.

 

LMD:  You are so synonymous with action, I wonder if you ever want to make a film without it? Do you ever want to make a film in a completely different genre like romance or sci-fi?

RS-w:  To be truthful, I feel that genre to me right now is the least important element of my filmmaking process.  The most important aspect of filmmaking for me is the characters.  So, if the characters get to fight, then theyíre going to fight.  If theyíre going to fall in love, they fall in love.  So, the character that Iím interested in could go back into the past, or they could jump into the future.  So the only thing that I do is that I follow the characters along on their journey, and then according to the journey the character makes, the film can turn into a certain type of genre.  So, the question you have, I think, is in essence a question I have to ask the characters.  I have to ask them. ĎWhat do you want?í  So I think your question is something that has to be answered by the characters, and a question that I will have to put to the characters.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov. 9th, 2015

Click here for our Movie Review of Veteran.

Click here for our Sept 2015 Exclusive Interview with Director Ryoo Seung-wan for more Veteran details.

 

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Photos  

Exclusive images by L.M.D.

Stills courtesy of CJ Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

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