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Since we last spoke with director Ryoo Seung-wan at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival, he has become fÍted for his internationally acclaimed actioner, The Berlin File.  His newest film, Veteran, has already broken box-office records in South Korea within weeks of its release. 

On the day of Veteran's US red carpet premiere, we had a telephone reunion with Director Ryoo, who spoke about lightening up after the darkness of ďBerlin,Ē Steve McQueenís Mustang, Veteranís connection to the Lethal Weapon series, and the subliminal influence of James Cagney.

Dig it!

 

Veteran

Ryoo Seung-wan

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Director Ryoo, you not only directed Veteran, you wrote it, as well.  What was the inspiration behind the story?

Ryoo Seung-wan:  Iím sure you would know, because youíve been watching my films, but for the past few years, Iíve been too deeply into the dark world and dark characters, so I was little tired of that.  It was difficult for me to see the lead characters that I created, lose in the end.  So, this lead character, that I cheered for; I wanted to see that character win.  It was like a counter effect from The Berlin File, where I dealt with characters and a world that I wasnít familiar with, that was mostly dark; but with Veteran, I wanted to create a brighter world that I was familiar with and I wanted to gain that energy back.

I wanted to re-create the action movies that I grew up watching and rooting for and bring back that feeling and energy, and that is why I created Veteran.

 

LMD:  Compared to The Berlin File, Veteran feels more like a relative of The Unjust and you also have Hwang Jung-min and Yu Hae-jin from The Unjust in this cast.  Did making this film feel like coming back to your old stomping grounds after The Berlin File?

RS-w:  Because of the casting, all the fans of my films asked if this was a sequel to The Unjust?  Veteran is totally opposite from The Unjust.  The Unjust dealt with all this corruption, crime and power games.  In The Unjust, they {the cops} kneeled down in front of them {the villains}; they could not win, they failed. But this time, we fight for it {victory over the criminals} with Veteran.  Itís like the flip side of the coin, The Unjust versus Veteran.  Veteran is like a joke against The Unjust.

 

LMD:  Itís interesting that you say you wanted to depart from darkness with Veteran, because I found Yoo Ah-inís character to be quite dark.  When we spoke about The Unjust, you told me you loved classic Hollywood movies and that both of us are really big fans of the actor James Cagney.  Was there a classic actor or character from those films you had in mind for the villain character of Jo Tae-oh?

RS-w:  Although this film looks like itís following the genre of action as much as it could, in fact all the main characters were not inspired by any other movies.  So, it was more inspired by these cops and detectives that Iíve known, and also the characters of the actors, and also the true events that took place that also inspired the characters in films.  It was more inspired by those type of factors.

 

LMD:  Iíd wondered if any of Jo Tae-ohís crimes and debauchery were based on true life stories?

RS-w:  Basically, it all started based on the tips and information I got from detectives, cops and reporters.  I heard a lot about situations theyíd been through or theyíd heard of.  So, when I made this film, I was working more like a reporter or a spy rather than a filmmaker, so I kind of approached people who were close to this chaebol {super rich guy}.  Any people who were interested in Korean culture or Korean society would be able to access the information or research materials about this kind of incident, but what I was more drawn to was not these individual incidents and crimes, it was more about the system that Korean society has that makes incidents like this keep happening.  So, rather than the incident itself, what actually happened, I started looking into the people who were related to this incident; what type of people they are?  I wanted for the audience after watching the film to kind of not be able to tell whose story this is, who this movie was targeted to, but they could all end up feeling that it was about all of them.

Iím very delighted that you talked about James Cagney, and that you were reminded of his movies, and I totally forgot about that, but you totally touched my unconsciousness, so Iím glad about that.  When I dealt with this character that Yoo Ah-in played, I wanted to touch base more on the system that made him into a villain, instead of him just being a villain.  Of course, the films of Edward G. Robinson; his villains have their own character, they really focus on the character, but when you look at James Cagneyís movies, you can tell how his villains were formed; how they are affected by their surroundings. 

I would say the villains from Edward G. Robinsonís films were like a grown-up man villains, but James Cagneyís villains were more like bad kids.  So I would say Yoo Ah-inís character is more like James Cagneyís characters; children who have not been taken good care of by grown-ups.

 

LMD:  I think a lot of fans will be surprised by Yoo Ah-inís portrayal as the ruthless chaebol.  I felt like his portrayal is just a heartbeat from going over the edge, but then balances beautifully.  This is your first time working with Mr. Yoo.  Did you let him freely interpret, or did you have a set vision for that character in mind?

RS-w:  He was more interested and active in expressing this villain character.  We were more like supplementing each other rather than one guiding the other.  So, if I wanted like one thing from Yoo Ah-in, he would return with two, then after receiving two, then I would want to give him three.  Yoo Ah-in joining our film made our film much richer. 

Going back to James Cagney, Yoo Ah-inís character being like a boy made this character even more special.  If you watch James Cagneyís movies, his characters have this childish side; Yoo Ah-in doesnít have it, so thatís what makes it even more scary.  Itís something that not even Lee Marvin can make.

 

LMD:  Of course we must talk about the filmís action sequences: How much of that car chase was really racing cars through Seoul and how much was movie magic?  Talk about the logistics of shooting that scene on the streets?

RS-w:  In fact, all of the scenes were real; there was no CGI in the car chase and a lot of scenes were really acted by the actors.  So Yoo Ah-in driving at the end in the car chasing shot, we didnít actually use a green screen; he was actually driving.  Something that surprised people, was that we had two used Mustangs that we filmed everything with - this is a secret that Iím telling you, only you - we actually sold one of the cars! {Laughs} After some repairs, we were able to sell one of the cars.

 

LMD:  So, you were so careful in arranging the car chase that there was very little damage done to the second Mustang?  Thatís one way to keep down the overhead.

RS-w:  We shot with one car that had to be completely salvaged, but the other car that we had as a backup, thatís the one that we sold.  So in the car chase scene where we had a motorcycle chasing the car; while we were filming that scene, we had a major accident where the stuntman suffered an almost fatal injury.  We quickly moved him to the emergency room and heís now fully recovered, but this one thing I cannot forget: Right after he regained consciousness in the hospital, he looked into my eyes and said this, ďIs the shot okay?Ē  So, the scene that you see during the car chase, that was shot by the stuntman.

So, this Mustang, Iím sure all the film lovers will be able to catch this reference that I had in the movie, the Mustang was actually meant to look like the one from the Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt.  I couldnít find the classic model car from the original movie, so I had to replace it with a more modern, contemporary model.

 

LMD:  Youíve become so well known for your action in films.  As you make more films, what are the challenges now of presenting something exciting? How do you dream up new action sequences for your films?

RS-w:  Itís so difficult and so hard every time I shoot a film. But I keep challenging myself because I have this reliable partner, {action choreographer and martial artist} Jung Doo-hong.  As time goes on and we progress, Iíve learned how to push this guy more.  I think about how to more effectively push this guy for the action sequences.

 

LMD:  I understand youíve committed to a couple of sequels for Veteran?  Will it follow Hwang Jung-minís team on a separate adventure, or will it bring back the bad guys from this film?

RS-w:  First of all, I love those police series movies.  Out of all of so many police movies, my favorite is absolutely Lethal Weapon.  So throughout the {Lethal Weapon} series, this movie had everyone remain the same, including the staff, cast, director; none of them changed.  So, I donít have a plan to hand this series over to anyone else, and I wish the actors and talent would stay with me and grow through this series.  So one thing I can promise you is that in this sequel, all the team from the police department will appear, but I cannot promise you that everyone in this team will be in good condition.  I think they might break into parts because of this incident in Veteran, but they will fight their way back to be together again, to be a team once again.

 

LMD:  Well if youíre making more Veteran sequels, I demand that Miss Bong gets her own movie.  I want a female protagonist; itís been a long time since No Blood No Tears.

RS-w:  {Laughs} I believe Miss Bong can play a bigger part. I donít know, Iím not sure but maybe in the sequel, or in the third series, I think you can see Miss Bong getting married with Detective Wang.

 

LMD:  Speaking of Veterans, when you have cast members like Hwang Jung-min, Yoo Hae-jin and Oh Dal-su, who are such pros that youíve worked with before, how much directing do they actually need?

RS-w:  Working with those guys makes me feel like Iím doing kind of like bankersí work; very simple clerical work, because these people are very comprehensive and they always create something better than my intention, all I have to do shoot the best one.  These people are not like good-looking models waiting for the directorís direction; these are true creative artists.  What makes me really happy just looking at them acting, is that their acting so great that Iím so happy that Iím the first audience to watch them.

 

LMD:  Is the Veteran sequel your next project?

RS-w:  I donít think this will be my very next project.  I still havenít decided whom these guys will fight again.  Currently, Iím working on the sequel to The Berlin File, Iím writing the script.  I think we are on track for release next year.

My next movie will be about this island called Hashima Island in Japan.  During the Second World War, there were Korean people that were taken to this island and forced to work.  This movie will be about these people escaping this island.  Hashima Island was just listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  So my next move will be this movie about this island, and the sequel to The Berlin File, and then the sequel to Veteran.

 

LMD:  Does the film about Hashima Island have a title and a release date yet?

RS-w:  There is no English title set, yet. Weíre going to start filming next summer, we donít have a release date yet.  Then I believe itíll come out two years later, in the following summer.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept. 17th, 2015

 

Many blessings to the lovely folks at CJ Entertainment for making this interview possible!

Click here for our Movie Review of Veteran.

Click here for more Veteran interview goodness with Director Ryoo from the New York Korean Film Festival in November, 2015

Click here to read our interview with Director Ryoo Seung-wan from the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival.

 

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Photos  

Exclusive Photos of Director Ryoo courtesy of  Korea Daily

 

Stills courtesy of CJ Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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