Friday, November 30, 2012

Interview: Director Kong Quee-hyun (U.F.O.) Discusses Stress and Student Life in Korea

Kong Quee-hyun directed his debut U.F.O. last year. His film premiered at the Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and following a run in Korean theaters earlier this year, the young filmmaker is now getting ready for his next project.

He took the time to talk to MKC about student life in Korea and the realities of low-budget filmmaking in the local industry.

U.F.O. originally featured at last year’s PiFan (Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival) and was eventually released in Korea this May. How did Indiestory, your distributor, come aboard?

I won the CGV movie collage award at the Cinema Digital Seoul film festival, which was the film’s second event. This is a $10,000 cash prize to support the distribution of an independent film. Indiestory saw the film and expressed their interest then which is how they became involved.

What inspired you to make this film?

It’s complicated but it’s about high school students, or more specifically my experience. I saw a UFO when I was younger with my friend. I wanted to make a feature film and also a mystery so I mixed these elements together.

To me this film seemed to be about how Koreans sometimes hide from the bitter truth of their history? Is this the case?

Yes, it is a metaphor. It represents how truth and rumours can operate in Korean society. These characters' actions are sometimes funny and ridiculous but they show a certain side of Korea. Christians in Korea are quite intense, maybe more so than in other countries and they also tend to be hypocritical. In fact, most Koreans are often hiding something: they are sometimes not very frank.

Korean Society has evolved so rapidly and these days it seems like many children grow up at a divide form the history that has preceded them.

Yes, this is especially true of Korean students. There whole existence revolves around studying and it’s just terrible. Of course they want to do other things, for example playing sports and computer games or hanging out with their friends but they are forced to focus on their studies as they are expected to enter university. I think most Korean students are eager to break out of that difficult routine but it’s all about appearances here in Korea. However, sometimes the stress can get to these young people and manifest itself in certain negative ways.

You mentioned the film was based on you own experience, could you explain that a little more?

In 1994, when I was in high school, one night at about 9 o’clock I was studying late in the classroom and I went outside, as that’s where the bathroom was, but there was something in the sky. Instead of looking like a plane or flying saucer like we’ve seen before in movies, it actually looked like jelly, it was very strange. If I had been by myself I may have doubted what I saw but my friend who was with me saw the exact same thing.

How difficult was it to get this project off the ground?

I really want to make a commercial film but I’ve yet to have that opportunity so I must make my own independent films. I used my own money and then borrowed a little more to make U.F.O.. In all I had about $20,000 as my budget. I went to the Korean National University of Arts where I made a number of contacts, some of whom helped me on this film.

What are your thoughts on the current independent film scene in Korea?

It is quite difficult to be an independent filmmaker but I think the situation in Korea is not that bad. The Korean Film Council is very helpful so there are some funds available for independent filmmakers. It isn’t easy of course but as long as someone has the will to make a film there is the opportunity to make one in this environment. With cheaper technology available, filmmaking has also become a lot more affordable.

I was lucky to be able to make my film but many people are interested in working in this industry. Several years ago only a few people were looking to break in but these days there are many more. Distribution is difficult but I’m not sure how the government can help and at the end of the day these studios that exhibit films are looking to make money. They are businesses designed to generate a profit.

Do you have any more projects lined up?

I’m preparing a documentary about the Lone Star hedge fund. They bought a Korean bank and then sold the company at a high price after bribing the Korean government. Last year I saw Inside Job (2010) which partly inspired me to pursue this project. I’ve begun research but I will start the production soon and that should take around a year.

I’m also writing another script which I would like to make though I’m not sure when that will happen. Once I’m finished with it I will present it to film companies. It’s about the poets Yoon Dong-joo and Lee Yuk-sa during the colonial period of Korea, around the 1920s.

Finally, what are your favorite Korean films?

I love the films of Bong Joon-ho and Lee Chang-dong, all their films are incredible.

MKC's review of U.F.O.

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