The Korean Cinema landscape of the late 90s saw many of today's most established directors either debut or 'come of age.' Lee Jung-Hyang made a striking debut with 미술관 옆 동물원 (Art Museum By The Zoo), a delightful romantic comedy starring Shim Eun-Ha and Lee Sung-Jae; the same Shim Eun-Ha was protagonist of Hur Jin-Ho's 8원의 크리스마스 (Christmas in August), one of the most touching and brilliant 'anti-tearjerker' melodramas in modern Korean Cinema; also, some guy named Kim Jee-woon shot to fame with a little black comedy called 조용한 가족 (The Quiet Family). But after the 'boom' of the last 5-6 years, the attention is mostly grabbed by star directors, in most cases the same people who had their debut in the late 90s. Is it because first time directors emerging today are inferior to those who popped up 7-8 years ago? Not necessarily, but the industry is to blame, in a way. Now a director has to prove himself with a commercially viable product before he gets ample room to do what he wants, which sort of made excellent film debuts somewhat of a rarity in recent years. I can think of only a few in the last 2 years: one of them was Jang Joon-Hwan's crazy masterpiece 지구를 지켜라 (Save The Green Planet), another Im Pil-Sung's 남극일기 (Antarctic Journal), but also Lee Yoon-Gi's beautiful 여자, 정혜 (This Charming Girl).
The Jung-Hye of the title (Kim Ji-Soo, another film debut) wasn't your usual heroine of melodramas: beautiful but cold on the outside, with a warmth burning inside, trapped, caged by her painful past. A film of magnificent subtlety, like a sweet caress of the wind on an Autumn afternoon at the Park. Not too many films I have seen in my life have been able to capture the beauty of silence, the excitement of small details, of sitting back and reflecting about life. Lee, several Film Festival later, became a name to be dealt with, someone who quickly came into the scene, without warning, with the kind of potential Hur Jin-Ho, Hong Sang-Soo and people like them had at the beginning of their careers. His new project was bound to garner interest, not only because it was Lee Yoon-Gi's follow up to 'This Charming Girl.'
러브토크 (Love Talk) has quite an interesting cast: Bae Jong-Ok, a veteran responsible for one memorable performance after another in TV Dramas - last in line the glorious 꽃보다 아름다워 (Prettier Than Flowers) alongside Go Doo-Shim - and diverse choices on the big screen: from political dramas [칠수와 만수 (Chil-Soo & Man-Soo) - 1988] to old school tearjerkers [걸어서 하늘까지 (Walking All The Way To Heaven) - 1992]; from arthouse hits [질투는 나의 힘 (Jealousy is My Middle Name) - 2003] to modern, interesting melodramas [안녕, 형아 (Little Brother) - 2005]. Park Jin-Hee, whose talent is still untapped, but showed promise in her early years, to waste it on mildly engaging commercial fare in the last few years. And, finally, Park Hee-Sun, talented theater actor last seen in 'Antarctic Journal', quite an interesting choice to pair against the two ladies.
'Love Talk' was at the center of a mini-controversy this week, regarding its recently released Trailer. Although she confirmed in interviews before that she hadn't shot any particularly revealing scene, Park Jin-Hee was seen for the first time taking her clothes off in a film (albeit from behind). That sort of reminded some of the 'tease' publicity for Park's last film, the comedy 연애술사 (Love in Magic), when for over two months rumours about 'shockingly revealing scenes of nudity involving Park Jin-Hee' were spread, when the film had none (with the exception of a really brief shot with minimal nudity). Netizens were furious, not so much because they didn't get to see more T&A, but because some people tried to make the film a hot item by pushing its alleged sexual content so much it became added publicity. Well, although some of the same techniques might be at play here, I trust Lee Yoon-Gi is not the type of director who would lose sleep over silly things like that, and if any nudity is there it has some kind of meaning. It's kind of interesting how much interest around any exposure from top actresses (see Son Ye-Jin in 외출 (April Snow)) is more discussed than the actual themes of the film, but I digress.
The reaction of the critics was predictable: the film received mixed reviews (some excellent, some poor, a lot standing in the middle), but most people preview a pretty quick death at the box office. In comparison to his previous work, Lee spent a lot more time focusing on the story of the film, and in creating a stronger, more powerful statement, even though it stills features that unique style many people enjoyed in 'This Charming Girl.' The acting in particular was praised, with very natural performances, allowing their feelings and personality to emerge without forcing it upon the viewer. But then again, most people commented that not only this is not the kind of theme the average moviegoer is interested in, but both the long-ish running time and Lee's style might bore some viewers.
Shooting on location in Los Angeles for months, the film had its press screening at the Seoul Cinema in Jong-Ro today. Present at the premiere the director Lee Yoon-Gi, and cast Bae Jong-Ok, Park Jin-Hee and Park Hee-Sun. 'Love Talk', which was recently shown at the PIFF, will release in theaters on November 11.
Comments and Interview
Korean and English often cross their paths in the course of the film. Whenever something cheerful and bright is discussed, the characters use Korean, whereas dialogue with a darker meaning is always in English. Especially Park Jin-Hee particularly stands out, even more than Bae Jong-Ok.
Director Lee Yoon-Gi: When it was time to decide which language to use for which scene, we went with English first. Then we tried to choose the kind of dialogue which was the easiest to pronounce. We didn't choose English for the bleaker parts on purpose, not even once.
Bae Jong-Ok: The more I act, the harder it becomes. I had to repeat all the steps which brought me to this point in my career, and that was a kind of step I had to go through in itself. For [Park] Jin-Hee, this is her eighth film, and her character was much different from her previous ones, that's why you can feel even more the uniqueness of her character. I didn't think of changing completely, of completely distancing from my persona, just because of the character's uniqueness. And, actually I wanted that uniqueness to remain buried in the film. I just thought I had to act the role naturally, without worrying if it was similar to work I'd done in the past or not.
Did you want to say anything in particular about America in choosing to shoot there?
Lee: Since I personally lived there, I speak from experience. I'm really sorry to the people living there, but I think amongst all the big cities in the US, Los Angeles is the ugliest. Racial discrimination is really severe, and there's a tendency to marginalize outsiders. I think that kind of bleak feeling related well with the content and theme of the film. But of course we could have shot in Seoul, Tokyo, or anywhere else for that matter. But I thought if I could have found a place able to convey their isolation, it would have been better. We never even mention 'LA' in the film.
In the film, men and women have a lot of different relationships. What did you want to express through that kind of large group of people, and do you think there's any relation between being sincere and the fresh, new beginning of a love story?
Lee: I actually think that using such a large group of characters is a really dangerous thing to do, something you should compress if possible. Actually there were even more people in the writing process, but while shooting we decreased their number. For that reason there might be parts which are a little more difficult to understand. I think those people who were left out had important repercussions on the main characters. No matter what kind of person you are, the people you come into contact with are always influenced in some way by you, and viceversa. Be it a lover, an acquaintance, a foe or even people outside your circle, it makes no difference. It's the same kind of feeling, of people meeting each other. Even if they were just three characters, I wanted them to relate to the pain and sorrow they heard about from the other's confession, and convey the same thing to the other person as well. In doing that, both people would feel a little less pain, now that they could share something in common.
When being sincere with another person, all you need to introduce the resurfacing of love is an expression. I do refuse that always confessing your feelings is the best thing, but I just wanted to show people who strive, who try hard because they want to confess the truth. The reality is that human relationship develop at snail pace, and to make all that emerge [without having to wait for such pace], I originally used many more characters. Actually, now that I think about it, I still want to play with the film. I still feel bad that I can't tell you about about those people who were left out, and their stories. And I actually think those stories might have a bigger need to be told than those of the 3 main characters.
Bae: Many of the parts which related to me were cut from the film. Those parts revealed a lot more about the character's feelings. A lot of the people surrounding the main characters and their feelings were somewhat left incomplete. Watching the film today, I think a lot of the three character's feelings were concentrated together. I would have liked the feelings of the other people to emerge as well, and that's something I felt a little bad about, watching the film.
Your character in the film works at a massage parlor. It reminds of Maggie Cheung in 甛蜜蜜 (Comrades: Almost a Love Story).
Bae: That's one of my favourite films. I didn't really think about that though, while shooting the film. I was obsessed about not looking awkward in doing what was supposed to be my job, more than anything. Actually I wanted to go to a 'real' massage parlor (for adults), but they were all concealed and hidden there, they didn't want us to see and find them. We even set up a few meetings, but they all went in vain. I just used my imagination, when looking at the kind of scenes the director wanted. He actually learned those massaging techniques talking with one of the drivers. So I learned those techniques myself in a few days.
Yonhap News' Kim Byung-Gyu
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: POOR
Herald Economy's Lee Hyung-Seok
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD
Cineseoul's Choi Dong-Gyu
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: AVERAGE
Premiere's Hong Su-Kyung
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: AVERAGE
Screen's Kim Hyun-Min
Film Quality: EXCELLENT
Box Office Potential: AVERAGE
러브토크 (Love Talk)
Director: 이윤기 (Lee Yoon-Gi)
Cast: 배종옥 (Bae Jong-Ok), 박진희 (Park Jin-Hee)
Produced By: LJ 필름 (LJ Film)
Distributed By: CJ 엔터테인먼트 (CJ Entertainment)
RELEASE: November 11