If you like, love, or even merely have a passing interest in Korean Cinema, it's hard not to root for people like Bang Eun-Jin. After ten years spent honing her craft in theater, the talented actress had her debut in Im Kwon-Taek's 태백산맥 (The Taebaek Mountains). Certainly a late debut compared to other actresses of her generation, but she didn't need to push herself, or get the attention of the media: her acting was speaking on her behalf. Bang didn't just follow other people's steps, moving in and out of commercial filmmaking, continuing to build her popularity through lightweight fare, then waiting for her time in the limelight. No, she always took risks, starring in films with an unique touch, peculiar roles, never obvious. Know mostly for her partnership with Park Chul-Soo, in films like 301 302, 학생부군신위 (Farewell My Darling) and 산부인과 (Push! Push!), Bang has done it all, and won it all. But something was missing, something was there for her to do: directing.
A lot of people start with personal stories, little films trying to convey all those mixed emotions they kept inside them for so long, but once again Bang was different. She debuted with Genre Cinema, characteristically not something easy to do for a first timer; on top of that, she did it with big stars like Eom Jung-Hwa, or veterans like Moon Sung-Geun. The result? 오로라 공주 (Princess Aurora), a thriller which surprised the entire industry. Not because it was a good debut film, that's nothing surprising or even unusual in today's Chungmuro. No, they were shocked an actor could make such a debut, not falling into the usual pitfalls such a position almost forces you to. Creating good word of mouth for Eom's acting, the film did quite OK at the box office, landing on second place behind 야수와 미녀 (The Beast & The Beauty) in its opening week, even though critics doomed the film to a quick, painless death at the box office.
Although just about everybody is interviewing the new hot director in Chungmuro, I singled out two particularly good interviews: with Film2.0's always great Kim Young-Jin and nKino's Shin Min-Kyung. This is a collection of excerpts from the two, trying to stay as spoiler free as possible. And for those who do want to check those interviews in Korean, note that they're full of spoilers (which, unless you have pathetic memory like myself, can be obviously quite a problem).
Film2.0's Kim Young-Jin: It's been a long time. I haven't seen you for the last two years.
Director Bang Eun-Jin: I've been preparing the film all that time, but since we had many complications, I wasn't able to meet anyone.
nkino's Shin Min-Kyung: How was the press' reaction?
Bang: They just said good things to me (laughs). Director Jung Ji-Young sent me a SMS using the lyrics of a song, and said: "Oh... Amazing...". Just hearing things like that made me feel better, it energized me. Problem now is doing the same with the public, a very important task is left to complete for us.
Shin: Experiencing the film's atmosphere, I thought the title 'Princess Aurora' was quite paradoxical. Were there any other options when you had to choose the final title?
Bang: The title of the screenplay we adapted for the film was 입질 (Bite), then to make fun of Kang Woo-Suk's 공공의 적 (Public Enemy), we thought of 그녀의 적 (Her Enemy). But then, when we decided what to do with the sticker's theme with my assistant directors, one of them proposed to use Princess Aurora, like that song '나는야 오로라공주' (It's me, Princess Aurora). We even thought of using the song's title for the film, but later decided on just 'Princess Aurora.' We also raised the same kind of ruckus about the 10만원 빵 (100,000 Won bread), because of the title.
Kim: 'Princess Aurora' might look like a familiar genre film, but it has a different, unique kind of beauty of its own. It begins acting like a Suspense Thriller, but in the second half ends up as an heartbreaking drama.
Bang: Yeah, it's quite the melodrama. A really cruel one at that.... (laughs)
Kim: But then again, no matter how you look at the murder scenes in the film, they're still typical circumstances, even though all serial murders are like that. So one wonders if you wanted to deal with that all in one brief moment, using that kind of sense of speed. The first murder scene shows the kind of excitement you find in similar genre films, but then the second murder scene in the janitor's office is devoid of any of those feelings. She just kills the victim and leaves.
Bang: Because killing one person after another is so hard, and in our film she has to kill many people (laughs), as you go on people start asking questions and feeling a certain curiosity about the murders. How did she die, what was that? Using that to our advantage, we made sure to deal quickly with the depiction of those murders, and as much as that we tried to make those depictions as intense as possible. That's because I didn't care about making the murders interesting or highlighting her modus operandi, I just wanted to convey the pent up anger with which she committed those murders.
Kim: Talking frankly, box office results aside, I think what's left from this film is your presence as a director. I hope you won't think about this film too much, and go straight into your next one. The thing I liked the most watching 'Princess Aurora' was the intensity and determination of doing things professionally you used in making this film, and the power it created. There's no useless self-conscious moments either, I'd even complain the film becomes too skillful for its own good. When people heard of actress Bang Eun-Jin making her debut as a director, they had some preconceptions. Think like expecting something extremely self-conscious coming from a very sincere actress, or the kind of original, personal work that is hard to relate to. But in this film there's no narcissism, nor any superfluous moments.
Bang: Maybe it's because I mulled over it for so long, cutting and retouching it for a long time. It's not like I'm someone who just makes films for a living. It just happened that while acting I had the opportunity to become a director, even thought I knew nothing about that line of work. But how can I have any particular style of my own? I might have thought about how to shoot certain scenes, but I was more worried about what I wanted to tell, and the message I wanted to convey. I especially worried about how to get in tune with the cast, so I didn't only try to establish a kind of friendship with Eom Jung-Hwa, but also with people who would have a mere few lines in the film. That's one of the first tasks an actor becoming a director could worry about, and probably something they should do, when working in an ambiguous situation like this.
Moon Sung-Geun said something like this once, that I was acting with the cast from behind the camera. Hearing things like that made me really happy (laughs). And perhaps because I'm a very impatient and straitlaced person, I'm the type who can't deal with, and even stand superfluousness. It's the same when it comes to delays. You can show it all, so why waste time with long dialogue or poses? Just do something when it's really necessary. I said the same to Jung-Hwa: since the character was experiencing different kind of feelings all the time, she kind of fell into the act, and I thought it was superfluous. So I just told her to cut it a little. Watching that, I'd always say: "Is that really a person?". People have a multitude of faces. But the moment you pause and start thinking about how to portray those faces, you start losing touch with the real person behind the character.
Shin: It's inevitable that people will compare your film and its amount of 'femininity', with the films from other female directors. Isn't that something you were always interested in?
Bang: It has to be. For starters, I wanted to dress a female character in clothes they usually don't wear. In other words, isn't the typical female character males choose, only making them facing complications without allowing them to solve those problems, a little boring? I don't know what my next project will be, but at the foundation of all my female characters will be a kind of sense of being feminine, without necessarily being 'feminine' [not conforming to men's fantasies about 'typical' female character traits]. If you watch the film, isn't it quite neutral? Even the places [where she commits her murders] are very dark, and evoke a masculine feeling.
Kim: What are you planning for your next film?
Bang: I vaguely thought about working on my previously unfinished project, 첼로 (Cello) [nothing to do with the recently released horror film], but now that I think about it, that's something I was supposed to do back then. It was a story about the love between a stepfather and his daughter, but now my inspiration and feeling for that kind of story sort of disappeared. So I don't really know what I'll do right now, what my follow up will be. Before I even knew it I'm in my forties now, and while it's still an age when you can feel young, it's become all a big hazard. If it goes well, all the better, but I really don't know what I'll do. I'll have to write some project when this film's theater run is over (laughs).