The phrase "independently produced" is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Korean films. The idea of an independently produced horror movie seems even less likely. Thus, the sudden appearance of Kim Jin-Won's The Butcher, an independently produced Korean video verité snuff horror movie, on the North American and European film festival circuit comes as a wee bit of a surprise. After seeing the film, curiosity compelled an effort to identify the responsible parties and try to figure out the back story of this nasty horror film. To this end, communication with director Kim Jin-Won was established and the spoiler heavy e-mail interview featured below the fold resulted. Thanks goes to Blake Ethridge, Park Jin, and especially Kim Kyungmi, who helped facilitate communications with the director and provided English translations of the questions.
Those still waiting to actually see The Butcher will have several opportunities throughout 2008. The New York Asian Film Festival will conclude its international premiere screenings of the film on June 28th. The next stop is Fantasia Film Festival with play dates on July 12th and 20th. Later in the year, European audiences will be able to catch the film as part of the Midnight X-Treme competition at the Sitges Film Festival. This is an impressive string of screenings for a director in his twenties who only made two short films (Man in the Box and Chainsaw High School Girl) before tackling a full-length feature on his own. Additionally, his new project The Devils has been invited to participate in the Puchan International Fantastic Film Festival's 2008 IT Project. As such, aspiring independent genre film makers might find lots of inspiration in this interview.
What is your background in relation to film?
I wasn’t interested in film making before. Even I hadn’t liked horror films at all since I watched Tenebrae as a child. When I was a high school student, I illegally watched a lot of Japanese animations. At that time, the Korean government didn’t allow to import Japanese pop-culture (movies, animations etc.) at all for historical reasons. I went to illegal cinematheque to watch Japanese animations. Sometimes I didn’t go to school and I fell in love with Japanese animations. For example, Patlabor: The Movie 2 (director - Oshii Mamoru), and Neon Genesis Evangelion (director- Anno Hideaki). At that time, I bought piracy of those animations and kept watching them countless times.
One day, I went to midnight screening at cinematheque and by accident I watched The Evil Dead (director’s edition). It was such an amazing film in the universe to me! My trauma from a shocking film like Tenebrae was gone right away! Shortly I fell in love with horror films. When I was a college student at the visual art & design school, I watched 4-5 films every day and then I remembered and drew every single cut.
When did you first decide to begin making films?
When I was about to enter college, I was reading Sam Raimi’s and Tsukamoto Shinya’s interview articles. It was pretty impressive that they didn’t have any film schools or Hollywood studio experiences but they were very passionate to make the first debut film with friends. I hoped to make a film like those directors. Then, I just tried to make a film.
Do you have any particular influences? Are you interested in other films beside horror films? Do you follow any of the South Korean directors?
So far I have been affected by all horror films either directly or indirectly. Except horror films, I like 60-70’s Japanese films. Especially I like Suzuki Seijun and Matsumoto Toshio's films. I wasn't influenced by any Korean directors, but I respect the natural directing of Korean directors, Hong Sang-soo (Woman on the Beach) and Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, leading actress winner in Cannes 2007). I want to follow how they do the realism direction.
When did you first get the idea for The Butcher?
I’m a big fan of video games as well. There is a game genre called First Person Shooter (FPS), which I love to play (Doom, Quake 2, etc.). When I was making my first short film Man In The Box at the oldest apartment, I hit on the idea of shooting a FPS type movie at that place. Then, I was affected by Motel Hell, 8MM and Pulp Fiction (especially 2nd episode). The first ideas had been developed and became The Butcher.
How long was the production of The Butcher? Did you have any problems finding actors, locations, and funding?
3 month in preproduction. It was the hardest to find allowed location for shooting. Nobody lends the place for shooting the snuff film. 7 days for shooting. That short period was available because I did lots of rehearsal with the D.P. I paid for the whole budget.
How much was the production budget for the The Butcher?
It’s about 50,000 U.S. dollars.
You did this movie independently with your own money. Is there an independent scene of genre film makers in South Korea who work outside of the studio system? If so, can you name some people and films?
There are few independent organizations in Korea, but I’ve never heard any particularly for genre indie films.
The Butcher is a multi-camera shoot with many long takes and lots of effects. Please describe how you prepared for this shoot. Did you do story boards? What kind of cameras did you use and what sort of editing platform?
Originally, I wanted to make a film only by victim’s P.O.V. But in that case there was no way to show the victim’s condition. Also, the information was very limited to audiences. Therefore I put the additional camera of director Kim. It was also interesting for editing with victim’s P.O.V and harmer’s P.O.V at same situation. Also, at the beginning I used two scenes from camera as the third P.O.V like CCTV.
I did story boards. I usually shoot on the story boards in the exactly same way. I made the 70-80 percent story boards of the film for actor’s movement and sharing my shooting plan with other crews. I used Sony HDV Z1 and A1 cameras at the same time. I needed small cameras with good quality. They were really good cameras. The editing platform was Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0.
The movie is very claustrophobic (most of it happens in a closed space). When the last victim escapes, he runs out into open space and its an entirely different feel than most of the film. Please discuss this contrast.
It is intended that inside looks like hell, but outside should be either a very common place or peaceful place. Therefore, it gets audiences to feel ironically. Someone experiences hell world. Meanwhile, they experience heaven in the peaceful place.
The last act of the movie is very mysterious. The victim escapes but he attacks someone who might be after him. The audience does not know who that person is. Please provide your thoughts.
That mysterious guy is director Kim’s assistant. I was thinking that there should be the bodyguard outside when they made that kind of snuff film. Also, he would tape the victim outside as director Kim commanded.
Have you ever seen any of the Guinea Pig movies from Japan? This was one of the first things that came to mind when I watched The Butcher.
When I was a high school student, I watched those films illegally. Among Guinea Pig series, I like Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment.
One of the characters says he is making the torture film to sell to Americans. This can be seen on a commentary on both the popularity of torture movies in America and the audience for violent South Korean movies in the U.S. (Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, etc.). Is this case? If so, does this link to the first person footage and placing the audience in the position of the victims?
The film set up selling torture film to American market illegally and carefully. That business isn't official business for audiences who like Korean violent films that you mentioned. That torture film is made for more perverts who like strong sadism films. That commentary described this situation. Also, in The Butcher, the character of director reflects on myself a little bit. This kind of genre film is very hard to be made in Korea. I am assumed that I would be the director who will make a genre film for non-Korean market by non-Korean funding since I fail to communicate with Korean audiences.
There are many South Korean films that are popular with western audiences. There do not seem to be many horror movies, though. What has been the response to your film in South Korea?
In Korea, except High School Girl's Ghost Story and The Tale of Two Sisters, most horror films have bad reviews and poor box office. In the case of Epitaph (2007), it had successful critiques but poor box office. This year, the number of horror films is reduced. Horror genre is getting older fashioned.
The response of audiences to my film in Korea is at opposite poles. Most of them think that The Butcher is a good challenge, but half of them like The Butcher because it has very different tempos from other horror films. The others disliked the film. Besides, few of them looked down less gore scenes than they expected.
Do you have any new projects or ideas in the works?
I’m developing an occult film The Devils (the same title with Ken Russell’s The Devils). A Vietnamese woman marries one Korean guy in the country side where people follow devils. In the film, she dies 30 times. It isn’t victim’s P.O.V like The Butcher, but it would be a different film in the innovative way.