New York Asian 2015 Interview: Boo Ji-young And Shim Jae-myung Talk CART, Casting K-Pop Stars, And Advice For Women Filmmakers

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New York Asian 2015 Interview: Boo Ji-young And Shim Jae-myung Talk CART, Casting K-Pop Stars, And Advice For Women Filmmakers

Director Boo Ji-young's Cart, shines a light on the real life story of a shopworkers' strike against unfair labour practices that lasted over a year. As part of the New York Asian Film Festival's focus on Myung Films, the production company headed by one of the most powerful women in Korean cinema, producer Shim Jae-Myung and Cart director Boo chatted with me about casting K-Pop idol, D.O. from EXO, and advice for female filmmakers.

The Lady Miz Diva:  Before screening here at the New York Asian Film Festival, CART was seen at the Toronto International Film Festival.  What has it been like to take the movie to western audiences?

Boo Ji-young:
   I think a lot of people said they liked the film at the Toronto Film Festival.  As you know, the film deals with the topic of labor and part-time workers in Korea, and so I think these types of themes have a certain universality where people all over the world can relate to.  And at the same time, it also deals with family, which is also of course a very common topic that anyone can relate to. 

Actually, I thought the exception were the Koreans who were living overseas: They were quite surprised with the film, not that they liked it, but they were very surprised that this was the reality in Korea, because they've been out of the country living overseas for such a long time, they did not know that Korea had issues, and I think the they were rather surprised. 

Also, a lot of the foreign audience, as well, when they think of Korea, they think about the rapid economic development and it's become quite an advanced country, and you see a lot of Korean pop culture, the dramas and a lot of Korean content going overseas, but these types of dramas never dealt with these types of topics, so this was indeed a new topic for many people overseas.

LMD:   As it is based on a true story of the E. Land Mart strike that occurred in 2007, did you take it upon yourself to go beyond the script to investigate the actual incident?

Yes, we worked on the scenario for over a year, and so we did some research about that incident, per se, but at the same time, we looked into the social issue of these non-full-time labor workers and the institutions and the policies, and how it has changed, or what kind of realities you see right now.  Because although this deals with a certain incident, we deal with the issue as a whole, which means we have to understand how the issue has changed and what it was like at that time that the movie was made.  So, I tried to look into that as a whole, and also met with and interviewed the people who were actually involved in this strike.  And so, yes, there was some research involved.

LMD:  There's not an obvious loveline in the film.  Adding a romance seems to be one way to get audiences to watch a "woman's film," but you avoid that.  Was that intentional?

The scenario that I received was quite sophisticated, developed scenario, and that scenario I received from Producer Shim, so she probably knows what the intention of the scenario was.

Shim Jae-myung:  I think that this film deals with so many different people and different stories, there really wasn't any time for romance in the film.  I think that if we tried to add some kind of romance with this film that talks about the pain of a strike and this labor movement, I thought that this would be quite inconsistent; so I think we both agreed that it's better not to include anything like that.

LMD:  CART is a film that deals with an unusual topic from an unusual perspective.  As a producer, what were the challenges of trying get it seen not only by South Korean audiences, but also into international festivals?

This film was never portrayed as a fun, commercial film.  And although there was a lot of investment made to make this - our budget was quite big - we never tried to make it into an entertainment film.  Nevertheless, we had a lot of famous actors in the film, and also with the big budget, I think we were able to compete with the regular commercial films, and that's why I think we didn't have much difficulty in terms of distribution.  But this is a film that deals with labor, which is a very unusual subject, but we do have famous actors and as I said we did have a big budget, and those factors were in themselves were considered very surprising for a lot of people, very unusual.  I think maybe because of that, it's being introduced in the New York Asian Film Festival and also other film festivals as the film that highlights the lives of women labor workers in Korea.

LMD:  You are probably asked this every time you do an interview about CART, so I apologise, but I cannot get away without asking the question: What was it that made you feel Do Kyung-soo {Singer D.O. from K-Pop supergroup, EXO} was right to play the angry son, and what did he bring to the role that you didn't expect?

No need to apologize.  I think that we made the right decision, 300, 400%, I think we made the right choice.  And I think the fact that Do Kyung-soo was cast in this film became in itself news in Korea, because he's a teen idol in Korea.  I think we should ask Producer Shim, since she had the plan to do this.

SJ-m:  It was quite intentional that I had cast teen idol for this film, because it's a film about labor, which is somewhat different, and I wanted to portray the fact that these types of films that deal with labor - it's not a difficult film.  I wanted it to be more accessible, and that's one of the intentions of CART, and having him in the film.  So, I think because we had this teen idol in the film, that the film was able to be positioned as a commercial film and was accessible by a lot of people.  I think with we fulfilled that objective.

For example, in the film, Architecture 101, we also cast a teen idol {Bae Suzy of Miss A}, which was also very successful.  I think that {for} both of these films, the objective and the film were very well blended together, because in the case of Do Kyung-soo, his acting was wonderful, as well.  It blended well with the directing that was portrayed by Director Boo, so we were very satisfied, but maybe she can talk more about directing Do Kyung-soo.

BJ-y:  Before I met him, I didn't know who he was, actually.  I had seen his photo and it wasn't really the type of person that I had in mind; but when I actually met him, I noticed that he did not have any ego as a teen idol.  He had a certain sentiment of gloominess; a bit of a darkness, and when I talked to him, I realized that his background was different from what I had envisioned.  I thought he would have led a very happy-go-lucky life, but it seemed that he had some pain while he was growing up.  So I think that his actual history blended well with the character, as well, and when he read the script - he had never actually acted before, but he was quite good and I could see that he was talented, so we decided to work with him.  And as we continuously practiced and we shot the film, he worked very hard, and we were quite satisfied with the results that we had, so I've no regret that we worked with him.

And I think, as was mentioned, another very important aspect is because we had cast this teen idol, a lot of teenagers in Korea saw this issue not as a difficult labor issue, that it is something that's quite natural.  For example, the fact that they should get a minimum wage when they work at the small convenience stores - a lot of high school students do work at these convenience stores part time, and the fact that they do have the right to receive minimum wage - things like that.  It's not something that they consider is a very major theme, but something they felt that it was very easy to relate to and access.

LMD:  For our readers, who love Korean film, I have to thank Shim Jae-myung as the person behind Myung Films and Myung Planning, which brought some of our favourite actors like Choi Min-sik, Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho, and films like ARCHITECTURE 101 and A GOOD LAWYER'S WIFE to public attention.  What was the original idea behind both Myung Planning and Myung Films?

Film for me, is a dream, it's also a reality.  I did not begin working in film.  I did not start out as a producer.  I started out in marketing for film, and so film was a livelihood for me.  That's how I earned my salary.  So after I worked in marketing for about 4½ years in a company, then I established Myung Planning, which is also a marketing company.  Then after I got married, I established Myung Films, which is a production company. 

So, film, when you look at my history, it was a reality; it was a livelihood for me and it grew to be that I became a producer.  And so, film for me is a natural part of my life, like air, it's like water, it's just something that is with me constantly.  And nevertheless, I constantly think about what type of film I need to make?  What kind of filmmaker I want to be?  And I think that working in the processes of film, it has been my reality, at the same time, it has also helped me mature as a human being, so I have also gained a lot film, as well.

LMD:  As a producer who is a woman, is it an additional incentive to take on a project if there are female directors, or if it deals with female issues?

That is a natural intention of mine.  I always try to never forget that I am a woman filmmaker.  And that is why I try to work with women directors, women producers and women staff as much as I can, because still in Korean film, women are the minority and I think that a woman's perspective is very important.  And I also feel responsibility as a role model for the younger women filmmakers who come after me.  So that is why I always try to work with women filmmakers, like Boo Ji-Young and director Yim Soon-rye, that's part of my effort.  I think that a women's perspective within Korean film can play a very virtuous role, and that is why I always try to never forget that I am a woman filmmaker.

LMD:  What advice would you both give to women who want to become film directors, but perhaps feel overwhelmed by how much male competition there is?

BJ-y:  I think I look at the flip side, and I talked a lot with Producer Shim about this, as well: We are a minority.  We are outsiders of the mainstream.  And I think that's why a lot of the things that we're interested in are outside of the mainstream.  It's not within the mainstream.  So what I tell the younger women filmmakers is try to see the big picture. 

In other words, it's not to say that you have to make commercial films or blockbuster films, but try to deal with subjects more broadly and look at the big picture and more in depth.  I tell them you have to overcome the fact that you are a woman filmmaker, because, in a sense, that is a limitation.  That's an advantage sometimes, because it provides a new perspective, but at the same time, you might be limited.  So I always try to say look broadly and try to attempt things that you think you would never have done.  That's what I try to encourage the younger women filmmakers to do, because if you think of yourself only as a woman filmmaker, there might be some limitations, so you have to try to overcome that, to see everything from a broader perspective.

At the same time, I always tell them, you should not think it as a given that it will be difficult to communicate.  So you have to be more active in communicating and not underestimate yourself and trust the communication.  A lot of the communication will be with other colleagues that are mostly men, but if you make a proactive effort for this type of communication, I think that something will happen.  So make sure that you don't give up from the beginning and just be subdued, but try to be more proactive.  I think that's something that actually I can't do, that's why I tell the younger generation to do it, but I think that with this type of effort constantly, then the situation will improve.  That's my expectation.

SJ-m:  When I talk to female students who are in university, studying film, I tell them not to be intimidated, first of all.  Second of all, don't be ambiguous, don't think of everything in general, but be more specific or more realistic when you struggle and you try to come up with your creation.  And whenever there's an opportunity, make sure that you capture that opportunity and not lose an opportunity. 

And when we look at director Yim Soon-rye, she's made a lot of Korean films - I think she's probably made the most films in Korea as a woman filmmaker - and they're not all about feminism, or a woman's perspective.  Some are very male films, genre films, and also independent films, as well.  So, they're very broad, and I think that this sets a set of guidelines, saying that when you think about what you want to make, you have to be very realistic and be very specific, as well.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.

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Boo Ji-youngCartDo Kyung-sooDramaEXOKorean CinemaShim Jae-Myung

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