New York Asian 2018 Interview: Director Jang Joon-hwan on the Risks and Triumphs Behind 1987: WHEN THE DAY COMES

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
New York Asian 2018 Interview: Director Jang Joon-hwan on the Risks and Triumphs Behind 1987: WHEN THE DAY COMES
One of South Korea’s most intriguing filmmakers, we don’t hear from Director Jang Joon-hwan too often, but when we do, as in the cases of his films, Save the Green Planet, and Hwayi: A Monster Boy,  it’s always worth our attention.  Never more so than with his epic, impassioned, star-packed portrait of the June Democracy Movement; one of the most tragic and significant moments in Korea’s modern history. 
At the New York Asian Film Festival, Director Jang spoke with LMD about the risks and triumphs behind 1987: When the Day Comes
The Lady Miz Diva:  Did you feel there were any risks to making a film like 1987: WHEN THE DAY COMES?
Jang Joon-hwan:  So, definitely three years ago, we were definitely in a situation where it was a risk to consider trying to make this film.  As the Park administration came into play, there was a lot of pressure and a lot of censorship going on.  So, when I received the first draft of the screenplay for 1987, I really did have to think long and hard about whether to take on this project.  
It wasn’t really so much that I worried about my own personal comfort, or situation, or that I was worried about what would happen to me; but what I was more worried about was, would I be really able to make a quality film without having any outer pressure that was trying to sabotage the making of the film?  But it was a story that I really wanted to tell, and I have kids of my own, now, and it really got me thinking about the kind of world that I wanted my kids’ generation to inherit.
So, when I was thinking of all these factors, I had more reasons to do it, rather than not do the film, which is why I made the decision.  
What I will say is that I did not anticipate that President Park would eventually become impeached.  That was not something that I was ever thinking would happen.
LMD:  You are detailing the lives of student activists Yi Han-yeol and Park Jong-chul, who have living family members in South Korea.  Have their family members seen the film? 
JJh:  Definitely, that part was of utmost concern for me, because I was really worried that I might disappoint them in some way, or dishonor them in some way, so I was very nervous about asking them to see the film.  
Park Jong-chul’s older sister and brother, they were able to see it; his mother was too ill to see the film.  But his older sister and brother saw it, and they told me, “Thank you for making this film,” which really made my heart melt, and really made me relieved.
Yi Han-yeol’s mother on the other hand, she has not seen the film, yet.  I think because there’s been some really nonsense discussion and criticism about Yi Han-yeol from way back: Some people were saying he got hit in the head with the bomb, because he was running away.  Which doesn’t make sense.  So, as a director, I directed it as he was getting hit because he was trying to help another student. 
I wanted to tell her to watch the film.  But looking back on that, I feel that it was a little stupid of me to say that, because Yi Han-yeol’s mother, I don’t know if you know, but after the death of her son, she’s become an enormous figure in the democracy movement, and an activist, herself.  But as a person who has my own children, I think to tell her to watch on screen her son dying, was something that was kind of stupid of me to say.  
I would like to say also, that I am a person that doesn’t cry, or tear up often, but because the situation was very heavy, and it was just a lot of people involved, I ended up really becoming teary-eyed in the last situations in the process of making this film.
LMD:  This film has an amazing ensemble of some of South Korea’s finest actors.  Did you receive the participation of everyone you asked for?  Did anyone decline due to the controversial subject matter?
JJh:  I will say that it was a difficult process of trying to position outstanding actors in all these various roles, but I will say that I was able to get everyone I wanted.  I think the film and I, as a director, was very fortunate and very lucky to get all those actors that I wanted.  I was really fortunate because there are many characters in this, but despite the number of lines, all the actors wanted to be on board, and I think that really does say something about the power that this story does have and hold.  
Actor Kim Yoon-seok was also saying, because we had another movement in 2016 and 2017, he was coming on board as a citizen that was coming into these protests and movements.  I think that really says something about the entire film, as well, the sort of sentiment that these actors were carrying into the process.  
I would say that it was almost like casting The Avengers in a way. {Laughs} It was in an enormous delight, and I think as a director, this must’ve been the best sort of casting that I’ve ever experienced.
LMD:  I try not to be in emotional person, but I don’t think I will ever forgive you for “Eomma” -- that final scene of Park Jong-chul.
JJh:  It’s interesting that you bring up, because the word “Eomma” that he utters in the end, that wasn’t in the subtitles.  So, thank you for catching that, and I caught that, as well, and I asked our team to put that back into the subtitles.
That came after we were sort of improvising that part, which is how that came about.  But, yes, just filming that scene itself in sequence was very difficult.  And of course, we had all the safety measures, and it was acting, but it was a very difficult time for me.  I felt that I’d become a very vicious person, myself.  I would say that I definitely feel that it was a very precious moment, but also a very difficult and emotional experience for myself, as well.
LMD:  And then you cast Yeo Jin-goo, who you made me love in HWAYI: A MONSTER BOY, as Park Jong-chul, so, yes, you are a very vicious person.  
JJh: {Laughs}
LMD:  Talking of casting and HWAYI, I’d interviewed actor Yoo Yeon-seok, and realised that the best thing I’ve seen him in was as the assassin in that movie.  With his clean-cut looks and reputation, Yoo is not an actor that anyone would look at and think, ‘vicious assassin,’ but you cast him so effectively.  
In 1987, you cast Gang Dong-won as Yi Han-yeol, which I was curious about because there’s quite an age difference between the actor and the college student, yet Mr. Gang hit all the emotional notes, perfectly.  How are you able to see beneath the surface of an actor to find the layers that suit your characters?
JJh:  I think we’ll have to talk a little bit about the casting process of Gang Dong-won to answer your question.  I will say that he was one of the first actors to see the completed screenplay.  And I was little hesitant a bit, because the roles are small, and there are so many of them, but I will say that Yi Han-yeol’s character’s name in the script was actually, “good-looking student,” so I wanted to tell Gang Dong-won, since you’re perfectly good-looking, why don’t you try and see this role?
I think I was definitely hesitant because of the political climate at the time.  I was worried whether actors would readily want to sign on, but to my relief, Gang Dong-won, after seeing the screenplay, after two or three days he contacted me, and he told me up front that he wanted to do the role of Yi Han-yeol.  I think his heart really came across very strongly to me; his really innocent and earnest heart of wanting to play the role of Yi Han-yeol.  I felt that was a very meaningful thing, and I felt that the role should go to someone who really did resonate from a heart-to-heart sort of situation.
And I do believe that in the casting process, there is sort of like a destiny element to it, where everything really comes together in a way that you don’t anticipate.  It’s sort of a fate thing.
LMD:  You’re presenting 1987 tonight here at the New York Asian Film Festival, where there might be a lot of viewers like me, who did not know the history behind this film.  Is the message you meant for your film to convey to the South Korean audience, the same message you would like the audience here in New York to take away?
JJh:  So, to be honest, when I was in the process of shooting 1987, it was really made with Korean audiences in mind, but I do feel that the themes that this film deals with, namely human rights, freedom, justice; these are all very universal values.  
Also, I think it really talks about as a society, how we learn to trust one another as a collective society, a community.  I hope that these values are able to be translated to the American audience; that they will be able to empathise with that, as well.
LMD:  SAVE THE GREEN PLANET was kind of an experimental film with science fiction elements, and so was LOVE FOR SALE -- which could also be called a tragic romance.  You’ve done an action film with HWAYI, and 1987 is a historical drama.  Is there a genre you haven’t yet explored that you would like to?
JJh:  For me, fundamentally, if it’s a story about a human being, I want it.  If it’s a good story about human beings, I would definitely want to try my hand at it.  And even for me, I think that’s a question that I’m also interested in, as well:  I don’t really know for sure what kind of genre will come next.  I sometimes wonder what my next film will be, as well, myself.
I don’t have a particular thing in mind, as of now.  I do have several stories inside my head at the moment -- something horror, that’s on my mind -- but we’ll have to see.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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1987: When the Day Comesbased on a true storyGang Dong-wonHa Jung-woohistorical dramaInterviewJang Joon-hwanKim Yoon-seokNYAFF 2018Yeo Jin-goo

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