London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Kwak Kyung-taek quizzed at the first LKFF on Typhoon, filming in Russia and more

Kwak Kyung-taek is July’s featured director at the KCC. This gives us the opportunity to resurrect from the archives Saharial’s transcription of a Q&A with the director following the UK premiere of his movie Typhoon, at the first of the KCCUK’s London Korean Film Festivals back in September 2006.

Kwak Kyung Taek (centre) and Roger Clark (right)
Kwak Kyung Taek (centre) and Roger Clark (right) 27 September 2006 (photo: LKL)

Q: What drew you to the subject matter and themes of this film?
My father and relatives were originally born in North Korea and defected and it’s their experiences that led me to make the film. I wanted to deal with the issues raised, as they are current in Korea at the moment.

Q: One of the most expensive Korean Films made to date and filmed extensively abroad, what was it like to Film in Thailand and Russia?
Thailand has many places that have been use in film and have a past history of film. In Vladivostock, the place in Russia we filmed, the crew were very helpful.

Q: Filming in Thailand stopped one day before the Tsunami occurred is that right?
Yes, that’s right. I suppose I should have thought it was some kind of miracle that we were saved by God, but I didn’t think so at the time. Originally the filming of Typhoon was meant to finish on that day, but it ended the day before. It wasn’t until we saw the images on TV of the wrecked restaurant where we had all been that it sank in what we had escaped. Today when I think about it, It still makes my back sweat!

Q: Was it total luck not to film that morning?
Yes, I think I was so incredibly lucky.

Q: Did it put you off filming outside Korea?
There are always hazards with filming, maybe more outside of Korea, but not really.

Q: Was it difficult filming in Vladivostock and the ‘tricky’ people that operate there?
In Russia there is a lot of influence by the politics and the politicians, but the people working on the film are not so hard to deal with.

Q: Its been reported in various papers that North Korean refugees have responded well to the film. Why do you think that is?
I have read these reports too. I think they are very thankful for this film and the papers have said they were ever so grateful and identified well many aspects.
[In English] They had the same kind of experience!

The last comment made the audience laugh, as up until this point, the questions had been relayed via an interpreter in Korean, as were his answers. The audience was then allowed to ask questions, although the original interviewer interjected with a few more to keep the discussion on track.

Kwak Kyung-taek
Kwak Kyung-taek, 27 September 2006 (photo: LKL)

Q: Does the film have a message about the relationship between S. Korea and the US? Specifically the issue about operational control of the military?
Only that politicians in Korea should have an open mind towards the problems both North and South Korea have. North Korean poverty and starvation isn’t really their fault, we should take some of the responsibility too.

Q: Is the film representative of the S. Korean view of the U.S.?
No, not really. There are international and domestic problems between North and South Korea that can’t be solved so easily and needs more time. There are a lot of issues that have not been put into the film. It was not a pleasant thing to admit that Korea doesn’t have full power to override what the U.S. might want.

Q: [reporter from CBS news] I thought the Russian pronunciation was awful in the film, but how does the portrayal of Russia differ between Hollywood and domestic films?
In Vladivostock, the accent is actually like that, and the people said that whatever JDH said was fine.

The techniques I used I tried to imitate James Bond films at their best. UK Film techniques are at their highest here, but have now been taken over by the US market. Films in Korea are still at their early stages. We would need a bigger budget if we were to compare to U.S. films.

Q: Would you like to direct a James Bond movie?
If I had the chance – yes!

Q: Why was the film not as commercially successful as you anticipated?
For regular audiences who didn’t care about the issues raised or were unaware of them, the film was too heavy to understand.

Q: Did it not come out in the same week as King Kong?
Yes, King Kong was also released at the same time. Made a little more money I assume.

Q: Is there another meaning to Typhoon’s title?
My wife said to me that a typhoon is a national disaster that masks a curse in the world right now. Of course it’s a disaster we have to face but we have to be prepared and ready for these disasters.

Q: Will you be showing the films at any human rights festivals at all? I don’t think you need a big budget as you already did an excellent job.
I don’t think it’s a film that does relate to human right much, its more of an Americanised film.
I care very much about my characters and I hope a budget doesn’t affect how I can portray them.
Good answer?

yes – but I think you have an audience with those into human rights.

Q: Would you do a film that was low-budget?
My next film is a romantic comedy and not a big budget one. Romantic films are harder to do.

Q: You have a cast and script?
We have a script and a cast – but only by verbal agreement so far, not by written contract.

Q: What do you think about Kim KiDuk’s comments on ‘The Host’?
It is not the right moment to say something about another director who does so well in Korea.

Q: Why did you decide to shoot in the wider screen format and what significant effect makes it so different?
It’s not really that much wider, but a wide screen can give more power to the film. It can contain more and is easier to shoot a big action film in.

Q: What was the hardest shot to film?
The ones with water on the boats. There was no way of stabilising cameras and light and electricity is very dangerous with water. We had to do a lot of preparation.
There was an accident on set – a fire – its cost us more money I am sure.

Q: Its all alright now?
I’m still struggling to pay!
I’m serious!

The last question, as were some others, was too indistinct and faint to understand, but from his answer it seems that it was to do with the foreign and domestic quota of films. His answer was:

What I am doing as a filmmaker in Korea cannot be protected by my government. It makes me very disappointed.

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