When we had our first director interview with Mr. Park Kwang Su in March, it was far from what we imagined. Mr. Park was chilled out (maybe a little too chilled out at times), calm and rather nonchalant about his past works. When Mr. Song Il-Gon walked in, it was completely different; he was trendy in his jeans, blazer and crisp white shirt combo and most importantly, signature hat with Raybans permanently on his head. This is the kind of director we were expecting.
Mr. Song was a very friendly man, he seemed very keen to talk to us and extremely passionate about his work, old and new. Unlike Mr. Park, Song Il-Gon’s answers were detailed, explaining the reasons and meanings as to why he did certain things, also telling us a lot about himself as a person whereas a lot of Mr. Park’s answers just seem to be shallow and blunt. A quick summary of Mr. Song’s past would be that he studied in Poland, rejected the chance to work with Hong Kong movie legend Wong Kar Wai and was the first Korean to win a Cannes film festival award. This is the awesome Mr. Song Il-Gon, Director of Always.
In the beginning of Mr. Song’s career he was more well known internationally then in his home market of South Korea. Many say this is because of Mr. Song stylistic film style, it was very European arthouse which did not sit well with South Korean audiences. This could largely be because of his education in Łódź, Poland, school to other big guns of the film world such as Roman Polanski. Mr. Song said that his time in Poland has lead him to develop the ability to create films that were more universal and accepted by international markets as he had to learn to adapt and make films that his Polish film teachers would understand. This explains why his international success came before his domestic success.
Mr. Song tells us that he was a very serious youth and he was interested in the philosophical questions of existence. He did not care about the commercialism hence he made no special effort to make movies that would especially appeal to mass audiences; he made films he wanted to make. Mr. Song talked about his film Spider Forest and how it was a dark, dark time for him emotionally. He was very involved with the whole production and controlled everything with perfectionist tendencies, from the camera lenses to script, EVERYTHING. At that time he was also very observant of the rules on aspects of film making, making Spider Forest physically and emotionally draining for him. When it was finished, he felt liberated and a need to lighten up.Spider Forest was still not commercially successful, although often praised for being one of his best works by hardcore film enthusiasts. However Mr. Song felt it was time to change his film philosophy as he never purposely chose to go for arthouse and he was starting to feel type casted into being that kind of director, and found it hard to find funders due to preconceptions of investors.
Like Mr. Park, Mr. Song also sees how important it is to move with the times and make movies that are relevant to the mass audiences. More importantly, 20 years after his career began, Mr. Song realised that deep issues can still be addressed in lighter films to reach wider audiences; deep philosophical messages don’t mean deep serious films. It is important to fit in with current film trends – what the audience wants to see now and make films that appeal and connect to all audiences, not just to win awards at festivals and appeal to the minority arthouse audiences.
Always took around 6-8 years to make from absolute start to finish and experienced a lot of difficulty in getting funding until the lead actor (super hunky) So Jisub was casted. Mr. Song almost quit film making and was about to give up and go shoot a documentary in Japan but finally investors chose Always, and so began Mr. Song’s first domestically aimed feature. Always hit audience records, though not commercially a huge success it exceeded Mr Song’s personal best. Always was such a different film that Mr. Song wanted to see how audiences connected to it, so he snuck into the cinema to see how audiences reacted to his film. He witnessed an old lady from the countryside sobbing her eyes out as she watched. Seeing this kind of reaction to his work gave Mr. Song a different kind of feeling and strengthened his resolve to make movies that anyone, such as his Mum, can connect with and enjoy.
We personally asked Mr. Song: As ‘Always’ was made especially to appeal to the domestic audience, did he have to change his directing style and actively think ‘oh, I can’t do it this way, the audience might not like it’, and was there anything he disliked having to change and any compromises he had to make. Epic Mr Song replied saying he doesn’t think that directing style is important, he unintentionally has a reputation for arthouse style because he studied film. Director style should be how to best express the script. Any director with a director style means they have become stagnant. Direction style should be always changing, and a director should be adaptable.
A difficult part of Always was during editing. Mr. Song was used to having full control over his films but for Always, he had to listen to investor’s input resulting in 10 minutes of footage being removed from the final cut. Mr. Song tried really hard to fight the decision and we can see he’s still miffed about it as he clenched fists and let out some English profanity. After watching the movie ourselves, we feel like we’re missing something too, after all that build up and pent up frustration the ending was rather anti-climatic. Almost like a hey we put you through all this but oh look its all ok now END. What?! We like to think that the extra 10 minutes was of Jung Hwa running back to get the poor emotional wreck of a dog and So Jisub has an emotional reunion with Easy, the loyal dog and he tells him his reasons for what he did and they all cry and live happily ever after. But we’ll have to track down the DVD to see the missing footage! And in the end investors regretted the decision. Mr. Song WIN.
Mr. Song is a free spirit and likes to travel saying he has a bit of gypsy blood in him (the traveling bug rather then penchant for big poofy wedding dresses, although we’re not 100% sure as Mr. Song is single! Mr. Song’s big fat gypsy wedding anyone? OK back on topic). He likes to use film as an excuse to travel and has a lot of love for Cuba where he filmed Dance of Time. Since Spider Forest, Mr. Song really felt the need to chilled out, and flew off to Cuba to spend some time having fun, drinking and enjoying the filming of beautiful Cuban Korean Ballerinas ;) His next few projects will be taking him back to South America.
Mr. Song is definitely a director to watch and he has a project planned for London in the future! In the mean time watch out for Mr. Song’s latest release Forest of Time which is based in the forest that Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke was based on. We really wanted to ask him if he was a Studio Ghibli fanboy but ran out of time on both occasions :( Oh wells. We shall end on a fun fact about this super awesome film director: Mr. Song loves Mojitos.
The super suave Mr Song Il-Gon. Image source