Is anyone else suffering Olympics withdrawals? The Olympics ended on quite a girl power high with the SPICE GIRLS reuniting for a short yet sweet performance. These London games also saw the very first medals for female boxing with our very own Team GB Nicola Adams winning the first Gold. And the female athletes of the South Korean team have also shown they are full of girl power winning Golds in weaponry such as shooting, archery, fencing and taekwondo.
Last month, courtesy of The East, we got the chance to meet a director who is also very much into girl power, with his debut film considered as the first Korean feminist film. Mr Lee Hyeon Seung is a charming man and we got to take part in a group director interview behind the funny mirrored room in the Apollo cinema! All regular Korean Film night goers will know what we mean! Exciting times!
Lee Hyeon Seung was in London as the July Director of the Korean Cultural Centre’s Year of 12 Directors programme. The theme of the night that everyone seemed eager to talk about was the feminism seen in Director Lee’s films. It is rare to have a male director rooting for the girls, how did this come about? Director Lee explains that during his time at University, feminism was a subject that was newly introduced into the University’s modules. Being the only male to apply did not deter Mr Lee; which lead him to a rather shocking experience. The teachings of the module was based on a Korean novel about a woman who sacrificed her life in order for a man to become perfect. Mr Lee said it made him aware of the patriarchal nature of society and he soon decided that he would make films with this meaningful theme. Lee Hyeon Seung also talked about how in the beginning, most of the female directors were unable to discuss and tackle these themes in their own films as the industry was so male-orientated; these female directors would have to side step their feminine identity and join in the male dominated themes in film to show that they can hack it in the industry. This was why Mr Lee decided to take matters into his own hands and even though he was a man, started to introduce these themes in his films.
Lee Hyeon Seung’s introduction of feminism made him noticeable in the film industry along with his artistic style, being a keen photographer and his impressive eye for colour. This led to him developing a reputation for being a beautiful cinematographer. And like June’s director Mr Lee Joon-ik, Lee Hyeon Seung also had a mission to make the world a better place. Dr Colette Balmain points out that the films The Blue in You and Sunset into the Neon Lights don’t just deal with family struggles but also refer to human rights, in particular in relation to Africa. Lee Hyeon Seung explains that until recently, Korea was very much closed up and not open to the international and world stage. Korea was pretty much debating with themselves about themselves. Mr Lee took up every opportunity to go travelling during his time at University to learn about this big wide world. There are many people out there with more difficult lives and as a Korean, Mr Lee deemed it incredibly important to have the mentality of a world citizen. So like he did for feminism, Mr Lee also started to introduce these images of Africa into his films to introduce Korea to the different lives of people who live outside of the country. So that society will escape the fierce, competitive nature in Korea and actually look at other lives being lived elsewhere. Like his mentor before Park Kwang Su, Lee Hyeon Seung used his films as mediums to modernise Korea’s mindset.
Lee Hyeon Seung returns to our cinema screens with Hindsight, the finale film of July, after a ten year hiatus. Lee Hyeon Seung never left the industry as he was always teaching and working behind the screens, such as with scripts and even directed a short film Relay, which was part of the If you were me series of short films. Mr Lee explains that he’s always working to try and create a better work environment as the film industry can be a difficult and harsh place to work. At one point, Mr Lee had to decide if he wanted to take on a professional job of improving the standards of the Korean film industry and give up directing. But luckily, Lee Hyeon Seung discovered that directing is actually very important to him and it’s not something he can let go of and with that he turns all his focus back on directing and returns to the directing chair.
It was hard to actually get people to invest in Hindsight as there was only a solo female actress to lead the film. Lee Hyeon Seung wanted to make this film as he saw it as a medium for reducing this current generation gap that existed in society. Like the rest of the world during these economical times, there is vast youth unemployment and a very difficult period for the younger generations; a real atmosphere of hopelessness for the future. The two leads in Hindsight represent the older generation and the youth, and their relationship embodies the warmth and help that both generations need from each other. The film also experimented and combined existing genres, a bit of action, comedy, romance, which lead to a very different style of film from Lee Hyeon Seung’s past works. But Lee Hyeon Seung’s old techniques are still visible, especially in the use of colour as a mechanism for articulating emotions as Dr Colette Balmain mentioned. Will point it out in our film review later!
Lee Hyeon Seung talked about Hollywood and left us all with some exciting news about the future of Korean films towards the end of the interview. We can’t talk about Lee Hyeon Seung without mentioning Keanu Reeve and Sandra Bullock’s Lake House, which was a Hollywood remake of Mr Lee’s Il Mare, one of the very first Korean films to get the Hollywood treatment. Mr Lee got invited to a personal screening of the remake but he felt the Hollywood adaptation was a bit textbook with the romantic kiss ending. Mr Lee then goes to to talk about how when Korean films started to get noticed by the international stage, they had received a lot of offers from Hollywood and he was one of the group of directors who were approached. But having seen some Europeans directors go through the same fate before and failing, they were hesitant. Especially as language was still quite a barrier and none of the directors felt familiar enough with the culture and foreign industry to be able to fully understand and capture the directions of the scripts they were seeing. But only just last year, Lee Hyeon Seung reports that Park Chan Wook, director of Thirst, which was on just the other night, and Kim Jee Wook, director of movies such as a Tale of Two Sisters, have accepted these offers and we could be seeing their works on the big screen soon! Expect something a little indie and something a little legendary in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger! We can’t wait!
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Lee Hyeon Seung, he was adorable and super happy to talk to us. He even asked for a photo with us all afterwards, a first! He was such a down to earth director and so eager to chat! We are so happy that he never gave up directing and we hope he stays for a long long time! As usual the wonderful Mr Hangul Celluloid transcribed the whole interview! Do make sure you check it out here!