The Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2013 saw one of Korea’s biggest film directors, Ryoo Seung-wan, pay us a visit to introduce his smash hit, The Berlin File and also treat UK fans to a masterclass. Known as ‘the Action Kid’, Ryoo Seung-wan is master of all things high-adrenaline and suspense-filled and have been wowing crowds with his dramatic and fast paced films for over a decade now. His latest film, The Berlin File, has not only been smashing the box office in South Korea, but making waves across the globe too. This year, the Terracotta Festival team has not only brought us his latest release, but also a chance to speak to the super cool and charismatic director as well; a prime opportunity for film fans and budding film directors to learn from the master.
Ryoo Seung-wan’s action film masterclass was held at the Prince Charles Cinema, Soho, and as the audience excitedly sat down and prepared themselves, it wasn’t long before the man himself took to the floor. With Terracotta Film Festival’s Director, Joey Leung, acting as the MC, we got down to business and learned about Ryoo Seung-wan’s journey to becoming South Korea’s original action director. Joey asked some very interesting questions that gave us a great insight into the director. In the masterclass we learnt what changed Ryoo Seung-wan from wanting to be an action hero to a film a director, as well as how he knuckled down and got his directorial career started rather then just sitting around waiting for a fairy god mother. Ryoo Seung-wan is a very hard working and conscientious film director and his approach and mindset to film is inspirational.
Back in the day when Hong Kong martial art films ruled the action film scene, Ryoo Seung-wan was the first to attempt it in South Korea. In the masterclass he talked about what he had to do to kick start the Korean action film genre as no one else in South Korea was doing it back in the 90s. And now we are in 2013, Ryoo Seung-wan was one of the last few film directors in South Korea to continue shoot on film and with The Berlin File came his first attempt at the digital film world. The masterclass was around 50 minutes and because we’re fabulous and don’t want you to miss a thing, here is a full transcription of the early Saturday morning masterclass where you can read more about what went on: Click here!
After Ryoo Seung-wan’s insightful masterclass was a round table interview where Ryoo Seung-wan was able to talk more about his latest release The Berlin File. The first question often upon everyone’s lips is why Berlin? The use of Berlin is actually very symbolic as it used to be a divided nation like Korea is now. There is also a lot of history in the city that compliment’s Ryoo Seung-wan’s spy theme. A fun fact is that Berlin also houses the biggest North Korean embassy in the world, very fitting for The Berlin File. Many of his answers during both the masterclass and interview showed him to be a very humble guy. He insisted he wasn’t a master of action, and that really anyone could try their hand at directing. You can really tell that he’s a meticulous and thoughtful director; he mentioned he always thinks about keeping to budgets during filming and is constantly trying to find ways to balance costs and cover eventual outcomes or problems, such as using big name actors to offset commercial risks. He also showed himself to be surprising adorable in some aspects. When asked why although The Berlin File is a gritty film, there’s no adult content in terms of sex, he answered that “I’m just really not very good at that sort of thing at all. In fact, I haven’t even shot a single kiss scene in my films because I honestly wouldn’t know what to do or how to film them and I just don’t know how to shoot those kinds of scenes. I honestly don’t think I have talent in that area. It’s just better to kill people in films [Ryoo Seung-wan laughs] and I do know how to do that”. Feel intrigued? As usual, the wonderful Mr. Hangul Celluloid has transcribed the interview in full, so make sure you check out the full interview here.
One of the big things that everyone wants to know about Korean directors these days is what they think of Korean directors moving into the Hollywood market and would they want to make the move themselves. Once again, Ryoo Seung-wan was very open with us, “Not really. I’m not very likely to make a film in the US”. He also emphasised that although The Berlin File was set in another country, he didn’t intend to make certain aspects of the film appeal specifically to a foreign market, “Honestly speaking, the foreign market isn’t my priority…I think for any film the mother country and its market is far more so and for the audience there to find a film successful is more important” (source). However, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think moves into Hollywood from Korean directors aren’t worth it, “With Stoker, since I read the script, I thought that if Park Chan-wook did make it, it would be an amazing film. When Park Chan-wook started out he was very much into Hitchcock films etc. so knowing and understanding his preferences very well I thought that script really fitted him. I’m a different person to Park Chan-wook so I’d be very unsure of following in his wake” (source). With Director Ryoo concentrating on making Korean films mainly for Korean audiences, he’s a director who’s very set in how he sees his career progressing.
Ryoo Seung-wan is a very charming and friendly man, who was very welcoming to everyone participating in the group interview and full of jokes. We definitely recommend you check out the full transcription! Always smiling and listening intently, he was very free but thoughtful with his answers, giving us a great insight into his film The Berlin File, as well as his career as ‘the Action Kid’. All smiles and laughs, he made everyone feel at ease and we feel honoured we were able to be involved with the group interview.
The Berlin File
The screening for The Berlin File was very full and unlike most directors, Ryoo Seung-wan actually stayed for the screening and one of our very lucky twitter followers got to sit next to him! The Berlin File is full on action, exactly what you would expect from Ryoo Seung-wan. It was fast paced and intense from the beginning to end. As promised, there were a lot of plot twists and turns but it was very well played out; each twist was always shocking but never too confusing so the plot was easy to follow. Ha Jung-woo was amazing as the spy who just couldn’t catch a break, he was manly yet believable as the loving and protective husband. Ryu Seung-beom played the heartless bad guy a little bit too well, he’s definitely one person you don’t want to mess with, yet his character was somewhat likeable with his awkward little jokes. All the characters felt very well developed and the chemistry between them kept things interesting. Although saying this, there were some very cheesy action moments, we feel very sorry for bad luck Ha Jung-woo who was constantly landing on stumps and rocks that just appeared from no where, and The Berlin File characters obviously bought their guns from the Hollywood prop store as thousands of bullets were being shot but rarely did they hit anything.
If you’re an action fan we definitely recommend The Berlin File; this is a 100% action film. As mentioned before, this film is Ryoo Seung-wan’s first digital venture after being one of the remaining directors to shoot on film. We’re not sure if because of this, or because of the European location, The Berlin File didn’t feel as aesthetically dark and appealing as his previous films. With film you get a much richer and atmospheric black to your scenes which is what gave Ryoo Seung-wan’s previous films that signature feel. It was that one remaining factor that gave his films that somewhat nostalgic feeling of old school action film. The Berlin File also left us with very open ending, I think it’s safe to say that most people in the audience were expecting a sequel but surprisingly Ryoo Seung-wan said no. The open ending was simply because he didn’t want audiences to just leave and forget the film, but feel that these characters went on to continue their lives.
A big thanks to the Terracotta Far East Festival team for arranging this very special visit and giving us film fans plenty of chances to chat with the Action Kid Director! But most of all we want to thank Ryoo Seung-wan for the very precious life lesson he leaves us: when you want to kill someone, don’t put your gun against their temple….!