Korean film Director Kim Sung-su visited London as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2013, where his viral smash hit, Flu, was screened as part of the selection. During his visit, the lovely Director was kind enough to sit down and put some time aside from his packed London schedule to talk to us.
KCM: I wanted to start by asking you about how you got into directing. I know you started in the film industry by assisting on various films. How hard was it for you to make your own directorial debut?
KSS: I think I was very lucky when I was working as an assistant director and didn’t go through many difficulties. I was working for a very famous Korean director, called Park Kwang-su, and therefore I was able to get the chance to debut as a director on my own quicker than others. I think I was very lucky in that process of becoming a director in my own right and perhaps that’s why I don’t make such good films as I should have gone through a more tougher process in order to make better films!
KCM: How did you cast for Flu? It’s known that you have high praise for Jang Hyuk. Did you especially have him in mind from the start since you’ve worked with him before?
KSS: The script was finally edited and amended by a writer called Lee Young-jong and once that final copy was made the decision to produce and invest in the film was made. Maybe it’s because I know the Actor Jang Hyuk well, but I thought that there was no one else who could play the role and I showed the script to him first and he agreed. He actually said, as he receives a lot of scripts, that this was the first time upon reading a script that he thought that it was exactly him in terms of how he would behave and perhaps that the Director had him in mind at the script stage as they were so similar.
KCM: I read that you said “if a disaster happens, I wish the rescuer coming to help me would be Jang Hyuk.” As he has a natural instinct for rescue, how much direction during action scenes did you give him, and how much did you leave up to his natural instincts?
KSS: With Jang Hyuk I got him to talk with a lot of fire fighters and he actually went to an academy that trains fire fighters for a while. There’s a specific type of person who becomes a fire fighter in Korea, who would have been in the navy, joined the army service etc or been a specialist soldier and then they become fire fighters. These people all share common similarities and I think Jang Hyuk saw that and then made that into the character that he eventually portrays in the film. Also, his character was so similar to the personality anyway.
KCM: Flu is Korea’s first ever viral outbreak disaster film. Where did the idea of an infection/epidemic come from? Did you maybe want to play on people’s own fears as outbreak disasters are something that can happen as opposed to disaster films about monsters etc.
KSS: So a friend of mine, called Jeong Hoon-tak, first starting writing the script in response to the SARS outbreak in China in 2006, which eventually led to him producing it as well. It was the end of 2010 when I first received the script. To have something as familiar as a cold, which is something that happens all your life and is so common, turning into this huge disaster, I thought that the idea was very interesting and entertaining.
KCM: When directing in general, do you usually let the actors have a lot of freedom during scenes, or do you have a definite idea of how they should portray the characters?
KSS: I ask them questions, whether in this situation this dialogue or behaviour feels natural and what they think about it. I listen a lot to the actors and what they say and I try to let them do what they naturally and comfortably want to do as much as possible. But when it comes to directing action scenes, especially physical action, I become heavily involved even down to really small movements. I would be directing them exactly in terms of what to do and how to do it.
KCM: Have there been times when you’ve felt restricted when directing? For instance have you had to delete certain scenes that you’d have like to be included, or haven’t been able to film certain action scenes as they were too complicated etc?
KSS: In the film Flu there is a scene of masses of people being buried alive in a stadium and that’s quite reminiscent of when there was a real life flu and there was a foot and mouth outbreak where pigs were being buried alive in Korea in masses. So that scene for me was very important and critical in the film, a very symbolic scene. Because it would be seen as very terrifying and the audience would have a very negative reaction to it and feel quite repellent towards it the investors requested to completely take out that scene. I wouldn’t give up that scene and we managed to get it down to 50%, so a lot of the scenes were taken away from that section. It was quite unfortunate and I mourn the loss of it. I feel it’s a real shame but they liked the fact a lot of it was taken away and thought it was much better.
KCM: Have you had a chance to look around London? Would you ever take inspiration from the city or people here for settings or story ideas?
KSS: So when I arrived in London, that evening, we ate with my producer and wondered around central for about two hours. As we were walking, all the images of action films came to me, maybe it was because I had just arrived. I would be interested in doing some collaboration film work in London, but London is very expensive after all. I have much experience of doing collaboration work in Asia and intend to do more collaboration work in Asia, but if I were to do any collaborations outside of Asia it would be in France or England. Paris or London, where I would like to do a small scale action film.
Many thanks to Director Kim Sung-su and the LKFF team for organising the interview!
Kim Sung-su has been working in the film industry since the early 90s, first assisting on big name films such as The Berlin Report and The Blue in You. He then made the leap into directing his own films with the award-winning Scream City, and has since continued to make amazing films in several genres. With his vast knowledge and experience it was a real pleasure to be able to talk to him; he was very open and chatty and looked like he was having a great time in London! He’s welcome back any time!
Now you have the chance to watch Kim Sung-su’s Flu in UK cinemas! Thanks to CJ Entertainment, you will be able to catch Flu at selected Cineworld cinemas!
FLU, Kim Sung-soo
released 22 November 2013
London: Shaftesbury Avenue, Wandsworth, Enfield
Regions: Cardiff, Glasgow Renfrew Street, Aberdeen Union Sq, Nottingham, Birmingham Broad St, Dublin, Sheffield
We managed to catch Flu during the LKFF and it was an exciting and dramatic film. Set in 2014 and with news of the coldest winter in 60 years hitting the UK soon, it all felt a bit too real and terrifying. The cast is absolutely amazing and the film is brilliant shot. We thoroughly recommend it so catch it whilst you can!