Wrapping up the Korean Cultural Centre in London’s ‘Year of the Film Professionals‘, production designer Ryu Seong-hie paid us all a visit. In preparation of her arrival, films she’s worked were shown, including Memories of Murder, Mother and A Bittersweet Life, with The Host being screened in conjunction with her visit where a public Q&A session took place too.
Ryu Seong-hie has had an amazing career and has worked on some of the most influential and seminal pieces of Korean cinema. Her design ideas on films such as Oldboy have become instantly recognisable and help make the films she’s worked on to have a unique, creative and fantastical element to them.
Her journey from studying pottery, going to learn film making in America, to where she is today is one that is full of interest and one which she retold with much vitality. Throughout the group interview we had with her, she was energetic, chatty, warm and elegant. She was simply a lovely person to hear from, giving us all long, well thought out answers which revealed a lot about her own life and her line of work.
As usual, Hangul Celluloid had a full transcription of the interview. This is very much recommended as she had a lot of very interesting things to say, and elaborated on her answers very well.
Throughout the interview she revealed the difficulties she has faced in her career, one of the big issues being a female in the industry when she first started out. In order to make her way in the mostly male dominated world, she changed the spelling of her name so it would appear masculine, “after I changed my name to Ryu for at least the first three films I worked on people wouldn’t have known if I was male or female and in fact with hard-hitting, masculine films like ‘Oldboy’, ‘Memories of Murder’ and ‘A Bittersweet life’ many talking about them would refer to the production designer (me) as male” (quote). Now she feels as though being a female production designer gives her an edge she “can almost see both sides of such…issue[s] or question[s] and [she] always tries to look at things from both a female perspective and what [she] believes would be a male point of view, especially in such masculine films” (quote).
Ryu Seong-hie showed herself to be a very creative person, enjoying many different mediums of art. She emphasised how she likes to try things that haven’t been done before and that she “always [tries] to find something unfamiliar or even strange” [quote]. This love of the different has made her designs some of the most recognisable and unique out there. Her hopes for the future continue to focus on this style, but she has some concerns as films now have “stories [that] may be too simple or even, perhaps, a little boring. Films today are, in [her] opinion, far less interesting than those of earlier years and times” (quote).
She was a very humble person, who became visibly embarrassed when we praised her films, but she was always confident in herself as a designer and her work, “I am ultimately proud” (quote). Her imagination seemed limitless and she was full of ideas for the future, reiterating that in films, for her, “ ‘difference’ is by far the most important value…..because it’s always so challenging to try something different” (quote). Hearing this fact about her makes us wonder what original and surreal ideas she’ll come up with in the future.
We had a great time talking with her, she was a most delightful person who told us many intriguing things. If you haven’t seen some of the films she’s worked on, if you get a chance, give them a try. Her ideas translate onto screen in such a way that whole worlds and atmospheres are created in an instant.
Many thanks to the KCC UK for organising the group interview.