Bong Joon-ho, director of Mother
With Nicolas Rapold
Korean director Bong Joon-ho's follow-up to The Host tells the story of a determined mother's attempt to absolve her peculiar son of murder charges. Starring a screen icon famous for her maternal roles, the tragicomic film, nominally an investigative thriller, follows the character to the extremes of devotion, culminating in emotions that may not even have a right name.
Could you talk about the lead actress Kim Hye-ja, Korea's most famous screen mother?
Her debut in Korea was about 47 years ago, well before I was born. She always portrayed a typical loving, caring mother. When I turned on the TV, it was always her playing that role. Personally, I always thought that the actress had something a bit crazy about her. But her roles never had that side in her, and I wanted to work that kind of thing in.
Was that a shock for Korean audiences?
I kind of wanted to show the dark side of the moon. Korean audiences did respond with a bit of shock when they saw this role. There's a scene where she goes to the funeral of the girl [the murder victim], and she gets slapped. It was a very difficult scene to shoot, and we shot it many times, and she was slapped many times. And she said that's the first time she's been slapped across the face ever! Not even just the movies, in real life. You would have thought in these dramas this would have happened. When I asked her, she said, "Of course! I'm never going to be slapped. I'm the loving mother of Korea! When would you ever slap her?"
Kim Hye-ja really enjoyed this dark role she was playing because it was so different for her. She really got into it, and she said, Let's take it to more extremes. Let's see this guy's brains getting on my face! She pushed me! I was very surprised.
Your movies often get praised for the mingling of genres and tones.
Many people say they feel many genres are mixed in my films, but it's not that I'm always trying to mix up these genres consciously, or insert a comedic scene to make people laugh. I just put these things because they would naturally happen in life, and some of these things just happen to be funny. Of course, sometimes I do reference genres and try to break them.
Could you talk about the look of the movie and the locations in town and in the lovely countryside?
In Memories of Murder, I had a very specific idea that the location be very specific and genuine. Like Fargo by the Coen Brothers. But in this movie, I wanted to erase that specific locality, and really went for impressive, beautiful scenes to frame the characters in. Even for Korean people, it was hard to recognize where the shot was from. It was a hodgepodge of different locations. Nature is very serene and beautiful, but the situations these characters are in is so desperate and trying, and I wanted that contrast. Repeatedly I used very long shots where Kim is a small dot in the landscape. Like the scene where she is walking on a road by a cemetery.
A number of shots also box her in, like when she visits her son in prison and is framed by multiple windows.
We used a very unique set of lenses for the production of the movie, handmade lenses from Germany that were suited for layering effects and depth of perception. Very big, heavy lens! The feeling of these lens is very classical. There's a certain mood that the lens makes that reminds me of 70s American film. And I like that effect.
Could you talk about the next project you're working on [Transperceneige]?
It's based on a French sci-fi graphic novel. I will soon be going into screenwriting. It's not so famous a graphic novel, published in France and Korea only. I found it in a small bookstore in Korea, and I was fascinated by it. I finished the whole book in the bookstore! The world has been covered by snow after a big natural disaster, and the remaining survivors live on a running train. The train is running all the time, across the earth! There's a fight between classes on the train, for space and resources.
Because the scale of the movie, I'm envisioning a multilingual cast of many races and nationalities, not just Korean. English, French, Korean, Japanese dialogues all mixed. Big chaos!