In Conversation with the Production Designer Ryu Seong- hie

 

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Seong- hie Ryu is a Korean Film Production Designer whose creativity and passion for film has no limits. She made a name for herself in 2001, when she gave a helping hand on Song Il- gon’s film Flower Island. The film was later presented with 7 awards, including CinemAvvenire’s award for Best First Film at the Venice Film Festival in 2001. Also, in the same year she successfully completed her work on Ryoo Seung- wan’s movie No Blood No Tears, followed by Memories of Murder (2003) by Bong Joon- ho, and Oldboy (2003) by Park Chan- wook, which in my opinion expanded her horizons in becoming an even better Production Designer. Oldboy’s  script contained moments where there was no precedent to draw from, and the task of designing a room where a man has to remain imprisoned for fifteen years for no apparent reason must have been daunting. A colleague of mine once said:

“That horrible little room was the emotional core of the whole story. Ryu responded with a masterpiece of art direction, and she did it with some cheap motel furniture, a sickening color scheme and, above all else, that hellish inspirational painting on the wall,” and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Following her work on Oldboy, she developed an incredible partnership with directors Boon Joon-ho and Park Chan- wook.

A source at the KCCUK said: “These two filmmakers have produced some of the biggest, most commercially successful and critically praised films South Korea has seen. In her thirteen year career Ryu has shown herself to be an incredible force in helping to create and elevate Korean film standards to what they are today.”

We were delighted when The London Korean Cultural Centre invited us to conduct a group interview with Ryu Seong- hie. She is an interesting and very creative individual, and a great inspiration to those who work in the film industry.


Hangul Celluloid: In your career as a production designer, you have worked on many films across a range of differing genres; many of which mix fantasy and reality. What are your thoughts on the balance between fantasy and reality in both fantastical and reality-based films? And if we consider your films that contain major fantasy aspects – such as ‘I’m a Cyborg’ or ‘Hansel and Gretel’ – are they easier to create, from a production design point of view, than those based in reality because of the opportunities provided by the fantasy elements or are they more difficult because you are creating almost a complete fantasy world from scratch?

Ryu Seonghie: As a production designer, there is always a big question for me between reality and fantasy. Of course all films are fantasy to the audience but when I first read a script I always ask myself how I can find a balance between reality and fantasy. A film like Oldboy was, at the time it was made, very taboo subject and those sorts of stories were larger considered to not be popular with audiences and I felt that if I approached it realistically the audience might feel reluctant to accept it so, as with all my film work, I spent a lot of time considering how best to present the story to the audience. 2003 was a very important year for cinema in Korea: Oldboy, Memories of Murder and A Tale of Two Sisters all came out but before then Korean films were largely based on a very realistic look and mood – natural, if you will – so the films of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho were incredible new in many ways and I was very lucky to meet those directors and, even more so, work with them. None of us were really familiar with the new take on genre – I’m not even sure if we knew that it was a new take – and I guess that’s part of why I considered so deeply how I could underline the impressionism within the genres of films like Oldboy while I was at the same time depicting the realism needed. Actually, when I was working on Oldboy, I thought it might be may last film because the producer kept asking if I was sure of my choices – he thought it was too much – and I, and even the director, wondered more than once if what we were doing was perhaps too risky. As I mentioned, none of us were familiar with the genre but ultimately doing this work and working in these genres was the right thing for me; deciding what choices should be made and what was naturally right for the story in particular. On the second part of your question: At the time of making those early films, and even now to an extent, we didn’t have a professional concept artist working on films. It’s not a well paid occupation and so doesn’t happen regularly, it’s not like in the West, and so in a film like Hansel and Gretel we had to do the concept art ourselves. ‘The Host’ did have a concept artist but that was very much the exception rather than the rule. So, that on a general level made the fantasy elements of films really tough to achieve because we had so many things to deal with but as a designer it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to create your own world. All in all, I’d say fantasy is easier to achieve because of being able to create your own world without the limits of reality, as long as the director likes your choices.

Korean Class Massive: How did you make your first step from art design and pottery making into film production design? Was it something you always intended to do or did your film career come about almost by accident?

Ryu Seonghie: I always wanted to do something related to the arts – fine arts or ceramics etc – and even as a child I had a dream of creating my own world; creating something only I could create. So, being some kind of artist was always me goal. I, of course, studied hard and after working hard for four years I finally had to chance to have an exhibition of my work at a gallery and I was, of course, incredibly nervous and very excited. The gallery was in a very rich area and collectors and wealthy individuals came to the exhibition and bought some of my work which made me feel deeply proud – it was the first chance I’d ever had to sell my work or have people wanting to buy my work – but it also made me feel a little strange because I had wanted my work to communicate with people and speak of their loneliness and the unfairness they faced but the people who bought my work were of a very different kind. I felt that perhaps I was communicating with the wrong people or that I wasn’t communicating at all; rather I was just serving the tastes of the wealthy. Ultimately, I came to decide that film-making was art that could communicate with people more so I changed my mind and my plan which resulted in me going to the United States and majoring in production design.

Diya on Korea: You’ve had quite a long career in the film industry so far and I wondered if you could talk about perhaps both the challenges you’ve faced and the successes you’ve had working as a female in a largely male-dominated industry?

Ryu Seonghie: Working in the Korean film industry as a female was truly one of the hardest things. My actual given name is Yoo Seonghie and I changed it to Ryu Seonghie because in Korea it sounds more male and has stronger characteristics. The phonetics of the two surnames in Korean are the same and they have the same Chinese characters but we can dictate it in a different way. Parents can also choose whether to use Yoo or Ryu for their children’s surnames. 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. Most of the films I have worked on have had strong sexual inspiration and content – I’m not sure what happened to the directors for that to be the case [Ryu Seonghie laughs] – and have a very masculine feeling overall, but as a production designer I think I benefit in those situations from being female and I’m always aware of trying to express what masculinity means, understanding what the director really wants and what he, as a male director, means when he says, to a female production designer, that he wants to give a scene a sexual feeling. I am a very strong person myself and in my work so I feel I can almost see both sides of such an issue or question and I always try to look at things from both a female perspective and what I believe would be a male point of view, especially in such masculine films. As far as challenges or successes are concerned, I think luck played a big part because after graduating in the States I originally planned to stay there and work in Hollywood. After two years working there on independent movies, I was working on a small budget Western film with a director and one day after building a set, there was almost a ‘Pop’ in my mind and I suddenly thought “What am I doing? Why am I making Western films sets in the desert?” I mean, I was raised with Western movies and I’m very familiar with Western culture and I was doing what I always wanted to do but it still felt very strange. At that time, Korean cinema was less than promising but what I was being asked to do in the West had an emphasis on almost erotic stories – all in all terrible, from my point of view – and even though I was capable of making erotic movies I preferred to go back to Korea and try something challenging. Of course, I returned at the time when a few directors were ready and trying to do something truly new – Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kin Jee-woon, for example – and I met them at just the right time. So, all in all I guess it really was luck.

View of the Arts: Could you tell us about the differences in working with the same director on a number of projects, such as Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, as opposed to working with a new director for the first time?

Ryu Seonghie: That’s a difficult question. It never gets easier. You could think that once you’ve worked with someone it’ll be easier to work on a subsequent project and collaborate again but it’s never easy. They are not easy people by any means and they are very ambitious and even though they may have become my friends there’s always a nervousness on my part and it’s always very challenging.

EasternKicks: I wondered if you could tell us a bit more about the process of working with directors such as Park Chan-wook and taking the ideas they have and making them real?

Ryu Seonghie: They are certainly not ‘chatty’ people, by any means. Some directors really like to talk and I sometimes feel I’m being employed as a listener; specifically hired to listen to them [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. However, I think production designers have to have so much inspiration, film work is often less than logical, but I always try to be the person who helps to finish the map, as it were; connecting all the inspiration of all involved in what I feel is the best way. As a person who loves film-making, and who is also a passionate viewer of movies, I always wanted the director to find the way and solution that I would understand and agree with. Although, as I’ve said, it’s not always logical, I think I’m in a role that allows me to keep order and keep the director and film going.

Anton Bitel: Unless you’re working entirely within a closed studio set, which I assume doesn’t happen all that often, you have to face the realities of a location shoot, and I just wondered what has been your most disastrous production and did you thrive on the challenges that presented or were they just a nightmare?

Ryu Seonghie: Strangely, the current movie that I’m working on is always the most disastrous; I’m not sure why that is. There are always so many problems, sometimes I feel like I’m not a designer or an artist but rather a person to solve the almost endless problems. There are always artistic issues internally and technical difficulties from the outside but the problems always relate to the budget. However, the limitation of the budget can sometimes give you the chance, the spark, to create something new. If you asked every designer they would say they always have budget problems. If you take the example of Oldboy, we didn’t have a decent budget because we were too new at the time. So, in the script it says there is a rich evil person who is ‘one of the richest people in Korea’ and who lives in highest penthouse. How could I show that [Ryu Seonghie laughs] because I don’t even know rich people and I don’t know how they live. I can hardly even imagine it. If I’d had a big enough budget, perhaps I could have gone to a high-brow furniture store and find items to perhaps rent and use – it’s always easier if you can afford to go to a suitable place and buy or rent items – but with Oldboy that wasn’t an option. Like me, most Koreans wouldn’t know those types of people or what their home were like and that led me to begin thinking of how I could succeed by making that set seem very unfamiliar. Therefore, I built a penthouse with stone elements, very minimal furniture and a long, narrow water feature, and I used green light to further increase the strangeness. So, the budget limitations forced me to approach things in a different way – if I’d have had the money I wouldn’t have needed to think like that. It’s been like repeatedly in my films, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ was the same – we didn’t have a decent budget so we had to make everything ourselves.

Mini Mini Movie: You talked earlier about working with directors, their personalities and conversations and I wondered what you relationship is like with cinematographers, who you have to deal with in relation to the colours used in films? For example, earlier this year we met Chung Chung-hoon and he was very funny and witty. What was it like working with him and other cinematographers and how much do you have to work with them to get your colours right?

Ryu Seonghie: Chung Chung-hoon is a really great cinematographer. He doesn’t ever want to have an argument and he doesn’t want you to put him in a really serious situation so whenever I would bring my serious questions to him he would always try to run away [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. Everybody has their own way of communicating so it’s always important to find a way of communicating that makes both people feel at ease. Similarly, I think every designer has their own way of designing but, for me, at the beginning I tried to imagine the space in the script with the lights; what kind of windows would be used, where would the light sources come from – top, bottom – would it be hot or cold light, because the temperature and brightness of the room always gives you inspiration. Normally in Korea, we’d have two people – a cameraman and a lighting director – so it wasn’t like the Western idea of a DP and though Chung Chung-hoon is now working as a DP, back then I spoke to the lighting person more than the cameraman because the lighting is so hugely important to my job. I spoke more to the cameraman about composition and what the movie means. At the end of the day, any film is a collaboration and discussions of many subjects are vital.

Hangul Celluloid: A lot of the films you worked on – the work of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho etc – essentially changed the face of Korean cinema and became hugely successful, as a result. Considering the fact that your production design played a huge part in both the look of those films and even what those films were as cinematic works, what are your thoughts on the current trend for large conglomerate companies favouring high budget, high visual blockbusters, some would say at the expense of smaller independent story-led dramas? And as you’ve already said that a lot of your films contain sexual content what are your thoughts on the increasing use of sexuality in Korean cinema and the tendency for Korean films to be labelled as ‘erotic’, with nudity appearing largely for the gratuitous sake of nudity alone?

Ryu Seonghie: Sexual content to my mind should always be used n a symbolic manner. In my earlier films there was indeed quite a lot of sexual content but it came with a legitimate reason, a sexual inspiration if you like. Nowadays, sexual inspiration is cared about far less and that itself could be considered a problem and, yes, it’s is a current and ongoing trend. With ‘The Host’ having been such a huge success, the budgets of Korean films have got bigger and bigger and in recent years scripts coming to me have been of far bigger budget movies. However, most of the time the directors of those films are focused on commercial success rather than any serious psychological context underlining the film and that sadly means that story depth often suffers. They think “That’s enough, as long as it’s successful”. Of course for the film to achieve that success, it has to be visually striking and while that’s good for me because it means my work is getting bigger audiences I’m slightly worried that the stories may be too simple or even, perhaps, a little boring. Films today are, in my opinion, far less interesting than those of earlier years and times.

Korean Class Massive: Looking back at your career, is there a specific film or design concept that you are particularly proud of? And in the future, is there perhaps a genre or type of film you would like to work on that you haven’t had the opportunity to as yet?

Ryu Seonghie: I’m always trying to find something unfamiliar or even strange; a step away from reality, though I have to say I’m not a fan of sci-fi films. That’s my focus now. Regardless of genre, if I could continue my interest and can keep working on worthwhile films, that is my wish. It’s always difficult to say what I’m proudest of in my films; it always tends to be my previous production.

Diya on Korea: When you’re not working, what do you do to get away from it all and relax, or are you always working in your mind?

Ryu Seonghie: No, I do nothing and I think about nothing film related [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. When I’m working, I tend to put all my energy into my efforts, perhaps too much energy, so when I’m free I really need the time to do nothing and empty my brain. Travel and family become my priority. I like to watch films in my time away from work too but as a viewer rather than a professional.

View of the Arts: Would you agree that women are under-represented in films in Korea? Do you feel that is because even though Korean is a modern country it is still very traditional with women expected to marry by a certain age rather than pursuing personal or career paths?

Ryu Seonghie: In most cases, it’s not very representative. It’s always the man who makes the decision in films and compared to reality women are, I feel, portrayed rather conservatively. Few films manage to capture the reality of women in Korea. I’m not complaining particularly about films like Memories of Murder or Oldboy but even in Oldboy the daughter was ‘selected’ and largely used as a tool in the film, rather than anything more. Since then, I worked on The Host and Mother and with them the portraying of women gradually began to change somewhat. That said, Oldboy and Memories of Murder were released way back in 2003 and even their portrayals of women appear different when you watch them all these years later, but still Korean films do tend to show women in an over-conservative manner. I don’t know why that is or if the directors have a problem [Ryu Seonghie laughs].

EasternKicks: If we could stick to Oldboy, the design of the film quickly became very recognisable and it has inspired and been referenced in no end of DVD packaging, posters, album covers and even through to the Spike Lee remake of the film. I wondered how you feel about your work being reinterpreted in all these various ways?

Ryu Seonghie: Now, when I watch Oldboy I feel almost a little ashamed of myself because it’s rough but I am ultimately proud because it’s rough. If I was working on that film now, maybe I could make more sophisticated wallpapers, patterns and the like but at the time I was so full of energy I felt that energy itself could be the most important thing to support the movie. So, I didn’t mind that it perhaps looked rough because the more important thing for me was making the film logical in a sense and creating the frankest film I could. When I see those covers etc I do on one hand feel that I could do better but on the other I realise I could never do that again because I was young at the time and stupid enough to succeed [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. The fear that audiences could perhaps walk out of cinemas during the film forced me, in a good way, to work even harder and, as I’ve already mentioned, that fear often made me think it might be my last film. I was very sure of the excellent story that Park Chan-wook wrote but unsure of the production design I was creating and I thought that if I was doing it wrong I could be the one who destroyed everything.

Anton Bitel: The work you did in Three Extremes and also Behind the Camera feature dressed sets and the production design that you did was actually part of those films; a part of the films’ textures and they are exposed. What particular challenges did that present you with as a production designer?

Ryu Seonghie: Back in the old days, I was too nervous and I had too much energy and I always waited for inspiration to arrive. Sometimes it came and sometimes it came too late. However, now I don’t wait for inspiration because even that waiting makes me anxious. Of course, at the time I might have been full of inspiration but that’s not the most important thing when making a film. I read a quote that said waiting for inspiration is amateurish while professionals just do their work, and now I like to take the time to research and understand – through books and photography etc – rather than struggling to find inspiration. The hardest thing is that I feel I always have to produce something good and I always struggled with that concept for personal reasons. I think I have gradually managed to get free of that judgement. At the end of the day, the biggest problems always come from yourself.

Mini Mini Movie: You’ve mentioned research, and I wondered with films like The Front Line was there a lot of research involved to ensure the film was historically and technically accurate? Was ‘The Front Line’ the film that required the most research?

Ryu Seonghie: Documentary films provided enough information. The reality and imagery of those and real life photography was so strong and in fact I decided t do this movie because of one picture in particular though I wasn’t keen on doing a war film overall. I was very reluctant because I don’t agree with some of the process with which Korean films are made and I honestly never thought of myself doing a war film. There is a mountain in The Front Line that North and South Korea fight over many, many times and while there were so many caves inside the mountain, the US and Russia wanted to be the one force to utterly control every one and the entire situation. That picture was so sad to me that I ultimately felt that it could depict the topic very well. That is the imagery that made me decide to do the film; with imagery that powerful you don’t need anything more. It provides all the inspiration and you do not need to create if there is a true life picture of a situation. Even with Memories of Murder, based on a true story, we got a lot of information from documentary photography.

Hangul Celluloid: Out of all your films, if you were asked to name one or maybe two that encompass your style of production design and that you are most proud of, what would you say?

Ryu Seonghie: A lot of people ask that type of question because I work with many important directors and they want to know who is the best and who I like more. That’s a very heavy question for me [Ryu Seonghie laughs]]. Always, the current movie that I’m working on is the one I’m proudest of and the one that I feel encompasses my style; because it is my style at the present time. That said, I always loved Park Chan-wook’s ‘Thirst’ and as far as Bong Joon-ho is concerned, Memories of Murder. Yes, those two… maybe [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. ‘Thirst’ was very stylised and I’m so proud of the work that I did but Memories of Murder from a production design point of view had a lot of historical significance. In fact, many Korean film-makers like Memories of Murder very much. Yes, a very difficult question.

Korean Class Massive: You mentioned how you thought Oldboy might end your career. How do you know and decide which projects to take on?

Ryu Seonghie: Memories of Murder and Oldboy had incredibly well written scripts; they were both outstanding and different. That ‘difference’ is by far the most important value for me because it’s always so challenging to try something different, even if it’s only slightly different. I care about the writer and director’s point of view and even though a film may have an interesting story, the perspective of the director and writer can change it drastically, for better or worse. For me, I’m also more attracted by the supporting characters and their stories, rather than the leads.

Diya on Korea: You mentioned how you started off working in Western films. Having now had the experience you’ve had in Korea, would you ever consider going back to working in Western cinema again?

Ryu Seonghie: People keep asking me about working in Western films again as a result of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho becoming famous worldwide and making international films, and Chung Chung-hoon having gone to work in Hollywood. I honestly don’t know… I mean, I was there for study and a little work but as such Hollywood held no mystery for me. I’m not that keen to go back to working on Western films but I still think American movies are doing a really good job. Maybe it’s easier for a cinematographer to go back and forth and produce great work but for a production designer I feel that understanding the system fully is vital. I did a film called ‘Late Autumn’ which was filmed in Seattle and that was okay because it was a small movie and as such I was able to focus on the real design aspects rather than struggling with the system; where to buy, where to get the people etc.. I’m still trying to understand Korea as a space, a country and a land.

View of the Arts: What advice would you give to film-makers trying to achieve the best production design on a low budget? I know it all depends on producers because they control the budget but in terms of production design what would you suggest? Do you have to deal with a producer yourself if you really want to expand your designs and how do you approach them?

Ryu Seonghie: At the beginning of my career, I always fought with producers because in terms of my designs I always felt “This is right, I really need to create this”. Of course, the producers have to do their jobs, too. When I did Oldboy, there was some stuff that wasn’t shown on screen and they asked me to pay for those things [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. While they were making film, we all knew it would be an amazing movie but no-one was sure how it would perform commercially and absolutely everyone was really worried. However, I knew I had to finish the work and the producer constantly thought I was doing too much with crazy wallpapers, props and the like, and the deal became “If we don’t show the props in the film then you have to pay for them”. In the end, the truth is I had to pay a lot of money, and even the director doesn’t know that. When I was doing Oldboy and Memories and Murder I never lost trust in the projects and while I’m, of course, proud of my production design, the fact that I never lost my trust is the proudest thing for me.

EasternKicks: One film we haven’t really mentioned is ‘I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK’ which is a hugely stylised film. I wonder if you could tell us about the inspiration behind the look of that film; the cardboard masks, the opening titles and things like that?

Ryu Seonghie: In I’m a Cyborg, the main male character feels he’s getting smaller and smaller and is afraid that he may disappear completely. That was my inspiration. I used very timid, almost transparent, pastel colours compared to other films – pale pink, pale green etc – and I got the inspiration for that from the worries of the characters in the hospital; people who themselves are almost transparent and afraid they might disappear. All their dialogue gave me inspiration too and at the end of the day the script is always my greatest inspiration.

Anton Bitel: Can you watch your own films subsequently or do you find it rather painful?

Ryu Seonghie: I will watch my films at a premiere but normally after that I won’t watch them again after that. When I make a film I put so much energy into my work that afterwards I just want to get away from it. I actually wanted to rewatch The Host this evening, because it has been so many years, but the KCC has asked me to go for a light dinner instead.

Mini Mini Movie: As a final, quick question regarding your old skills of pottery and your artistry. Have you even done a film where you could put your own pottery or artwork inside?

Ryu Seonghie: No [Ryu Seonghie laughs]. As with my production design, I always put too much energy into my art and pottery and I really don’t want to see it in my films. It’s like an old lover, after you’ve expended too much energy you don’t want to see them anymore [Ryu Seonghie laughs].

We would like to thank Paul for the group interview transcription http://www.hangulcelluloid.com/index.html

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler.

Edited by Roxy Simons.

The following are links to the various sites of the critics, writers and bloggers who took part in this interview:

Hangul Celluloid

Korean Class Massive

easternKicks

Mini Mini Movies

Diya on Korea

In Conversation with HumanRace

 Jaehyuck Shin, Seong- ki Yoon, Sunghwan Hwang and Minsoo Choi

Jaehyuck, Seong- ki, Sunghwan and Min- soo

Indie Rock, derived from the term independent, is a type of alternative rock whose origins can be traced back to the British and American music scene in the 1980s. The trademark of this genre is the variety of acts it encompasses, and it has slowly come to refer to bands that are keen on maintaining their independent status. HumanRace  are one of these bands, whose music is influenced by many genres, such as British pop and rock.

HumanRace is a relatively young band who originally hail from South Korea, with their first EP It’s You being released in May 2012 and, in the same year, they successfully performed at the Busan International Rock Festival. The festival organisers were so impressed with their concert that they requested an autograph event with the band. Talking of HumanRace’s performance, a writer at HelloKPop said: “Due to other hot bands performing right after their performance, they weren’t looking forward to anyone showing up to the signing session, but surprisingly the line for their autographs was long and it took them 2 hours to complete it.”

Their second EP, November, was as promising as their first, and over a two year period HumanRace’s music has definitely matured. Their dreams have expanded, and, this year, the band have finally released their first full- length album, Human in Reminiscence, which is quite simply superb. Even though Seong- ki Yoon, the band’s lead vocalist, sings in Korean, you can feel the emotions through each of his songs. With his incredibly powerful voice and perfectly hit high notes, his singing abilities can be easily compared to singers such as Bono, Chris Martin or Matt Bellamy. HumanRace will get you hooked, and if you like lively music, then this is the band you should definitely listen to.

humanrace

View of the Arts: Jaehyck, Seong- ki, Sunghwan and Min- soo, how and when did you decide to enter the music industry? and what is your favourite music style/ genre?

Minsoo: I do not have a specific music style or personal preference. Whether it is Classical or Electronic there isn’t a limit to the spectrum per-se. This is because behind every song there is always a composition to it and it is not preferable to listen to just one genre or style. That’s why if I listen to a song for the first time and it makes me feel good then it will be a song to influence me for the next time. When I met Seong- ko for the first time I felt the positive energy in his voice, and that was the main factor to start a band. In the near future, we will learn from our experiences and learn to broaden our perspectives into other genres that are out there, and use the experiences and feelings to help us to make good music.

Seong- ki: HumanRace is the first band that I have been in. I was in a school band during my University degree playing the guitar. But, most of the time I would practice on my own, and during this time I learnt how to play the piano and the saxophone. Now, I got to meet the members in HumanRace and release an album, and through this I have experienced band life. Before the band, I would listen to Pop and American Rock, but now I tend to listen to British Pop and Rock. I am really into Queen right now.

Jaehuck: I would do a little K-Pop session playing the guitar and teach guitar for private tuition. Before this, I didn’t have a stable job where I could contribute to music. However, since I have joined HumanRace I have been able to  make and promote music. I am really into space-based sounds, and enjoy the band U2.

Sunghwon: Ever since middle school I have played drums, leading me to become a band faculty member in University, during that time I majored in Music and was in some very famous drum teams around Korea. That’s all before I joined HumanRace. I am a big fan of funk music and HumanRace is the first band I have been in.

View of the Arts: When you compose a song, where do you get your ideas from and how does a song evolve?

HR: We have always wanted to create music that would leave an impression in people’s hearts and believe that the music we make will always be remembered for a long time to come, that is why we always pour our personal and honest emotions into the music we make. Most people will listen to songs that are popular and can reflect personal feelings and is easily relate-able. We are the peoples’ music, that is why our songs are made to bring memories and touch the emotions of the people wanting to listen to keep it in trend and constant, this is evolving from time to time and through different situations.

View of the Arts: To those who can’t speak Korean could you tell us what your songs are about?

HR: Human Race is a band that covers the aspects of human emotion; happiness, sadness, determination and sorrow, we use all of these emotions to tell a story, likewise with the people that listen to our songs they understand the passion of the songs we create, we are what we want to listen to, and hopefully others feel the same.

View of the Arts: Could you take us through some highlights of the studio album Habits in Reminiscence?

HR: When we were recording the vocals for Habits in Reminiscence, some two or three days before, Seong- ki’s cat had died, with this incident Seong- ki used this to express his loss and sorrow in the recordings. We also recorded the vocals for the song New day on the last day of the sessions. Seong- ki had immersed himself in trying to convey the minutest feelings whereby how authentic his voice was when it was played back. He decided to drink a bottle of wine before the recording, and sing in the state he was in. This turned out to be a really good move on our part, and seemed to work when we were previewing the songs.

View of the Arts: Seong- ki you took part, in one of the biggest talent shows, the Voice of Korea. How do you feel about reaching the finals? Do you think it helped you to promote your band HumanRace?

Seong- ki: Minsoo was the one that actually put my name on the application for Voice of Korea. Human Race needed to promote and garner more attention from people, so this was a good strategy to use. Minsoo and I suggested that it would work out well for the band and decided to make our way to the auditions. When we first started out as a band and Minsoo first heard me singing, he felt the charisma and power from my voice. We were confident that the viewers would feel the same way, we only wanted to try and make it to the live shows at least, but when we found out that I was going to the finals, it was a great shock and proud moment for the band. In doing so, Human Race got recognition and me, well, I’ve become popular through this experience.

View of the Arts: What is the hardest thing about being in a band?

HR: Human Race is not just a band that was set up as a hobby for us, we all have other jobs. Nevertheless, it is our life, and it is our livelihood. Right now we are not at a stage where we can be financially dependent on income of sales, but instead through our own investments and, in time, we hope to make it big and become very successful. We are waiting for the day that we look back on the hardships and smile and laugh about the times we struggled.

View of the Arts: In what ways does the place you live, or places you have lived, affect the music you create or your taste in music?

HR: There is no particular place or places that have heavily influenced our music. We are always open and tend to get inspiration from everything around us whether it’s people or events that have occurred.

View of the Arts: If you guys were to describe yourself in 3 words, what would you say?

HR: If we were to describe ourselves in three words it would be Love, Memories and Sincerity.

View of the Arts: KPop, K-Pop everyone always talks about K-Pop. Do you feel pressured by the huge wave of K-Pop?

HR: K-Pop as in its name is a form of pop-dance and is only a symbol, that’s not to say that we are not proud of K-Pop and the style it brings, we are gratified, and it does make us quite proud. We believe that music should not equate to just one genre, K-Pop has become so self-imposed as being just one type of style and it is being overloaded with the same things. If there is no diversity in the arts then it is very hard to evolve or continue. It will be hard to see this anywhere else but Korea, we make it our goal to create music that is authentic and not manufactured, as this would bring more love to our songs and make us better musicians.

View of the Arts: What are your hopes for the near future?

HR: Firstly, the biggest goal is to be recognized in our home country of Korea, to be able to promote more domestically and to be called the best band in Korea. If we were able to, we would like to perform in foreign countries. Human Race is a band that shines in live performances. One music goer that listened to our band for the first time has showered us with compliments. We want to be able to hear more of this on the main stage at Glastonbury one day.

View of the Arts wishes HumanRace all the best. They are, without a doubt, talented musicians.

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler.

Edited by Roxy Simons.

Translated by Michael Chong.

London Lift-Off Film Festival Awards Show Celebrates the Best of Independent Cinema

London-White-1024x594Independent cinema has found a home at several festivals over the years, Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival and Elliot Grove’s Raindance Festival being the most prestigious. These festivals, despite their renown, have failed to provide enough support to their entrants. These festivals, despite their renown, have sometimes been criticised for not giving enough support to their entrants by failing to give them feedback on their work. This, according to James Bradley, the co-founder of London Lift-Off Film Festival, is what sets them apart from these prestigious festivals.

Bradley and Ben Pohlman’s Lift-Off Film Festivals seek to change this, with six festivals taking place worldwide, putting the filmmaker first. The final festival was held in the heart of London this month, and both filmmakers and members of the public travelled down to experience the dazzling night of films at London’s Soho Hotel.

The event, described as a “visual feast” by Bradley, aims to help expose and improve their entrants work. “We work on everything from A-Z,” he said.

“We make sure they get their work seen, improved and out there.”

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London’s Lift-Off Film Festival Awards show, sponsored by magazine Little White Lies, combined live performances with short films, showcasing the best in independent cinema on a bitterly cold Saturday evening to an excited audience.

The lights dimmed, and the music started to play. The evening had well and truly begun. A reading by actors from the winning screenplay WiFighters by Rahdy Elwan kicked off the event, entertaining the audience with its unexpectedly witty storyline of a group of friends transported out of their home, and clothes, by a mysterious modem.

A series of five short films, including Ian Jones’s Jazz ball: An Urban Odyssey, 2013’s winner of best narrative, were then presented to the audience. The films were entertaining and intriguing, with some leaving the crowd in fits of laughter and giving them a taste for what was to come from the imminent announcement of 2014’s winning selection.

After a brief 25-minute break, the audience were ushered back to their seats for the main event. Five short films received special mentions, and won the right to be screened at Lift-Off’s festivals in Liverpool, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Tokyo respectively.

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Another Green World

Another Green World started off proceedings with its expressive and visionary examination of one man’s struggle with cancer, winning the official selection for the Liverpool Lift-Off Festival. Conceived from director Christina Hardinge’s own father’s experience with terminal cancer, it presented an emotional and engaging study of humanity.

Mark Stenhouse’s Lift was shown next, a heartfelt film centred on a man choosing to celebrate someone that has recently passed away by using old photographs to rejuvenate an old kite. Lift’s simple yet evocative storyline made it an obvious contender for the official selection at Lift-Off’s Las Vegas event.

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Aureila

The coming of age story Aureila was then presented. It focused on the story of a girl in the French Riviera struggling to deal with her father’s absence, and her plight of growing up with no adults to turn to. Jade Courtney Edwards’s eloquent portrayal of the thin line between youth and adulthood made it a fantastic choice for Lift-Off’s Los Angeles festival, as the film’s relatable character will suit the events demographic.

The winner of the official selection for the Amsterdam Lift-Off Festival was revealed to be Jonathan Schey’s I Want to Be Happy Cha Cha Cha. The film’s strong storytelling, and excellent acting, made the narrative of a Little Chef waitress engaging in a short affair with a mysterious customer both compelling and emotive.

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The Ramona Flowers, Tokyo

The final film to be given a special mention was Bouha Kazmi’s visually stunning music video The Ramona Flowers, Tokyo. With its captivating story of a young boy being led by a Japanese Geisha into a dance hall filled with women desperately seeking the key to eternal youth, it is understandable that is was chosen to open Lift-Off’s Tokyo festival in 2016.

The films awarded with the Best Documentary, Narrative and Film were then presented to the audience, starting with Paul Griffin’s documentary about his grandfather’s life, Francis B. Griffin, narrated by the man himself. With Lift-Off being the first festival he entered, Griffin expressed his shock to View of the Arts that he had been given the award, and said: “James and Ben have been very supportive and encouraging to me, and this reward is proof of that.”

“The festival has let me see many films, and what calibre they are at. This award will only inspire me to make a better film,” he added.

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Paul Griffin

Dave Hart and Ged Hunter then accepted the award for Best Narrative for their film A Complicated Way to Live. The project, which illustrates the ordeal of those suffering from mental illness being mistreated by the government through its main character’s psyche, showed the audience the painful reality of mental illness in the United Kingdom with expert precision.

During the Festival’s Q&A session with the filmmakers, Dave Hart discussed the end product, and said: “Our government are not dealing with Mental Health issues well,

“The film wasn’t meant to be political, but it ended up that way.”

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Dave Hart and Ged Hunter

The film presented as the season winner was Calum Macdiarmid’s Worship, and with its undeniably inspiring artistic style and storyline based on the final paragraphs written by a dying man sharing his disillusionment with religion, it is easy to see why. The film merges dreams with autobiography to create a visually enticing and thought-provoking piece, and one that has followed the London Lift-Off Festival from its inception to this year’s festival, finally being awarded the main prize.

Speaking to View of the Arts about his film, and his continued involvement with the festival, Macdiarmid said: “This film is a reinterpretation of my father’s experience, and his rejection of religion,

“It’s great that Lift-Off is still pushing it out there.”

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Calum Macdiarmid

An inquisitive audience finally lead the charge for the festival’s Q&A session with the filmmakers awarded special mentions, best narrative, best documentary and best film respectively, before the festival ended with a networking event.

Talking to View of the Arts about the event, James Bradley said: “We try to get people to make work that is, at its core, about the acting and storytelling,

“This festival will help take our filmmakers onto the next stage of their career.”

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Ben Pohlman, Calum Macdiarmid, Paul Griffin and James Bradley

Written by Roxy Simons.

In Conversation with CoreMagazine

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“While the core sound of CoreMagaZinE is still synth rock, the band has really matured since the last official release. The album has all the elements that I’ve been looking for. It has a bigger soundscape with each note and beat containing more power than before” – Korean Indie

 

I haven’t been a fan of CoreMagazine for very long. Nevertheless, it took me just under 3 minutes to become one. How did it happen? I played a game with my  friend, Monica, that we call the Ear’s Candy Time. Once, when I was working on a new project of mine, she sent me a link to CoreMagazine with the caption Ear’s Candy Time- you have to listen to these guys. Without hesitation I clicked on the link. What happened next? You’ll wish you could have seen me. I stood up and jumped around my room like a crazy kid who had just been brought to a candy store. I also ended up singing along with whatever words I could make up on the spot. It was a pitiful picture but I couldn’t just sit still without doing anything right? I was listening to their latest album Rude Banquet and what surprised me the most, was that they sung mostly in English. I like their sound and In- hak’s vocals and I would definitely recommend to listen to the band at any time of the day. We were delighted when CoreMagazine found a bit of time to answer our questions.

View of the Arts: Jung-hun, Dong-hoon, Ki-won, In-hak and Min-kyu did you all grow up wanting to play music? How and when did the whole making music thing come about?

CM: We believe that being a musician is the best job in the world. Some of us grew up waiting to play music. We are glad that we are able to do so.

View of the Arts: Can you shed a little light on who came up with the band name?

CM: Jung-hun came up with the band name. Core means centre and Magazine is the piece that holds the ammunition in a gun. The full meaning is like the centre that holds the explosion.

View of the Arts: You have recently released a full-length album entitled Rude Banquet. What was the creative process like for this release? I heard that you crowdfunded for it.

CM: The recording of the album took about 3 months and it was supported by many fans of CoreMagazine through a crowdfunding platform. We would like to thank them once again. The rewards for participants included tickets for concerts and official merchandise.
We expect Rude Banquet to show a certain direction of CoreMagazine’s music. It would be satisfying if it gets across to the listeners and becomes a hit.

View of the Arts: How hard do you push yourself when it comes to music?

CM: It`s not too hard. It`s fun! That is our job. Every process of making music is a blessing.

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Min- kyu, Ki- won, In- hak, Jung- hun and Dong- hoon

View of the Arts:  As far as the band as a whole, what are your favourite groups from the past and present? What band has had the most influence, or impact, on you all personally?

Junghun – The Verve, Depeche Mode
Dong hoon – U2
In hak – Incubus
Kiwon – The Killers
Minkyu – The Naked and Famous

View of the Arts: If someone had never heard of your band before, how would you describe yourself to them?

CM: Banquet with unexpected atmosphere just like Madonna.

View of the Arts: Listening to your songs I have noticed that you mostly sing in English. How does this affect your projection inside the Korean Indie music scene? Do you guys get to deliver what you want to say with your songs?

CM: Music globalization took us to sing in English. Despite our English not being good, some of our songs need to be sung in English. It depends on the mood of certain songs.

View of the Arts: In what ways does the place where you live, or places you have lived, affect the music you create, or your taste in music?

CM: Everything that surrounds us is a fountain of inspiration. From childhood memories to the places we are currently living in.

View of the Arts: What are your plans for the future? Any new projects in the pipeline?

CM: We are currently working on songs for our next EP album. We are going to perform our first concert, to promote the new full length album, on Dec 12th.

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Interviewed by Maggie Gogler with Monica Sablone’s help.

Edited by Liz Evans

Picture courtesy of the artist

Introduction to Korean Rock

Global Music

A fellow blogger once said “It’s true that Korean Rock is less visible to the international audiences because Korean rock, unlike Korean Idol groups, is not systematically pushed abroad by well- capitalized management companies (…). The reason is simple: people like mainstream pop more than rock music”. Nowadays, however, rock and punk music has slowly started to push through and become more popular among the younger generation.

It all began in the mid 1990s as the country opened up, became richer and gained increasing exposure to foreign cultures. In the space of a few years, a series of live venues and bands sprang up in Hongdae and the surrounding areas of western Seoul. Hongdae remains an indie epicentre to this day.

I have been interested in Korean rock and punk music for the past few years and I always try to look for new artists who I think are worth promoting and listening to. We have already conducted several interviews with bands such as: Asian Chairshot, Patients, Dead Buttons, Hugh Keice and Love X Stereo. We are going to carry out a few more interviews with the superb HumanRace, energetic and talented guys from The Solutions and the grand, in my opinion, CoreMagazine. The new series of In Conversation with will open with our interview with CoreMagazine. We hope you will enjoy it.

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HumanRace

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CoreMagazine

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The Solutions

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Liz Evans

Pictures courtesy of the artists

The 9th London Korean Film Festival: Cold Eyes Review

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A slick and clever thriller, with dynamic pacing, strong lensing and a particularly strong use of space” – Pierce Conran, TWITCH

Cold Eyes (2013) by Jo Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo, will grab you by the throat from the very first minute you see Jung Woo-sung (The Divine Move) on the big screen. It is common for actors, who have portrayed heartthrobs in the past, to take on the role of a villain. There are two particular movie stars who are worth mentioning here; Byung Hun and his superb performance in The Good, The Bad, The Weird as well as sensational Kwon Sang-woo in Fate. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t astonished when Woo-sung accepted the supporting role of James in Cold Eyes. On the contrary, after portraying ‘a good guy’ for over a decade it was refreshing to see him playing a hard-hearted felon.

The film tells the story of James, a super-criminal, who specialises in robbing banks and other financial institutions. He always orchestrates heists from high vantage points and directs his subordinates to do the jobs. He also severely punishes those who do not obey his commands. Everything goes perfectly well until a group of detectives, from the surveillance team, discover his criminal activities. The team is lead by the Chief Detective Hwang (Sol Kyung-gu: Silmido) who takes care of infiltration and tracks offenders by using CCTV. He decides to employ a rookie detective, Ha Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo: Always), whose incredible photographic memory helps him deal with criminals. A complex and gripping chain of events gets under way with Yoon-joo desperately wanting to catch the untraceable and ever-elusive criminal.

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Han Hyo-joo

Cold Eyes also revolves around the young Yoon-joo: “She’s your classic do-gooder heroine with a heart of gold and a nervous finger-tapping tic, with her only character flaw (in the eyes of her superiors) being her unwillingness to stand idly by while others are getting hurt”. She is an important asset to Hwang’s team. Like all of her teammates she is given an animal nickname, Piglet, which she becomes known as to the rest of the crew. At first, she is seen as a clumsy girl, who mainly makes mistakes on the job. Nevertheless, with the help of Hwang, she gets better in fulfilling her duties. The rookie becomes an expert and, with great precision, manages to locate James’ whereabouts. Han Hyo-joo’s portrayal of the young detective is flawless. The character is a fearless and stubborn lady captured in the tiny body of Han Hyo-joo. Jung Woo-sung was equally as good. His performance kept me on the edge of my seat and I have to admit, I did enjoy seeing him as a villain. The character had a number of impressive abilities, including stabbing someone with a pen, which definitely became his “signature method for murder throughout the film”.

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Jung woo- sung

Cold Eyes is a good thriller with an A-list cast. The entertaining car chases and fight scenes, without a doubt, made this film more interesting. Having said that, I don’t think there was enough character development when it came to the team of police officers. We didn’t get to know who they really were and they were only identified by their nicknames. I would have liked to have known more about their backgrounds and their relationships with one another.

With down to earth cinematography by Kim Byung-seo and Yeo Kyung-bo and immaculate editing by Shin Min-hyung Cold Eyes became one of the best Korean thrillers of last year and one of South Korea’s absolute blockbuster hits of 2013; a fast-paced, relentless roller-coaster ride into the high-stakes world of criminal surveillance. The film will definitely leave you breathless. I am glad it was shown at the 9th London Korean Film Festival.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Liz Evans

In Conversation with James Bradley on the London Lift-Off Film Festival

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Look beyond the gloss, put talent before technology – that is the motto for the upcoming London Lift-Off Film Festival, which aims to expose audiences to the beauty of independent cinema.

In the four years since its creation, The Lift-Off Film Festival has grown from a local event into a global exhibition of independent films across 6 international cities: London, Liverpool, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Tokyo.

This year-long celebration of films, by amateur and professional filmmakers alike, comes to a close in the heart of London this December. 23 short films will be showcased over 3 days, alongside a one day workshop and the festival’s awards show.

For James Bradley, the co-founder of the festival, the event’s main goal is to support talented filmmakers whose limited resources restrict their ability to make their debut. He said:

We call it the lift-off festival because we are looking to launch people’s careers from the very beginning,”

We’re all about filmmakers developing their career, building their confidence and ultimately getting themselves agents, getting out there and getting themselves work that is paying them.”

To those at the festival, it is not the technology that shapes a film but an individual’s artistic talent. Bradley said:

We don’t care if it was made on a VHS camcorder from 1988, we know that if the story structure is right then the film will fly,”

We look at the films that have absolute heart, and absolute grounding in artistic merit – films that have brilliant storytelling, fantastic acting and all the things that cost nothing to get right.”

Not only does the festival help to bring to light films that may otherwise struggle for distribution, but it also uses methods to help filmmakers make a name for themselves in the industry:

We have agents and companies that look at the films that win at the festival. One agency, a global film production company, wants to look at the films that win at London Lift-Off this year,”

“This will be taking our film directors onto the next level.”

Alongside these networking opportunities, the festival will give entrants exclusive feedback on their work from industry professionals, advising them on the merits and downfalls of the film, as well as information on other film festivals they should submit to. This content, according to Bradley, will help the filmmakers learn how an independent film becomes successful.

The films that win at the festival’s awards show will also be screened at the other festivals as part of the Lift-Off Official Selection Network, giving filmmakers a wider-reaching, and more diverse, audience to view their film.

The film festival’s initiative is to change the independent film industry:

This festival is something we started because we want to support the industry. We want to change it and we want to make sure that artists like the Christopher Nolan’s and Darren Aronofsky’s of this world get more and more opportunities,”

“There are fantastic filmmakers out there with hardly any money or opportunities that are making fantastic work.”

Of course, Bradley does not want the festival to stop there. He said:

We want to become a mini industry within the industry, and we want to be a literal global distribution channel for filmmakers who are absolutely excellent at what they do.”

The London Lift-Off Film Festival takes place from December 1 to 6. More information on the festival’s shortlist and on booking tickets can be viewed here.

Written by Roxy Simons.