Cho Hyun-hoon’s professional voyage into filmmaking started when his short film Metamorphosis got invited to Busan Asian Short Film Festival in 2007. In 2013, another short film of his, The Mother’s Family, was invited to Indie Forum Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival; the short was relatively successful; it won the Acting Award during Busan International Short Film Festival in that same year. Cho’s latest work, Jane, had its world premiere this year, at the 21st Busan International Film Festival, and was screened as a part of the ‘Vision’ category; the film was made with the support of Korean Film Council’s Independent Film Fund and won the CGV Art-house Award at the 2016 BIFF. We had a chance to interview Cho Hyun-hoon and talk about his new film Jane.
Jane is an interesting feature debut about a young runaway So-hyun as well as a transgender woman called Jane. How did the idea for the film come about and how long did it take to write the script?
Cho Hyun-hoon: Throughout my twenties, I’ve realised that my viewpoint has shifted from within and towards the outside world. While I’ve kept working on films, I came to understand that I need to tell a story about a character that I can love continuously and sincerely.
The story of “Jane” was completed while I was developing stories about people who have become isolated involuntarily. Personally, I have been attracted to stories of runaways and transgender people and made friends with such people, some of whom have spent substantial time with me. While such process may be viewed as a formal process of fact gathering, it was a process for me to internalise a superficial interest and expand it within my life. While it is tough enough for most people to deal with their own internal issues, there are people put into the position of a minority due to prejudice and discrimination created by others or the society. Initially I just saw pain, including pain which they became insensitive to or that was too old to be felt at all. But I realised that at the same time, they have extraordinary strengths and courage that I really wanted to tell others about. So I’ve made up my mind to tell this story.
I remember that it took me about 1 year and 6 months to write the script and another 6 months to edit and modify the narration after the film was completed.
What was your vision for Jane, what message and story were you trying to get across to the audience?
Cho Hyun-hoon: Some decisions or faiths can make life unbearable. While accepting that life can be unhappy at almost all times, we should unite, face our unhappiness and enjoy moments of happiness that may fall upon us like presents. Then life would be worth living. This is the story that I wanted to tell not only to the audience, but to all ‘children’ who may watch this movie someday.
Production wise, what sort of challenges did you have to face while making Jane?
Cho Hyun-hoon: Am I treating the characters as objects? Am I taking advantage of children’s pain for the purpose of film making? Those were the most important issues for the self-screening which was a difficult task. Whenever we had any such issue, we had to stop shooting; we shared opinions among staff and actors and actresses and even had ‘arguments’. As such, there was no easy scene to shoot, even among those scenes that look simple. And there was always some tension at the set. I think in the end, it had a positive impact on the film.
In Jane, your cast is filled with great character actors like Lee Min-ji, Gu Gyo-hwan, Lee Ju-young. They are all people that we have seen pop up in a few films before; they always leave a mark, even in small roles. How was the casting process for you?
Cho Hyun-hoon: First of all, I had Gu Gyo-hwan in mind as Jane even while I was writing the script. I thought about casting Gu Gyo-hwan as he showed his sensitive and temperamental acting and also expressed warm feelings and strong beliefs in his previous works. No wonder he shared many unique and creative ideas in analysing the character, a great deal of which were reflected in the film. Also he showed a great affection and devotion towards the character and put in great effort, such as losing more than 10 kilograms.
For So-hyun, I’ve auditioned and met many actresses for about 6 months. It was not easy to find the one who can express the fragile and weak aspects of So-hyun as well as her madness to even deceive others for her own well-being. As I had seen all the previous works of Min-ji, she was always the right one for So-hyun. But the gap between her age and the character’s age was a big obstacle. However, when I met her, I found out that she has a much wider range. As we had more talks, I liked her strong faith in acting which was assuring to me as the director. Her extraordinary interest in the character was another reason for the casting.
I met Ju-young, who played Ji-soo, through an audition process. While we were having difficulties in casting the actress to play Ji-soo, we saw the video of Ju-young reading the script which was shot by our film direction team, and we were fascinated by her depth of emotion.
Your directorial debut was supported by Korea Film Council’s Independent Film Fund and ACF (Asian Cinema Fund). How did that happen?
Cho Hyun-hoon: Luckily, my script for a full-length film from 3 years ago was selected for the independent film production support provided by the Korea Film Council and received funding accordingly. With such fund, we could do the production of the film. When we had difficulties due to a lack of funds near the end of post-production, we received support from the ACF as a part of the post-production support in relation to the Busan International Film Festival.
I feel very grateful as it is extremely lucky for an independent film like ours to receive two separate production supports. I hope that the production environment for Korean independent films improves and that more directors become beneficiaries.
After watching Jane, the narrative of the film leaves a lot of room for interpretation, was that your intention?
Cho Hyun-hoon: I adopted the structure of two parallel stories. I wished that contrasts and comparisons between the two stories would convey So-hyun’s hopes and basic desires that draw our attention all the more as they seem unrealistic to be achieved. At the same time, I put in small principles against a big picture and points of repetition and variations. I wanted to make it open to the audience as to which story is more intuitively easier to accept and which story they want to see or believe.
The topic of transgender people, as well as LGBT community are still not widely discussed within the Korean community. What do you think should be done to make it easier for them to deal with the issue?
Cho Hyun-hoon: As of now, extreme obsessions about factions in Korea still exist. Economic conditions as well as religion, educational background and even hometown provide basis for factions. And it is natural for such desire to create factions to result in excluding others with different beliefs. We should first eradicate such old conventions. It is the time for a change in the society’s overall paradigm.
LGBT issues and the interest in transgender people should be discussed in relation to such overall change. There is a movement towards such change among young generations. There is a new recognition and movements among people in their twenties and thirties. Although it may not happen right now, such movement will spread over and turn into a society-wide change. In other words, I think it is meaningless to wait for a change among the older generation and it is much more meaningful for the young generation to initiate a change and invest in the future.
Any new projects in the pipeline?
Nothing concrete at the moment. But I still strongly believe that I must make a film that can convince me.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Translated by Dong-ho Lee
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Jane