The 2022 Udine Far East Film Festival was a real treat. Not only because of the great films in the programme, but because it was the first year that film guests were able to attend the event since Covid restrictions had been lifted. Mostly consisting of producers and filmmakers, we had a very productive and busy time interviewing some great Korean talent, including Won Dong-yeon, a renowned producer responsible for films such as Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017) and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2018), and Yoon Jong-seok, the director of Confession, which closed the 24th Far East Film Festival.
During the festival, we got the chance to sit down with both the director and producer of Confession and discuss the creative process behind the film, as well as the casting of Kim Yun-jin, Nana and So Ji-sub.
View of the Arts: After watching the original Spanish film, The Invisible Guest (2016), what about it appealed to you to make your film?
Won Dong-yeon [Producer]: This is a film about truth and lies. In a sense, we often think about lying from the point of view of the person who’s speaking. But at the same time, we also tend to judge people based on who they are, rather than the words that they say.
[The original] film did very well. It also did a great job in regards to exploring the difference between truth and lies depending on who’s speaking, who’s listening, and the inner thoughts and assumptions of the characters. So, all of these things were the key appeal [for us to make the film].
Yoon Jong-seok [Director]: The truth can be something very difficult to pin down or to truly understand, and we tried to show this in our film as well. It starts with a very simple premise, but the way that it’s developed keeps you engaged. So, in this sense, the story has strong potential [to be good].
Ekran: I have seen the original film as well, and I was wondering how director Yoon decided which parts to cut and which parts to keep, specifically in relation to the ending?
Yoon Jong-seok: It really made no sense to make the film exactly as it was in The Invisible Guest since the original is already a great film. That was one of our key questions: what can we do to make this a different experience and a different film from the original? So, the ending in particular was a way to show a bit more of what the characters are feeling while providing a new experience for the audience.
Won Dong-yeon: You know, echoing the same point again, it makes no sense to remake a film if you’re not going to do something different with it.
View of the Arts: The film relies heavily on an unreliable narrator to keep the audience on their toes, how did you want to approach the narrative so that the secrets remained just that, secrets?
Yoon Jong-seok: [In my film] the story starts with Kim Yun-jin’s character and also ends with her character. But this was a key point in the original, too. In the end, we find out who she is, but we don’t really get to know her thoughts and feelings. So, after it’s revealed who she is, our main goal was to portray the pain that she’s living with, and to use that as a way to bring the film to its conclusion.
View of the Arts: You drew on some incredible acting talent. What was the casting process like? Particularly for Nana, So Ji-sub and Kim Yun-jin?
Won Dong-yeon: So, in the case of Kim Yun-jin, I really wanted to cast her, but, at first, I was a bit nervous about it. I thought that she would probably turn it down because this is a role in which she plays a woman who has a 20-year-old son. And, you know, with the sensitive issue of age, I wasn’t sure whether she’d want to take on this role at this stage in her career. But the reason that we really wanted to cast her was because she has an image that is very intellectual, very professional. When she appears in the film for the first time, we don’t want the audience to have any sense that she’s a mother. We want to see her purely as a lawyer and a professional. And then, by the end of the film, we bring out this other aspect of her, the fact that she’s a mother. Ultimately, Kim Yun-jin seemed to be the best choice for this type of role. The director really wanted to cast her.
Also, she followed acting directions very well. At the beginning of the film, the audience see her as a dry character – we see very little emotion in her. And by the end of the film, we see this huge contrast where her emotions are pouring out. I was really impressed by the way that Yoon Jong-seok directed Kim Yun-jin in this film.
I mean, this wasn’t a film with a really big budget compared to other Korean films. We had a limited budget and so the amount of money that we were able to give to these two actors [Kim Yun-jin and So Ji-sub] was not that high, at least not as high as the amount of money they’re used to receiving. So, I was sceptical about whether they would take it, yet as soon as they received the screenplay and read it, they said they wanted to be a part of the film.
Yoon Jong-seok: Nana is a singer who has established herself as an actress [this is Nana’s 5th feature film]. I have been following her [career] and I thought that she would be a really great choice for this particular role. So, I met with her to discuss the role and describe what I needed. She was interested in taking on this role, so she accepted the part.
View of the Arts: So Ji-sub doesn’t often play characters like the one he plays in Confession, how did you work with him on building the character and making him so quietly menacing?
Yoon Jong-seok: It is true that he hasn’t played a role similar to the one in Confession. In the film, he’s essentially playing two different characters or [has] two different personalities. We did a huge number of rehearsals, almost as if we were preparing for a play. So, before the shooting started, we rehearsed so that we were able to go through it fairly smoothly.
Ekran: This question is for both of you. You have worked together a lot previously, so I was wondering how this film differs from other projects and how Covid affected the production of the film?
Won Dong-yeon: Often, the relationship between the producer and the director is somewhat confrontational. While the director will be focused on making the most artistically excellent film as possible, the producer will be trying to keep things within a certain budget and thinking about the commercial value.
But because the two of us have known each other for over 20 years, we have a very comfortable relationship where we can speak very openly with each other. There isn’t a sense that one of us is pushing his own position and so we both understand one another. And when there’s not enough money, I can straightforwardly say that we don’t have money to do certain things in the film. There’s always a back-and-forth conversation discussing what we can and can’t do.
And because Along with the Gods was so successful, I had a little bit of extra money, so in this case I was able to push this project forward and give the director the resources he needed. I believed in the director and I trusted him [to make this film].
Yoon Jong-seok: The film finished shooting just as Covid was starting to emerge, so it didn’t affect the production itself. We were originally hoping to quickly wrap up the post-production and release it, but we weren’t able to do that because of the situation. We have been waiting 2 years to release this film. Now, finally, this is the first night we can show this film to the audience [Confession closed the Udine Far East Film Festival].
Won Dong-yeon: There were two times when we lined up a release date, and we were getting ready to bring the film to theatres. Then, each time there’d be some Delta surge or some other outbreak of Covid. So, because of that, I insisted to wait until the situation stabilised.
View of the Arts: In general, what do you normally look for in a script before agreeing to produce a film?
Won Dong-yeon: It’s really hard to say if there is one particular thing that I look for in a script. It’s not the case that a certain story might work and another one might not work. It’s not that I am avoiding giving you an answer, but ultimately it just comes down to whether you connect with the story. That’s the script you want to pay attention to.
View of the Arts: There is real theatricality to the piece, particularly in the scenes between So Ji-sub and Kim Yun-jin. Why was it important for you to approach the story in this way?
Yoon Jong-seok: From the very beginning, it was our intent to create a theatrical feel to the scenes, but there was a risk to this because the acting had to be really tough to match this theatrical atmosphere – if it was not, then it simply wouldn’t work. But thankfully, both actors gave really strong performances, so yes, it worked well. We were very happy with how it all came together.
Ekran: This question is for both of you. Are you working on some other projects together? Can we look forward to something excellent again?
Won Dong-yeon: First of all, there is a TV version of Along with the Gods, and for that show, director Yoon will be responsible for the first season. As for Confession, it closed the Udine Far East Film Festival and director Yoon won the Best Director Award at Fantas Porto – Oporto International Film Festival. All these things confirm the potential of the film. We are definitely hoping to do more projects together.
Yoon Jong-seok: I would like to make a new feature film so that I can come back to the Udine Far East Film Festival again.
Written and transcribed by Maggie Gogler
Interviewed by View of the Arts and Ekran [Sanja Struna]
Interpreter: Darcey Paquet