Kim Se-in, a South Korean filmmaker, began her journey in the film industry as a screenplay writer and editor. She directed a few shorts, including Hamster (2016), Playing with Fire (2018), and Container (2018). Kim’s feature debut, The Apartment with Two Women, received its world premiere at last year’s Busan International Film Festival and had its European premiere at this year’s Berlinale, where it was screened in the Panorama section. Kim Se-in’s social drama was also presented at the prestigious Udine Far East Festival in May of 2022.

The production of The Apartment with Two Women was made possible through a feature film production programme at the Korean Academy of Film Arts. Kim’s razor-sharp narrative managed to captivate its audience by two outstanding performances from Lym Ji-ho and Yang Mal-bok, and has been recently screened at the 7th London East Asia Film Festival.

Prior to the screening at the festival, Kim Se-in shared her thoughts on the film’s production, her approach of the subject of domestic violence, as well as her work with Lym Ji-ho and Yang Mal-bok.

Image © Finecut & Korean Academy of Film Arts

This film is focused on the very important subject of domestic violence, what was the inspiration behind the story?

Kim Se-in: I realised that with my last project I focused a lot on problems of child helplessness. I wondered why I was doing that. After a longer reflection, I realised it was because of my mother. As a writer, and in order to move on, I felt like I needed to address the issue. Also, for you to not misunderstand, I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a personal experience, but more of a focus on a mental and psychological portrait of a mother-daughter relationship.

Looking at the mother and daughter relationship, you managed to capture the complexity well. How did you approach writing this relationship in the screenplay?

Kim Se-in: Instead of showing a good or a bad relationship, I wanted to show a new kind of mother-daughter relationship. The mum could be portrayed as a villain, but I didn’t want to focus on that kind of relationship, and I think that problems arise within relationships due to societal boundaries. For example, I actually think your perception is shaped and imposed by society. So, I did not want an individual to be portrayed as a villain. 

Image © Finecut & Korean Academy of Film Arts

Some of the scenes are quite violent given the film’s subject matter, how did you ensure Lym Ji-ho and Yang Mal-bok felt safe whilst filming their confrontational scenes together?

Kim Se-in: Inside their clothes, they were wearing knee pads to make sure that they were not getting hurt. And when there was an action scene to film, they actually got to rehearse outside, so they practiced it to make sure that the choreography wouldn’t cause any issues.

You made this film with the help of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, what made you decide to go down that route and what was the experience like?

Kim Se-in: When you’re trying to make an independent film, you either apply for KOFIC, like the Korean Film Council grants, or proper academic grants. There are diverse avenues of funding, and the [Korean Film Academy] had a good program, so I decided to apply for it. There are director’s funds offered by the KFA which also provide assistance in the form of screenplay support and individual mentoring. So, instead of working individually, I wanted additional support, that’s why I applied.

Image © Finecut & Korean Academy of Film Arts

Given the nature of the film, was there anything that was challenging about making it?

Kim Se-in: When I first worked on it, matching the actors’ energy was a challenge. It was also an emotional challenge for me when I was actually looking at the images during the editing phase. However, I still finished the film. The thing is, when you look at Korean dramas or films, they always aim to show the ‘normal family’ or ‘motherly love’ – the mother and child relationship is always some kind of symbolic representation. But I believe that the kind of relationship that I showed in my film also exists in real life. I wanted to show that there are diverse relationships that exist in the world, although it was an emotional experience to do so.

Since you were working with the KFA program, what was the casting process like for the film?

Kim Se-in: The program itself didn’t really help with the casting process. We went through a regular indie film casting process, for instance, posting on a board for people to apply. Time was very limited, we had one or two months to cast, but I met some really great actors, so I was very lucky.

Image © Finecut & Korean Academy of Film Arts

The ending is quite distinct, why did you choose to end your film in that moment?

Kim Se-in: I wouldn’t say I chose this ending; I just had a feeling that I should end the film in that particular moment. I didn’t want to show their ongoing destructive journey, or how their lives fell apart, I just wanted to emphasise that they took one step forward in their lives.

Regarding the ending, what was the significance of the recorder that Su-kyung plays?

Kim Se-in: In Korea, they’re used in elementary school as part of the curriculum. In the end, I wanted her to hold something in her hand, and because the recorder is something very common in Korea – you can go to any store and buy it for very cheap – I thought it would be the right thing for her. The recorder and the Korean ruler are often used as a tool for domestic punishments to discipline children, so in that sense it loses its original use, but now that she’s holding it it’s going back to its initial purpose.

What was it like to work with Lym Ji-ho and Yang Mal-bok?

Kim Se-in: Yang Mal-bok is actually not in that many dramas or films because she acts in plays – she’s a veteran actor. Unlike the character, she is someone who is very carefree. I didn’t want to restrict how she should act, so I allowed her to freely express herself. The characters are also very tense, so I gave both actors very detailed advice depending on their different personalities.

Interviewed by Roxy Simons

Written by Maggie Gogler

*Featured image courtesy of Berlinale

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Asian Cinema, Film, Film events and festivals, Foreign Films, General, In Conversation with, Korean Cinema