25th Far East Film Festival: In Conversation with Kim Eun-hee, Jang Hang-jun & Jeong Jin-woon of “Rebound”

The Udine Far East Film Festival surely knows how to delight its audience. This year we have seen many superb films, including Rebound, a South Korean production written by Kim Eun-hee, who is also responsible for Netflix’s Kingdom series, and directed by Jang Hang-jun (Forbidden). The inspiring film tells a story of a high school basketball team in South Korea, whose members face numerous obstacles on and off the court as they strive for success. 

With its gripping plot, relatable characters, and heartwarming themes, Rebound captured the hearts of audiences at the 25th edition of the festival winning the Silver Mulberry Audience Award. We are delighted to say that during the event we had the pleasure of speaking to the multitalented screenwriter, Kim Eun-hee, actor Jeong Jin-woon, director Jang Hang-jun, and producer Billy Acumen. During our interview they shared with us their insights into making the film, including filming the basketball scenes as well as what went into the actors’ training.

Kim Eun-hee (screenwriter), Jeong Jin-woon (actor), Jang Hang-jun (director) & Billy Acumen of “Rebound” / image © View of the Arts

I would like to congratulate you on making a great film, I really enjoyed watching it. My first question is directed to the screenwriter, Kim Eun-hee. How did you come across the story and how did you prepare for writing a film about the Busan Jungang High School basketball team? How much research did you have to do?

Kim Eun-hee: Actually, I wasn’t the one who found the story. I believe it was the producer and he talked to the coach and apparently, aside from him, three or four different people all reached out too because they wanted to make a film about [that basketball team]. But I don’t know if it was his honesty, or if he bribed [anyone], but somehow, he got the story and actually it didn’t take that long to prep the script. While I was writing [the script for Rebound], whenever I came across curious parts I went to meet the team or looked up articles [that describes the team in detail]. The preparation and writing process itself took about a month, for both.

Now that we know who pitched the story to whom, how did you [producer Billy Acumen] get on board with director Jang Hang-jun?

Billy Acumen: The director and I have known each other for a long time, maybe over 20 years. And I also worked with the director on his previous project. And, as for Kim Eun-hee, I also worked on the Kingdom series [Netflix] so it was very natural for me to recruit them.

Director Jang Hang-jun, how did you balance the on-court action with the off-court drama in your film?

Jang Hang-jun:  So, in the beginning, my focus was on the backstories of the characters, like the building, and the explaining, and the expressing of these characters. And then, from the midpoint on, there was already a build-up of these characters. Therefore, I thought the main important part would be to show it through the game itself, so the middle and the end of the film was led by the build-up of the characters, as well as the power of the story as they fight their hardships throughout the game. We thought that would, of course, touch the audience.

Kim Eun-hee: He talks too much [laughs], I guess that’s why I married him.

Jang Hang-jun: Of course [laughs]. [To add to my previous answer], think of war films as a comparison, before the war starts, they often show the characters and their background story, their situations, their family, maybe what they love before they go into the actual war. And when that happens, the tragedy itself is more of the spectacle exponentially exposed. I was kind of following this rule of war films, so, in that way I was copying.

Jeong Jin-woon, how did you approach portraying the physicality of playing basketball on screen? And did you have any prior experience of playing basketball before taking on this role?

Jeong Jin-woon: I was a middle school basketball player, but unfortunately I was injured. My left leg was injured, so I had to quit the team. [That said], my passion for basketball still exists, and even after I quit the team I still received elite basketball training. Personally, I wouldn’t say I found anything challenging, but one thing that I found difficult playing this role was creating the actual teamwork and, because that was the first and foremost important part of the film, we spent three months in training with the other cast members.

Did you get to meet your real-life counterpart, Bae Kyu-hyeok, and talk to him about how you wanted to portray him in the film?

Jeong Jin-woon: We met [all of the players] many times, we took the time to understand what they were like and what they liked back in those days, all the players wanted to do the same. With Bae Kyu-hyeok, there is something special I want to share; It was maybe the first year after he graduated, in 2013 or 14, a celebrity basketball group was invited to play a game, and it turns out it was at Busan Jungang High School. We won so the mood was quite bad, and no one came to ask for pictures, but Kyu-hyeok came up and asked me for a picture.

Kim Eun-hee, how did you work with the cast and the director to bring your and Kwon’s vision to life on the big screen?

Kim Eun-hee: So, in Korea, after I send the script to the director it’s kind of up to the director and the producer, mostly up to the director, to confirm the casting. I learned about the casting later, and I was also terribly busy with working on other projects too. [Although it didn’t take long to write and prepare the screenplay] I forwarded the script quite a long time ago, like three years ago. And, as I mentioned in the earlier [talk at the festival], finances took a long time. For me, I think, it was like a miracle and like a rebound for the film to be shot. I’m really supporting the project and the [work itself was great].

Director Jang, what was your process for working with the actors, particularly those who were not professional basketball players? Did you have professional players helping you out?

Jang Hang-jun: So, while the cast was getting their individual training, we brought professional players to work on the choreography, and after that was roughly complete, we then met with the cast. I think we came up with 100 different choreographies per game and tested them all. After we tested those choreographies, the players actually practised while staying together at one place until the very first day of the shoot. That took about four months.

Jeong Jin-woon, now that the director explained how he worked with you actors, when it comes to basketball, how was your work with your onscreen teammates? You all built amazing dynamics as a team, did you meet after shooting and just hang out and get to know each other, or did you know each other prior to filming “Rebound”?

Jeong Jin-woon: During the shoot, we pretty much slept and did everything together, maybe we became even closer than family, and that built the team. And even after [completing] the shooting, we met a lot and we gathered to play. So, with those who really wanted to continue playing we made a team out of it. Actor Lee Sin-young was not very interested at first, but he became absorbed in basketball and started to receive lessons. And, right now, we still have a group chat and we always joke around together. 

I loved the attention to detail in the film, particularly at the end where you recreate the real-life photos of the players. Why were you keen to have those moments where you show the real people and the cast morphing together onscreen?

Jang Hang-jun: Originally the ending was not in the script, but during the time when we were drawing out the storyboard, we thought that if we told the audience in advance that this is based on a real story then they might end up forgetting towards the end of the film. So, we decided that we would like to prove that it was based on a real story with those photographs. Initially we collected the photos in the articles and then we selected a few from them for each player, and then we matched the photographs with the cast to fit the situation. There were not many pictures available because it’s already been 10 years, and it was a high school game so we couldn’t find that many, but the last picture that we used is taken by an unknown person, we assume it was one of the spectators, and we did some retouching there to make it sharper [for Rebound].

It was interesting that whenever you had a basketball match onscreen you never showed them all the way through, often the results were told through a side character rather than showing it in real time. I was curious, why?

Kim Eun-hee: Because this is based on a real story it’s like we already had a spoiler, we know the result and what’s going to happen. We knew which games they won and lost, so more than that what I was focusing on, and what I wanted to express, was the feelings that could come from this.

There were a lot of basketball games recreated for this film, what would you say was the most challenging part of bringing those moments to life?

Jeong Jin-woon: Keeping physically fit was the most difficult part, even though we were given breaks we still had to warm up and practise like actual players. Living with that routine actually built up a lot of exhaustion, and getting rid of that was the difficult part.

Jang Hang-jun: And in the background I had a whip I would use and tell them ‘Go!’ [laughs] If you remember that slam dunk scene, you can see that he slips onto his hands and it was not on purpose, he was actually tired, so it happened naturally. Near the end of the shoot, everyone was pretty tired, so their facial expressions were all natural, it was real.

You have grown as an artist so much. You started as an idol [in 2AM] and then moved onto acting, and now you also have had your first solo exhibition “Progress or Regress”. So, I was wondering, is there anything else you would like to do?

Jeong Jin-woon: Free diving and racing…

An adrenaline-filled life?

Jeong Jin-woon: [laughs] Yes. I took part in a race in 2018, I started off in 23rd place and ended 6th, which is a huge feat. In terms of trying something new, I started writing and I was given a lot of positive comments. I’m thinking maybe I could become a travelling writer or a travelling essayist; I am just thinking about the possibilities. I can write lyrics and I can also take photographs, so why not think about the possibility of making a book?

This question is not related to the film, but I am curious if there will be more music coming from 2AM.

Jeong Jin-woon: We are discussing the possibility of making an album every year, but we will see.

Perhaps you should come and perform in London?

Jeong Jin-woon: We would like to come to London one day.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler and Roxy Simons

Featured image © View of the Arts

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

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