Behind the Scenes of “Phantom”: An Exclusive Interview with Director Lee Hae-young

Lee Hae-young is a South Korean director and screenwriter, known for his 2015 film “The Silenced”, a mystery thriller set in 1938 during the Japanese colonial era in Korea. His new work, “Phantom”, is a spy drama set in 1933 that tells the thrilling story of a group of Korean independence fighters who band together to destroy the Japanese occupying forces, including an attempt to assassinate the new Japanese resident-general.

After making a name for himself with films “Like a Virgin”, “Foxy Festival” andThe Silenced”, Lee takes his directorial skills to new heights with “Phantom,” delivering an action-packed movie that blends history, intrigue, and the espionage genre in a seamless and captivating way.

In this interview, we’ll delve into the making of “Phantom” and hear from Lee about the challenges and creative choices that went into bringing this exciting film to life. The film had its European premiere at the 25th Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, where this interview took place. 

Lee Hae-young & Darcy Paquet at the premiere of Lee’s “Phantom” at the 25th Far East Film Festival / Image  © View of the Arts

“Phantom” is based on the 2007 novel, “Sound of the Wind” by Mai Jia. I was wondering, how much of the original novel did you use while writing the script?

Lee Hae-young: I would say that the novel was the inspiration rather than the film being based on it. [But to be more specific,] at the beginning, as I said before, it was an inspiration from the novel, and I didn’t adapt the script simply because the original novel written by Mai Jia is a story about the discovery of who the phantom is but it was inside a closed setting, and you only get to know who the phantom is by the end of the novel. I wanted to do it another way, I wanted to tell the story of the phantom itself, so the story talks about how to escape from that [closed setting] and how to save their colleagues.

The characters of Park Cha-kyung and Yuriko, played by Lee Ha-nee and Park So-dam, are well-written roles – two strong female protagonists. Looking at these characters, did you have Park So-dam and Lee Ha-nee in mind while writing the script? They are both amazing in the film.

Lee Hae-young: Thank you so much. When I decided to tell the Phantom’s story, the main point for me was to understand who could take this role? Immediately, Lee Ha-nee was the first actress that I had in mind, and [to be honest with you] I asked her at the very beginning if she could take the role [ of Park Cha-kyung] and, in terms of Park So-dam, I have already worked with her before and I loved her perseverance. In addition, I knew there were other aspects to these actresses and casting these two characters was very important [for the film].

I would like to know about the casting for Murayama’s role. Did you think of Sol Kyung-gu from the start?

Lee Hae-young: In terms of Sol Kyung-gu, who is one of the most prestigious actors in Korea, well, just giving him the antagonist role was too small. Lee Ha-nee represented the story of the phantom, but the role and the message that I wanted to give was also done through Sol Kyung-gu’s character as well. So, his presence in this film is also relevant. He acted out his role in a way that gave the possibility for the audience to think that he might be one of the phantoms.

I would like to talk about the production design and editing. I think we don’t give enough credit to people who are behind the camera and those who work in post-production. So, the editor of the film was Yang Jin-mo and Kim Bo-mook was the production designer. Looking at the set design and locations, how much did the location and filming on set impact the filming. Which scenes did you find more challenging to shoot, indoor or outdoor scenes?

Lee Hae-young: OK, so for the indoor set we constructed everything in a studio and, for the outdoor sets, some parts we also built, and obviously we used CGI to complete some set design. In terms of struggles, we didn’t have the hotel that was located on the cliffs and next to the sea. [After some research] we found a hotel close to the sea with a wide front yard. We decided to shoot some scenes there but the cliff itself wasn’t high enough so we used CGI for that as well. We also built that gate in front of the hotel.

So, let’s move to the editing process. How was that for you? Did you give the editor freedom to bring your story together or were you intensively helping the editor out in the studio?

Lee Hae-young: Actually, this is my second film that I have been working on with this editor, Yang. The first film we worked on was “Believer”. At the time, when we worked on “Believer”, he suggested many ideas, but this time I suggested more ideas to him [laughs]. We did experience some creative differences but, overall, I would say it was great working with him again. We discussed a lot when it came to this film, especially the characters, and I am satisfied with the final product.

Although “Phantom” is an action thriller, there is also some humour in it too. You managed to balance the two very well. I am curious, how did you manage to achieve such a great result?

Lee Hae-young: In all honesty, it was hard to balance the two. I did think hard and work hard on it. You mentioned to me that you liked the character of the codebreaker who has a cat, right? I am glad you found him entertaining as many people said that his character was detached from the main storyline. We did edit out a lot of scenes with that character, but I also left a lot for the audience to enjoy.

I think the codebreaker character added a lot to the story, if you edited him out completely I think the film would have lost its substance as well. I am glad you kept him.

Lee Hae-young: Ahh, thank you for saying that. I think the whole story balances well.

And my last question is, will there be “Believer” 2?

Lee Hae-young: Yes, but, you know, I am not attached to that project, and the film itself won’t be released in cinemas, but on Netflix. Also, some actors changed, that said the main actors, Cho Jin-woong and Cha Seung-won, will appear in the film. I have done everything I wanted with my film, so let’s see what Baek Jong-yeol comes up with. I am currently in pre-production on a new project, it is a TV series and I will start shooting it in August of this year, but you might see the show next year in December [laughs].

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

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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