Gu Hye-sun’s feature directorial debut, Magic, is now a week from its release, and the following is an interview from Movieweek featuring both her and her star, actress friend Seo Hyun-jin (who, by the way, was also featured in Gu’s short film The Madonna).
The movie takes place at an arts high school and is set in the world of music; Seo and the two lead actors (Kim Jung-wook and Im Ji-kyu) play students and musicians. Gu explains that she got the idea for the movie two years ago, when she went to a concert by cellist Song Young-hoon. She’d always wanted to do a music-themed movie and the lead character was originally a guitarist, but she changed that to a cellist after seeing the performance.
Gu’s next acting role will be as an aspiring musical actress in The Musical. Her next project behind the camera is a “vampire romance,” a film project she is currently writing and will direct. Magic opens on June 24.
I’ve seen a few reviews of Magic in the Korean press and the verdict is… mixed. They tend to praise the film’s visual quality but not so much the writing. Here’s a review in English from The Korea Times for the curious.
Now on to the Movieweek interview:
Director Gu Hye-sun & Seo Hyun-jin: “We get along really well”
You worked together on the short film The Madonna. Did you become good friends then?
Gu Hye-sun: “We were good friends before we started working together on it.”
Seo Hyun-jin: “We had friends in common, so as we all met together, we became friendly.”
Then somewhere along the line, you ditched the others and became friends?
Seo: “That’s right. [Laughs]”
Gu: “When we’re going through difficulties, we talk together.”
I find people can get close when they end up sharing their concerns and troubles.
Gu: “Since we’re both women, we got close talking about guys. [Laughs]”
Seo: “We talked about dating, and our ideal men.”
Gu: “We talked about every little thing, and found that we had similar inclinations toward the same kinds of things, and bonded through that.”
Seo: “But thankfully, our ideal men are different. [Laughs] If they were the same, we could run into trouble.”
What did you think of each other at first?
Seo: “We kept using polite speech with each other after being acquainted for about a year and a half. It was really awkward. Wherever I went, there she was. We’d greet each other [formally], saying, ‘Ah, hello?’ and ‘Yes, hello.’ [Laughs]
So to break it down, you had been acquainted but didn’t speak to each other, but wanted to?
Seo: “We’re both not the type who finds it easy to initiate conversation. It took us quite a while, since that was already a year and a half [of knowing each other].”
When did you have the chance to get closer?
Seo: “When we went on a trip together?”
Gu: “Yes, that’s right. The trip.”
You didn’t really speak, but you took a trip together?
Seo: “I was looking for someone whose schedule worked, and for some reason we were both available.”
Gu: “Before that, we would see each other pretty frequently so we had started to get closer, but it was on the trip that we became friends. I’d never gone to a public bath with friends before. But in Japan we went to the open-air baths, and became friends. Bathing friends. [Laughs] We also shared a room for about a week.”
So that’s how you became friends and filmed the short together, and then wrote the script for your feature.
Gu: “Yes, I was writing a female character, and I ended up putting some of Hyun-jin’s traits into her. She can be conservative, and doesn’t open her heart easily, but she pours her passion silently into her own work. Those things are expressed indirectly. She brought a lot of that with her.”
Watching Magic, the female lead has the feeling, “Can’t I love both [guys]?” I wondered if that had really happened, if you’d had that worry.
Gu (looking at Seo Hyun-jin): “You did, didn’t you? [Laughs]”
Seo: “You know how there are many types of love. You can truly love someone rationally, and you can love someone because you just feel it. On that point, I think a person can love without distinguishing gender.”
Gu: “In the movie, the character Ji-eun isn’t a leader. She doesn’t do anything from the beginning to end. But the guys just misunderstand for no reason. I think I was thinking more along those lines.”
Seo: “I hope that’s the case. I’m envious of Ji-eun. Why can’t I live that kind of life? [Laughs]”
Gu: “That makes it sadder. [Laughs]”
It must be gratifying to hear that the script was written thinking of you.
Gu: “I talked to her about the script first, before I talked about casting. But on the way home, I did tell her, ‘But still, you have to do it.’ [Laughs]”
Seo: “She told me to just read it first, so I read it and thought it was interesting. After that, she told me to act in it. I was doubtful: ‘Why? Will that really be okay?’ [Laughs]”
Gu: “Actually, I used Hyun-jin in The Madonna because she helped me, and in Magic because I matched the character to her personality. She’s also musical, and I had a lot of faith in her. Other actors may just act, but she could show a musical side too. She’s never played the piano, but I had that faith that she could pull it off. In the end, she played everything herself. She would practice the piano while screaming. [Laughs]”
Seo: “Honestly, a few times I wanted to break the piano. [Laughs] I was in such a temper.”
But you still performed everything in the movie?
Gu: “Yes, she did. She took some lessons, and practiced a lot on her own. There was a piano in the office, and she’d come to practice on it. I could hear clang-clang noises occasionally coming from the room, and her shrieks. Outside, I’d feel a pang of sympathy. [Laughs] I thought I may have burdened her with too much. Even so, in the end she did it all herself without complaining.”
Seo: “No, I did say a few times that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard. [Laughs] That it wouldn’t work. But even if I couldn’t play the full-length piece, after practicing for four months, I could play the several bars that you see in the movie.”
After making you suffer, she must have paid you a high salary.
Seo: “She bought me lots of dinners.”
Gu: “I told her I’d pay her a lot next time. [Laughs]”
Since your actor was your friend, you must have talked a lot while filming.
Gu: “She had too much faith in me. She’d leave a lot to me, and look to me for support because I’m also an actor. It’s strange that before we began shooting, we talked a lot about the movie, but as we were filming we didn’t really.”
As you talked, were there specific suggestions she made?
Gu: “Ah, the scene in the screenplay where she walks barefoot in the snow.”
Seo: “On the day we were going to shoot the scene, it didn’t snow so we put down something else, but that looked too pretty. It was obvious it wasn’t snow. But on days we were filming other scenes, it kept snowing constantly. The entire area was covered in snow, and it was beautiful. So I said, if we don’t film it today, when can we?”
Gu: “That scene is the image in our poster. The second poster.”
Working with a friend on your first feature must have made it less stressful.
Gu: “She was on my side no matter what. And she’d tattle to me if anyone did anything to me. [Laughs]”
Seo: “And then we’d say to each other, ‘Omo, how could that happen? They shouldn’t do that!’”
So you’d hit someone for her?
Seo: “I couldn’t go as far as hitting someone, but I’d write in her notebook — a death note. [Laughs]”
She refers to the Japanese manga Death Note; writing a name in a supernatural diary meant that the reaper would kill the person whose name was written there.
Gu: “They say that a director is the loneliest person on the set, but with a friend there, it wasn’t lonely at all.”
Even still, you must have undergone a lot of difficulties in your first feature film.
Gu: “More than anything, dealing with budget issues was the most difficult part of it. I had to be responsible for the budget. I was responsible for making sure the personnel were able to be paid, and had to give up things on the set because of budget restrictions. That was difficult.”