Actor, filmmaker and producer Baek Jae-ho (Ordinary Days (2014), We Will Be OK (2014), Jane (2017)), and cinematographer Lee Hee-seob (The Winter of the Year was Warm (2012), Love Clinic (2015), How to Break Up With My Cat (2016)), joined their talents to make a dreamy drama The Goose Goes South (대관람차), a film that follows the character of Woo-zoo (Kang Doo) as he tries overcome his feelings of loss and find his way in life.
The two directors have been very busy with their film screening first in theaters across South Korea, and recently making its way across the globe to Warsaw Film Festival. We caught up with them just before their departure from Korea, and they gracefully answered our questions.
Two directors working on a single indie feature – what was the experience like for you two? Did you split the segments or direct the entire feature together?
Lee: During the joint production, director Baek Jae-ho wrote the scenario and I filmed it. In terms of movie production, director Baek Jae-ho took care of the actors’ performances, and I focused a bit more on screen production, though we shared our ideas and had discussions until we reached the same point.
Baek: As we had proposed to co-direct from the planning stage already, we were able to have a more ideal co-director relationship. Since we traveled to Osaka to find (filming) locations together and talked before writing the scenario, there were no big differences in the field (while filming), and we were able to exchange opinions toward common goals during the post-production phase as well, so there were many advantages.
How did the collaboration come about in the first place? Baek Jae-ho, you are an actor, now also a producer; on top of that, you received acclaim for your debut directorial feature We Will Be Ok, and Lee Hee-seob – you previously worked as a cinematographer, is that correct? How did you decide to work – to write the screenplay and direct this film – together?
Baek: During my professional relationship with Lee Hee-seob, we have taken on the roles of the actor and cinematographer, producer and cinematographer, and director and cinematographer. I wished to see how he would perform as a director, and I wanted this movie to act as a stepping stone for him. So when I first received the offer to make this movie, I told the producer that I would co-direct with cinematographer Lee Hee-seob who would take on the role of the film director.
Lee: I met with director Baek Jae-ho as a cinematographer at the set of the movie Santa Barbara, which he produced. Later on, I also joined the filming of We Will Be Ok, his debut film, for a short while. I liked that movie, I remember him telling me what he wanted to say with the film. At that time, I was working as a cinematographer and my job was to draw the director’s story on the canvas, so to speak; and back then, director Baek Jae-ho suggested that next time, we both say something and draw it together. We decided to do everything together from the beginning to the end of the movie, and before writing the scenario, we wandered the streets of Osaka together and had many conversations. Based on the scenery and the stories from that time, director Baek Jae-ho wrote the scenario.
What, in your opinion, was the best thing about your collaboration, and what was the biggest challenge?
Lee: The biggest challenge was co-directing. Until now, I have filmed based on my decisions that I came to after judging from my own position, but this time I couldn’t push forward solely on my methods. I had to carry the responsibility for my choices by myself, but perhaps because the movie was a collaboration, a joint effort, this responsibility was less burdensome. This way, we could compensate for the other’s weaknesses, which was an advantage. As we acknowledged each other’s differences, we were able to move in a better direction even if a conflict of opinion arose.
Baek: It was also difficult because our individual styles are so different, but I started thinking we would be able to have good synergy, and the fact is – we were. Director Lee Hee-seob respected my judgement on writing, so I was able to carry out the work with ease.
How did the idea for the story come about?
Baek: The idea was born while talking about what happened in 2016, the social events that took place, the conversations with the people I met in Osaka, the places I traveled to with director Lee Hee-seob, the talks I had with him, The Little Prince and the night of the Galaxy Express, and the Lucid Fall’s song.
It seems that you shot the entire feature in Japan, is that correct? Why did you decide to place the story in Osaka in the first place?
Baek: All scenes were filmed in Osaka, except for the scenes where Woo-zoo converses with Dae-jeong. The producer first suggested filming in Osaka, and the scenario was written with Osaka in mind. (The producer is a concert organizer in Osaka.)
What was the process of casting like, especially for the Japanese cast members?
Baek: With the exception of Hori Haruna, all of the other Japanese members of the cast are actors and singers who are active in Osaka. Most of them were first-time actors. I met Hori Haruna in 2014, at Busan International Film Festival. She is an actress working in Tokyo. Kang Doo is a singer-turned-actor to whom I was introduced. For the major roles, I first met with the actors and then wrote the scenario while keeping them in mind.
The music in the film is amazing! Can you tell us more about who Snow is and how he got involved in the production?
Baek: Snow is a singer that tried out acting for the first time. Since the producer is a friend, when he and director Lee Hee-seob went to see Snow’s performance, they really, really him and suggested he make an appearance. Should anybody see him perform in real life, they would surely fall for him. The movie’s scenario was adapted to fit the song from the Korean singer Lucid Fall. The movie was built with Korean Lucid Fall’s and Japanese Snow’s songs, and Lucid Fall’s colleague Ju Yoon-ha’s and Snow’s colleague Kurita’s songs were of great help as well.
What, in your opinion, made Kang Doo perfect for the role of Woo-zoo?
Baek: Kang Doo’s amassed life and acting experience, his talent to observe people and be expressive, as well as courage and tenacity to challenge new things. Also the fact that he can perform with a sense of desperation.
I have a question about one of the scenes. Woo-zoo talks to a child, and keeps on talking to the child in Japanese, even though the boy is replying in Korean. Was there something specific you were trying to achieve with that scene?
Baek: I wanted the audience to continuously think that what they are seeing may not be real, to ask themselves a variety of questions, and then find a variety of answers. I didn’t think the language was important. (If you think about it realistically, it’s strange that Woo-zoo is able to understand Snow’s Osaka dialect, haha!) Also… can you be sure that the world we are living in is not just a part of a movie?
There was a refreshing lack of romance in the film – was taking out romance a deliberate decision?
Baek: We eliminated the distinctions between gender, sexual orientation, race, age, and language. I think everyone in the movie is in their own universe and at the same time, making an appearance in Woo-zoo’s story.
Your film will be presented at Warsaw International Film Festival and has been screened in cinemas across South Korea already. How does that make you feel?
Lee: It’s been about a month since its release in Korea, but it’s still being screened in several movie theaters. When I meet the audience in the theaters, I get the sense that the audience are the ones that complete the movie with their own understanding of the story; because of that, the meaning of a movie being ‘made together’ is increasingly growing stronger. I am looking forward to seeing how The Goose Goes South will be made with the audience at the Warsaw International Film Festival.
Baek: What kind of movie is The Goose Goes South made by European people, and not by the Koreans or the Japanese? I also like the Polish name for The Goose Goes South; it translates as “The Devil’s Wheel”. It matches a part of the image of The Goose Goes South’s that I imagined while making the movie.
Was the financing for this project easier to obtain than for your previous projects?
Lee: Although we started with a small budget, the thought of doing the best we could with what we were given led us from the scenario stage onward. So we confronted the pre-production on a shoestring budget.
Do you feel that the future of indie cinema in Korea is getting any brighter, is it getting any easier to make independent films?
Lee: In general, recent Korean movies have lost their diversity, whereas independent movies seem to have made more attempts to achieve it. Rather than making it easier, because it is more accessible than it used to be, I think anyone with courage and patience can become a movie director.
Baek: The making of independent movies in Korea is in its transitional phase. You also have to consider screening on a platform other than the theater. The reasons for the existence of independent movies worry me. Anyone can make a movie, it’s the movie reaching an audience that is the hard part.
Are you working on your next projects already, and is perhaps another collaboration in the works?
Lee: I am currently filming a documentary about interactions between cat caregivers and cats. I started shooting it this spring, and it contains four seasons of cats living in a small provincial town in Korea. My goal is to release it around this time next year.
Baek: I am making a documentary about President Roh Moo-hyun and working together with a team that already has previous experience in filming a documentary about him. The premiere is scheduled for release in May next year, on the 10th anniversary of President Roh Moo-hyun’s death.
We would like to thank Baek Jae-ho and Lee Hee-seob for taking the time to answer our questions!
Interviewed, written and edited by Sanja Struna
Translated by Ajda Rozina
All photos © MOVement