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Spotlight on South Korea: 9 Talented Filmmakers To Keep On Your Radar

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Following the Oscar-winning success of its flourishing film industry, PSN South Korea profiles some of the most exciting talent in one of Asia’s burgeoning creative capitals
Spotlight on South Korea: 9 Talented Filmmakers To Keep On Your Radar

It’s an exciting time to be filming in South Korea. For many years the country has been establishing itself as one of Asia’s cultural capitals, however last year’s Oscars win for Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite ensured that the film industry has joined the music business in waking up to the country’s creative capabilities.

In the past, issues such as a language barrier and lack of local knowledge have stood in the way of productions looking to harness the country’s unique culture and talent for their projects. In 2020, however, advancing technologies and stronger global links with the wider industry have nullified these issues, and the country is open for international business. 

South Korea’s world-leading response to Covid-19 has only strengthened its appeal as a filming destination. The local industry’s ongoing recovery passed another milestone earlier this month, as director Il Cho’s zombie thriller #Alive became the first film to pass one million local box office admissions since the pandemic began.

With all that in mind, PSN South Korea production liaison Kimi Kim has spoken to some of the top filmmaking talent currently working in the country. From directors to drone operators, these Korean creatives are perfectly positioned to take a project from idea to reality. This list is in no particular order. 


Director - Lee Hyun Ji

Production ROCKET

Above: Lee Hyun Ji says of her film for the telecommunications giant KT, “I feel this project reflects my own vision more than any other piece of work I’ve done. I wanted to tell the story of how anyone can have the world, provided they believe in their own spirit”.


Q > Why do you think South Korea is such an exciting place to film right now?

LHJ > I guess the visuals are quite new and exciting for a lot of western filmmakers. I’m thinking about the shining neon signs that pop out of our cities at night, an overabundance of people in trendy clothes at every corner, and the whole place has this feel of maximum grandiosity thanks to our Korean idol culture. 

Q > What first inspired you to become a director?

LHJ > At school, they ask you what you want to be when you grow up. My immediate answer was ‘a director!’ because I thought it sounded like the coolest, most fun thing I could do. And so far it seems I was right! 

First of all, I went to Japan to pursue my dream. I worked with Sony Music there and I became a director at a young age. I remember having this feeling that I wasn’t good enough yet, and when I came home to Korea I worked for six years as an assistant director. I feel like that was one of the best decisions I ever made - there’s no doubt I learned more from those six years than I ever did at school. 

Q > And what advice would you give to any international filmmakers looking to work in Korea? 

LHJ > Honestly, my advice would be to follow your instincts and your own heart. You are blessed with a unique perspective in that you’re looking into our country from the outside, and so what is beautiful about it may not be obvious to someone like me who was born here and is used to the culture. So if you feel you have seen something beautiful, act on it. You may be the one to know best. 


Drone Pilot Team - Lee Seung Kyu (Camera Operator) & Park Min Soo (Drone Pilot)

D.X.F.

Above: “Around six years ago, we got the opportunity to work on an Avengers film which was shot in Korea”, says Lee Seung Kyu. “That was such an important project for us because since then we’ve become much more popular!”.


Q > What first inspired you to pursue a career in the industry?

Park Min Soo > You know, back when I was a kid I loved remote control helicopters. In fact, I played with them competitively for the South Korea national team! Then about 12 years ago the multicopter drone came out and so I started to learn that along with movi operating. It was a very natural thing. 

Q > Why do you think South Korea is an exciting place to film right now? 

Lee Seung Kyu > From the perspective of what we do, I have to say that the equipment you find in Korea is state of the art and very much up to date. Our DPs and directors are very into new technology, so the equipment rental companies are competing fiercely for their attention.

Plus, our country has plenty of modern looking cities with clean and safe environments, good transportation systems, great food, and the fastest internet in the world. All of this comes together to make Korea an exciting place to be and to work.

Q > Outside of work, what do you do in your free time?

Lee Seung Kyu > I am lucky enough to have a job working with my hobby! I love remote control cars and planes. I even fly drones in my spare time.


Director - Jay Jun

UNDERDOG

Above: In 2019 and 2020, Jay Jun was asked to direct films celebrating Korea’s 100 years of independence. Of the project, entitled ‘Korea Is Alive’, the director says “I’m generally happy with all of the work I do, but I am especially proud of these films. There is a feeling you get with the cut to music that I find very powerful.”


Q > What first inspired you to pursue a career in the industry? 

JJ > It’s hard to say just one or two reasons. I think maybe ‘culture’ as a whole always pushed me in this direction. Of course, a big moment for me as a kid was watching Star Wars, a few other Hollywood movies from the 80s, as well as rock music and the videogames I enjoyed playing. Oh, and the plays I wrote and directed! So yes, it’s very hard to say one thing. 

In terms of wanting to be a director, that has been my dream ever since 2000 when I started working as an assistant director. Even when I was working as an agency producer at TBWA Korea, I was developing my own ‘director’s philosophy’ and in 2012 my dream finally came true. Now I am working happily and bringing my passion to all my projects!

Q > Why do you think South Korea is an exciting place to film right now?

JJ > I think the biggest reason is borderless culture. Korea has K-pop stars and world sports stars who have strong influences to this globalised, borderless culture of the world and Korean culture seems to be gaining popularity everywhere. So there is this two-way exchange where Korean stars are going out and becoming part of the wider world, while the world is also interested in the Korean culture where the stars are born and raised.

Q > What piece of advice would you give an international filmmaker looking to work in South Korea?

JJ > Korea is a very small country with a high population density. It’s a place where you get four beautiful seasons which put the diversity of nature under a highly developed modern environment.

Additionally, the quality of crew and technical skills are very high. Korea is a great place to film any kind of production.


DOP - Nam Dong Keun

ROBOCAM


Above: The Great Battle on Netflix tells the story of the siege of Ansi, part of the Goguryeo-Tang War in the year 645. “There were not a lot of historical documents for this era”, explains Nam Dong Keun. “So the director and I decided to go with this kind of stylish approach to the visuals and make it look bold”. 


Q > What inspired you to pursue a career in the industry? 

NDK > I was always interested in trendy and stylish ads, so my university senior introduced me to a DOP to start working as a camera assistant. Seven years later, I became a DOP myself! I started out shooting a lot of music videos, which was cool.

At that time Korean style was a long way removed from American style. Whereas MTV style was all about cool images, Korean music videos were more about dramatic narratives. Today, I have shot over 150 music videos and something like a thousand ads, and I put all of that experience into my work with feature films!

Q > Why do you think South Korea is such an exciting place to film?

NDK > Korea is riding a wave right now. We’re starting to see parts of Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers and Black Panther with Korean locations. It means that Korea is having this visible effect on culture across the world, and of course Parasite has shown the power of Korean cinema.

With all these powerful cultural ripple effects, foreigners are showing an interest in Korean food, culture and music. With lockdowns all over the world, people have also had the perfect opportunity to stream Korean cinema which they wouldn’t have seen playing at their local theaters. So I think this cultural wave is only going to get bigger. 


Director - Kim Gun

STUDIO PARANOID

Above: “I met the actor for the main character in this project at a hamburger shop”, recalls Kim Gun. “He had never acted before but he was a natural! There was no storyboard, no actor scouting. I got a real thrill out of it”.


Q > What inspired you to pursue a career in the industry?

KG > Well, my father worked for what’s now called the Korean Film Council, so as a kid I was always able to watch new movies rather than comic books like everyone else. My hobby was taking a 8mm video camera and just shooting everywhere I went!

I started my career as an AD on a feature film in 2008. In Korea there’s this odd culture where if you want to be a director, you need to do your time as an assistant director first and so that’s what I did. The first film I worked on was Sayonara Itsuka, and I then went on to work for Africa Production where I started my work on music videos and ads.

Q > What advice would you give to filmmakers looking to work in South Korea? 

KG > Since Korea is a car production country, it’s a popular place to shoot automotive ads. Interestingly, it’s also possible to shoot these films without needing the kind of permits you would have to get elsewhere in the world. If you want to shoot something in Korea, the permit process can be a lot easier than in Europe, where you might have to deal with a lot of picky people! 

Q > Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

KG > I am always trying to find new inspiration. During these times the Bible has given me inspiration.  Whether you are Christian or not, I recommend that you read this book! The Bible has a number of unique stories you can take inspiration from. 

Even the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke was known to carry the Bible everywhere he went. As writers, we always want to write inspiring stories with the highest standards - and the Bible is a book full of inspiration that any writer can benefit from, not just religious doctrines.


DOP - Kang Han Vit 


Above: “I was shooting this spot in Calgary, Canada”, says Kang. “The weather was changing all the time, so it was hard to manage the project. What’s more, the part we shot in Korea was shot in Film camera, so we had to develop the film from Japan. It was a tough one but I love the finished film”. 


Q > What first inspired you to pursue a career in the industry?

KHV > Growing up I always wanted to be a feature film director, so I studied directing at University. When studying directing, I decided I needed to know more about the lights and the space you feel through the camera so I went to the USA to study cinematography. Now I love being a DOP, crafting visual stories. It’s very exciting work! 

Q > What makes South Korea such an exciting place to film right now?

KHV > The key to me is culture. K-pop, fashion, beauty, drama, and now of course the film industry. But it’s not just luck - Koreans have been working so hard for years and this exciting culture is the reward for our efforts. Generally speaking, Koreans work hard and have a good education, meaning the quality of people you will work with here is very high. 

Q > What advice would you give to an international filmmaker looking to work in South Korea?

KHV > I would say always give yourself a little more time than you think you may need. The best production teams are in very high demand in Korea, so rushing your schedule may mean you don’t have access to the best people that can make your project amazing! It’s always better to have enough time to search for crew, and confirm in advance to have the best experience working in Korea.


Visual Director - Jang Jae Hyeok 

Cube Entertainment

Above: “I had the crazy opportunity to work with BTS on this project for a perfume brand”, says Jang Jae Hyeok. “I only had six hours with BTS, and we had six different sets and looks to shoot for! Everyone thought it would be impossible, but we made it possible.”


Q > What first inspired you to pursue a career in the industry? 

JJH > I had a very exciting start to my career in 1998 when my short film ‘Me…. Steak’ was screened at the 1999 Indie Forum and in Hamburg as well as Busan in Korea. From then I knew I was in the right place.

Now, with 20 years experience in the industry, I am still feeling that same excitement and looking for new ways to channel it. Most recently I got a call from Cube Entertainment, asking me to become the company’s visual director. Now, I’m not just directing in the traditional sense but also taking care of every aspect of an artist’s career path. Planning an album and all that stuff. It’s familiar but also new, and that feeling motivates me. 

Q > What piece of advice would you give an international filmmaker looking to work in Korea? 

JJH > Every city has its own charm. It’s not just about Seoul, although of course that’s a magical location! I’d recommend spending time on location scouting because our cities are so diverse and also unique, so I can almost guarantee there will be an undiscovered gem of a location for you to find. 

Q > Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

JJH > I love spending time with my wife whenever I have free time. We enjoy having drinks together when we can!


VFX Supervisor - Jay Jang

Solid VFX

Above: “The Hong Kong Disneyland project was an enjoyable challenge”, says Jay Jang. “The time allotted for production was quite short, and the amount of work and the project required a considerable amount of technical requirement. They couldn’t find the post production company in Hong Kong, so they reached out to us”.


Q > What first inspired you to get into the industry?

JJ > I actually started out studying architecture at University. At the time in the architectural field , digital visualisation technology was not fully utilised  as much as it was in the film industry.  But there was one professor who had his work used in 3D animation called ‘Wonderful Days’. He was the person who showed me the enormous possibilities of digital graphic technology, and inspired me to start my career as a 3D artist.

Q > Why do you think South Korea is such an exciting place to film right now?

JJ > We are one of the very few countries which has been operating at close to full capacity without much difficulty in this Covid-19 situation. I think you’ve seen a lot of international media coverage looking at how well the Korean economy in general has coped, and of course that applies to our film industry. 

In fact, even pre-Covid we were getting inquiries for supervising post production from overseas using a remote-shooting system. Now, remote working has become the new normal and suddenly Korea is the highest standard anyone can aspire to! 

Q > Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

JJ > I’ve always loved taking a walk with my dog, and cycling. These days I am very busy, so I take my dog cycling with me! 


SFX Makeup & Props - Yoon Hwang Jik

GEPPETTO

Above: "I was lucky enough to be nominated the technical award at the Blue Dragon Film Awards in Korea for my work with Metamorphosis”, says Yoon Hwang Jik. 


Q > What first inspired you to pursue a career in the industry?

YHJ > When I was a kid, I loved going to the VHS rental shop. Always so much to discover! I remember walking around the streets, collecting bottles so I could cash them in and rent more videos. That’s what inspired me at the start - as for what inspires me to keep going, I think that’s my personality. When I concentrate on something so much, I become obsessed with it. I think that’s a good description for my career!

Q > Why do you think South Korea is an exciting place to film right now? 

YHJ > As well as our culture, I think we have a great amount of quality that we can bring for the budget we’re given. In Korea, our contracts are maybe not as strict as in a lot of other places, and we have an attitude of trying to add more than the minimum we promised and we have a collaborative approach to our work. That makes many foreign teams come back again for another project. We’re also quite good with making something out of nothing.

Q > What piece of advice would you give an international filmmaker looking to work in South Korea?

YHJ > Quality will be assured, and we may bring even better quality than you may expect for the budget. So foreign teams can be at ease when they work here, they don’t need to worry a lot about the deliverable materials from the Korean team.


Production Designer - Zho Jae Seock

The Form

Above: “The inspiration for this campaign came from Edward Hopper’s paintings”, says Zho Jae Seock. “We ended up getting a great response from both the client and the audience, so it left a great feeling for me”.


Q > What first inspired you to pursue a career in the industry? 

ZJS > I guess my career really started when I was working part time at a company who made props for people in the advertising industry. That was just after I left University! But then I started my own company, ‘The Form’, which was one of the only companies capable of supplying the Korean ad industry (which has always been quite artistic) with the props people wanted.

Q > What piece of advice would you give an international filmmaker looking to work in South Korea?

ZJS > I tend to look at things from the point of view of the art department. With that in mind, I think that when you look at South Korea as a whole, you’ll see we don’t have vast lands with lakes or mountains like Japan, but what we do have is ultra-modern, organised city look and four different seasons. And, of course, when you work with the right art department, any kind of set is possible… 

Q > Outside of work, what do you like to do in your spare time? 

ZJS > Aha! This is a trick question. When you ask someone in Korean advertising what they like to do in their spare time and they tell you they have some, you’ve just found the one team member who isn’t busy! Haha - with the very small amount of spare time I do have, I like to paint flowers. It becomes my resting time, and I find peace in it.


This list was compiled by PSN South Korea’s Kimi Kim. Kimi works with each filmmaker represented on the list, and can be found here

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Production Service Network PSN, Wed, 12 Aug 2020 14:11:28 GMT