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‘Cats’ director aims to inspire the next generation: Tom Hooper hopes Koreans will embrace the musical just like ‘Les Miserables’

Dec 24,2019
Left, a scene from the film “Cats” in which the main character Victoria is introduced to the new ways of cat life by the playful twins Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Right, local musical star Oak Joo-hyun and Tom Hooper pose for photos together at a press conference for the film on Monday in central Seoul. Hooper is wearing a hat that Oak gave to him as a gift. [UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, NEWS1]
Legendary director Tom Hooper was so touched by the reception that his musical film “Les Miserables” received from Korean audiences that he decided to come to Korea himself to promote his latest film “Cats,” which debuts in local theaters today.

According to the director on Monday, he was allowed to choose one country other than the United States and Britain to visit while promoting the film, and Korea was his choice.

“I think it’s because ‘Les Miserables’ connects in such an extraordinary way [with local audiences], and ever since, I’ve been intrigued to come to the country and meet people who have seen it and really say thank you for embracing the film as they did,” Hooper said. “I think ‘Les Miserables’ was a very emotional film, and I think South Korea has very passionate people - there is a connection there.”

Despite the 2012 film being over three hours long, over 5.9 million Koreans saw the movie in theaters. Hooper hopes that “Cats” will resonate with local audiences as much as “Les Miserables” did.

“My focus was to do justice to this wonderful stage show. I was taken by my parents to see ‘Cats’ when I was 8 years old, and I was awfully enchanted and transfixed by it. I got my parents to buy the cassette, and [I] listened to it [during] every car journey,” he said. “Most of all I wanted to honor that experience and make sure I made something that an 8-year-old Tom would be transfixed by.”

But unlike “Les Miserables,” one of the challenges that the director had to tackle was bringing a central storyline to the screens, which the musical production lacks. While “Les Miserables” was based on a strong, detailed story with descriptions of the characters provided in a novel, “Cats” is derived from a collection of poems that poet T.S. Eliot initially wrote for his godchildren.

Hooper emphasized from the start that the film was a very performance-driven work and promised that there would many sights to see in a way that was different from the already-famous musical production.

“The main difference from the [stage] musical is that we created this central character called Victoria who’s a young cat abandoned rather viciously at the beginning of the film,” Hooper continued. “In many ways this is a coming-of-age story of her being plunged into this confusing, chaotic environment and meeting different kinds of cats that challenge her. As she goes on this journey of meeting these wonderful characters and through that journey, she’s finding her place - a home, an acceptance - in the world. That is a very important theme.”

The director advises the local audience to follow the story through Victoria’s point of view, for both first-timers and fans of the original musical.

“In some ways the film has an old-fashioned structure of a morality tale [about kindness and forgivingness] - Victoria meets different cats who present her different ways of living. So you’ve got Bustopher Jones, [who is] obsessed with eating; Rum Tum Tugger who’s a lustful cat who plunders around, a petty thief. So she keeps meeting these characters who are showing different ways of living her life, so she’s going to have to choose [her way of living her life].”

When asked whether or not the director has seen the harsh critic reviews that are being published, mostly related to the film being unable to overcome the visual challenge of the animated characters, Hooper replied that he doesn’t generally read reviews but still said that he was “very proud” of the film’s visual effects.

“I do believe it’s breaking new ground. It’s something the audience is going to be hopefully surprised by and enchanted by,” the director said.

Singer and local musical star Oak Joo-hyun also made a brief appearance at the press conference to talk about the film. Oak is the only singer who was chosen to record a cover version of the musical’s big number “Memory,” which is sung by Jennifer Hudson in the film.

Although the singer has yet to have seen the film, she praised the director’s ability to bring musical productions to the screen.

“I haven’t seen the film yet, but I did look up a lot of behind-the-scenes clips, and one of the things that I remember was that the director would shoot the scenes through the live performance [of the actors],” Oak said. “One of the many charms of the musical is that it has a vividness where the stage and audience resonate with one another when they realize that they’re transfixed at that moment. I think Hooper is the only director who erased my doubt [about bringing a musical production to the screen]. So I’m really excited for the film too.”

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]







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