Director lets music do the talking
In the cutthroat film industry it can seem impossible to balance commercial success and artistic merit. Directors often feel pressured to forfeit their visions in order to draw in more viewers, or sacrifice large budgets for the sake of artistic independence. But one ambitious director has quietly found a way to defy these trends by making films he wants to see - films about the power of music.
Yoo Dae-eol, a director at the advertisement production company MassMessage and lecturer at Seoul Arts College, has a long list of commercials and music videos on his CV, one of which is the opening sequence of this year’s blockbuster hit “The Thieves.”
While he says fame is not what he’s after, Yoo has been recognized as a pioneer in short films. And with the splash he’s made with his shorts, it seems likely that a wave of attention will follow soon.
The director is used to double-takes on the street - he’s the identical twin of Yoo Na-ul of Korean R&B group Brown Eyed Soul. But it’s not just the facial features that the twins have in common; both Yoos have a passion for music that stems from their childhood. While Na-ul uses the stage to express himself, Dae-eol tells his musical tales with a camera.
“My family members are all big music lovers,” says Yoo, who said that he was brought up both playing and listening to music.
Growing up as a violinist with a penchant for drawing, it seemed clear from the beginning that Yoo would pursue an artistic career. He majored in arts, film and multimedia at Korea National University of Arts.
And although he’s made quite a career directing, music has always been a recurring theme in his works.
During his time in the military, Yoo learned how to play brass instruments and became a member of the military band. His debut film “The Brass Quintet” from two years ago was largely based on his personal experiences. It went on to win many domestic and foreign film festivals.
The short explores the humorous side of life in the barracks to the sound of brass instruments. Although the plot is centered on what could be considered a mundane setting, the power of music, or rather Yoo’s interpretation of it, earned it acclaim at the Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival as well as at the Asiana International Short Film Festival in Korea.
His second short, “Duo” (2011), is about a young saxophonist whose pants rip during a solo recital, which results in him seeking revenge on whom he thinks caused the ordeal.
Yoo’s third project, “Etude, Solo” (2011), is a nostalgic romance piece that centers on a piano tuner who bumps into his first love on the job. The passions of youth, nostalgia and the power of music are examined through the 30-minute work. The short was selected as the opening piece at last year’s Asiana International Short Film Festival and won this year’s Toronto Korean Film Festival.
Yoo has another short in the same series that he’ll unveil next year: “The Jazz Quartet.”
Fusing the two arts
“The film was made for the weak,” says Yoo. The director certainly knows what its like to work too hard - the film was made on the side when he was not working at his nine-to-five job or teaching.
The short asks what role music plays in society. To best tackle the philosophical question, he tells the tale through the lives of a jazz quartet made up of a group of awkward North Korean defectors who work by day under the watchful eye of a sneaky supervisor and perform jazz by night.
The film posits that just as African-American work songs developed in an era of captivity, jazz soothes the sorrows of the overworked today.
Being a music and movie buff, Yoo says the most important aspect of such a genre is the quality of the performance. That is why he always insists that actors in his films should be able to play the instruments to ensure the breathing and movement is perfectly accurate.
While “The Brass Quintet” featured musicians from the military band, “The Jazz Quartet” has cast renowned veteran jazz trumpeter Choi Sun-bae.
The talented musician is not the only thing that sets this film apart from his other shorts.
Yoo is also adamant about producing films that make people think and carry a strong message.
He attempts to do this in his latest work, with the message being that jazz heals the downtrodden.
The idea for the project came to him when Yoo was toying with the notion of who the underdogs or the marginalized were in contemporary Korean society.
“I was impressed by one sentence in a book I read recently: ‘Jazz is music for the weak.’ The expressions struck a chord in me. Then I thought, ‘Now, who are the weak in Korean society?’ and concluded that they are North Korean defectors,” he says.
The film challenges viewers by asking just what kind of significance music plays in the lives of the voiceless.
However, Yoo does assert that in retrospect the message is for all who feel defeated in life - with a jazzy twist.
Voice of the indie artist
Despite his intentions, drive and ambition, Yoo admits it’s not so easy to screen his films in Korea. The dominance of movie distributors and conglomerates is a growing concern in the industry. Directors like Kim Ki-duk have often highlighted this fact, and Yoo says he feels the pressure as an artist too.
Throughout his career, Yoo has held his own private screenings to appease his loyal fans. He will hold one at Cafe Selah in Hyehwa, central Seoul, on Jan. 19. But he says that he wishes the industry were different.
With the odds stacked against him, Yoo says he accepts the challenge. Having dusted off “The Jazz Quartet,” he is already eyeing his next project.
“The title will be Trio,” Yoo says. He he added that the next film will make his “collection complete.”
His goal in the industry is simple: “I want to make original films from the heart,” he says.
Director at MassMessage
- Date of Birth: Sept. 23, 1978
- Education: Korea National University of Arts (Film & Multimedia)
- Commercials: LG Group, Amore Pacific, Hyundai Securities, Samsung Galaxy Player, Yeosu Expo Korea Samsung Pavilion
* “The Brass Quintet” (2010)
-2010 Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival: The King of Comedy, Best Film, People’s Choice
-2010 Korea Film & Video Festival: Best Film
-2010 Asiana International Short Film Festival: Max Movie Prize
-2010 Jeongdangjin Independent Film Festival: People’s Choice
* “Duo” (2011)
-2011 Jechon International Film Festival
-2011 Great Short Film Festival
* “Etude, Solo” (2011)
-2011 Asiana International Short Film Festival: opening film
-2012 Toronto Korean Film Festival: First prize in shorts competition
By Carla Sunwoo, Son Ji-yoon intern writer [email@example.com]