Tackling social ills with comedy

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Tackling social ills with comedy


Director Kwon Oh-kwang presents an array of social issues plaguing contemporary Korean society in his black comedy “Collective Invention.” From left, Lee Chun-hee, Kim Hee-won, Jang Gwang, Lee Kwang-soo (wearing a giant fish head) and Park Bo-young star in the movie. [FILAMENT PICTURES]

The new black comedy “Collective Invention” is extremely pioneering for someone’s debut feature.

Having a mutated creature in the form of a half-fish, half-human at its center, the film turns its lens on a number of social irrationalities, ranging from youth unemployment to the darker side of the SNS.

However, the bold and quirky premise as well as a keen social-consciousness actually comes from rookie director Kwon Oh-kwang.

This film, which opened nationwide Thursday, is the 32-year-old’s debut feature.

He first gained recognition in the film scene by winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival for the screenplay he wrote for a short film titled “Safe.” Then he gained sponsorship for his feature debut, “Collective Invention,” from CJ E&M’s Butterfly Project, which selects up-and-coming directors to support.

The film’s innovative approach to social problems qualified it to be invited to Toronto International Film Festival, and most recently earned it entry to the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Awards.

“By showing an array of social issues in Korea, I wanted to imply that maybe Gu [the half-fish, half-human character played by Lee Kwang-soo] is not the mutated one, but actually society is,” the director said in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“But at the same time, I wanted to propose that we still have hope,” he continued. “By showing the least-likely ones breaking out of their shells to opt for a brighter future and real happiness, I hoped it would ring a bell with the audience.”


Kwon Oh-kwang [ALL THAT CINEMA]

Here are further highlights of the interview.

Q. How did you conceive of the idea of a half-fish?

A. I had been thinking about the main concept for a while because I thought things happening around me in Korea were so absurd. Then when I came across Rene Magritte’s painting of the same title, showing this ridiculous creature with a fish head and human legs, I imagined what it would be like to have a such a ridiculous character in a even more ridiculous situation like Korean society.

Did you see resemblance between the creature in the painting and people living in Korean society?

The creature, which looks like a fish on the top half, looks very uncomfortable lying on the beach. It is not even in the water. It looks very lethargic, and I thought that was what young people around me, preparing to be a civil servant or to get a job, not because they want to but just because they have to, looked very much alike.

How about you? Did you ever experience those moments?

I have never prepared to be an office worker and I have always been a trailblazer. But I have many friends who are. And it felt so sad because these friends are so brilliant and cool, individually. But they looked afraid to deviate from the set path. Maybe that is why it is so hard to change society. We can be happier by walking the unpaved road, but we don’t. We all have the same objective and we get more rigid.

The film feels like a time capsule of Korea’s 21st century, but it only contains the negative parts. It alludes to the youth unemployment rate, the harmful effects of SNS, provocative reporting by the media and much more. Why did you touch on all of these subjects, instead of delving into one more deeply?

That was what I intended from the beginning - to make a film that feels like a collage. All the “mutant” incidents would be like objects in this modern-art feeling film. So my initial screenplay was more rebellious, containing real news footage and revealing the real names of guilty companies. I wanted each of those events to be like a fragment so that the audience would feel like they are looking at this society from the outside and think, “Damn, we are living in such a strange and wrong world.”

Then why did you change the original screenplay into a lighter film that has more public appeal?

During the filmmaking process, I hoped that this film would be able to greet a wide audience. I hoped that this film wouldn’t be watched only by those who always talk about social issues. In order to make this a film, not just our own story, I took out the uncomfortable parts and added more humor to it. As a director, I think it was my job to find the best balance between the two.

The film mainly follows the path of Park Gu, the mutated one. But it is Sang-won, a contract-based reporter who wants to cover Gu’s story, who narrates the film until the end. Why did you structure the film this way?

If Gu is physically mutated, I think it is Sang-won who is mentally mutated. He is a weird being, too, a graduate from an unknown college who wants to be a reporter but constantly fails because of his background. He chases Gu because it is one way to earn a full-time job as a righteous reporter. He wanted to report the truth, but he becomes a trader. I see a lot of times when people’s objective get lost along the way and the means becomes the new objective. When watching this film, I hoped people would think about their initial goals and change themselves to achieve that.

Are you always this attentive to ongoing social issues?

No. Of course, I think about those things, but those are not the only things I want to portray in films. I have lighter, funnier scripts coming along.

What do you want the audience to feel when they see this film?

I hope they will see the hope for change. The film will remind them of bitter truths, but when they walk out of the theater, I hope they are able to wear a hint of smile on their faces.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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