‘C-list’ filmmaker Back Seung-kee unafraid to get weird: Latest project, made for just W13M, shows birth of the first man

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‘C-list’ filmmaker Back Seung-kee unafraid to get weird: Latest project, made for just W13M, shows birth of the first man


Filmmaker Back Seung-kee wears the monkey costume that he wore in his recently released film, “Super Origin.” He explained his plan to make Super Origin Go, a parody of Pokemon Go. [STUDIO 706]

It’s hard to believe that a film can be produced with a budget of only 13 million won ($11,539), but then again, there’s a lot about “Super Origin” that defies expectations.

The film, which director Back Seung-kee describes as a “C-list comedy,” has an ambitiously philosophical premise: what happens after the first man on earth is born?

Get violent, it turns out - the man eventually subdues the monkeys that currently control the world, who are played by Back, among others.

Despite the low budget, Back and the actors went to the Himalayas in Nepal, as well as Thailand, to shoot.


“Super Origin” portrays the story of the first man. [ATNINE FILM]

The film’s rough edges are unsurprising. Nevertheless, the movie, which received a limited release on Aug. 18, will find an audience among those who enjoyed Back’s first film, “Super Virgin” (2012), which was made with a budget of just 1 million won.

On a recent hot summer day, Back arrived at Seoul Forest in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, wearing the same fur monkey costume he donned for the film, which he kept on for his interview with the Joongang Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“I am planning to make ‘Super Origin Go’, which will be a simulation of Pokemon Go using the characters of the film,” the filmmaker said.

Back is no stranger to making uncommon decisions. Ten years ago, he left his stable job as an art teacher and started his own film production company, Curuk2 Studio, which was behind this most recent picture.

The following is an edited excerpt of his conversation with the JoongAng Ilbo.

Q. What is Super Origin Go?

A. “Super Origin” is being screened at only 10 theaters nationwide. Compared to the number of screens for blockbuster films recently released, ours is relatively small. So, I planned to do something to attract moviegoers, coming up with this idea - Super Origin Go - as a promotional activity. I definitely think such an event embodies the eccentricity of the film. For example, Son Lee-yong [who plays the lead in “Super Origin”] and I will wear the costumes from the film and roam the streets. If anyone sees us, takes a picture and sends it to us, I will give them a prize: the opportunity to appear in my next film. It is like a parody of Pokemon Go, which is augmented reality. Instead, ours represents “real” reality. I hoped to develop a real app, but considering the idiosyncrasies of a C-List film [a term in Korea that refers to both a film’s budget and overall quality], we couldn’t spend the money.

How did you come up with the title of the film?

Considering the film’s Korean title, “Sibal Nom: Illyu-ui Sijak”, the word sibal means the start, or origin. [This definition is based on the Chinese character; in Korean, the word is a homonym for an obscenity, giving the title a double meaning.] The concept for this film was actually thought up earlier than “Super Virgin.”

It was out of self-reproach. Sometimes, even though you have proposed to a lover after long deliberation, that love fades away before you get married. If the opposite was true - that people grew into love - everyone would live happily ever after. Then, I began to imagine what might have happened to [the relationships between] primitive men and women. The more I thought about it, the more anxious I got. So, I watched Jean-Jacques Annaud’s masterpiece, “Quest For Fire” (1981). It is about the adventures of early humans 80,000 years ago. That was my Eureka moment.

Isn’t the story too grandiose for such a low-budget film?

I liked it more. Also, I wanted to show that anyone could produce a film with a grand story [regardless of money]. Shooting the primitive men, for example, does not require CGI, but only nature and the naked body. Furthermore, I acquired knowledge about evolution from various kinds of books, including the Bible and different mythologies. I tried to reflect on the commonalities I found among the materials. For instance, winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, and it takes four days for the sun to get back to its average daily elevation in the sky. I thought it similar to the period it took for Jesus to resurrect: three days.

Considering the 10 million won you received from Atnine Film and 3 million won from the Incheon Film Commission, how did you manage to shoot the film?

I emphasized the scenes that were shot abroad. The backdrop of the snowy mountains and the desert were shot in the Himalayas over three weeks. Without having a clear explanation, if I felt the place was suitable for the scene, then I transformed it into the set. We just changed clothes to play the role of primitive men and monkeys. The local guides, including our Sherpas, were all stunned by this spontaneity. We had a layover in Thailand, so our crew spent a week on the beach shooting other scenes. The rest of the filming was done in Gureop Island in Incheon for free. We tried to consider it a vacation. Without any safety device, Son played his role stark naked on the island full of snakes, armed with only with his fighting spirit. I also used my own money to fund the project.

You’ve said that based on your experience filming “Super Origin,” you’ll no longer be influenced by money. Why?

[Because of the budget], I became obsessed with doing something innovative and novel, which later made the film all over the place. The style of the legitimate drama and the kitsch look failed to harmonize. Moreover, I could not properly express the message I originally meant to deliver.

Based on the chilly response the first version of the movie received at the 2015 Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, I realized that money is not at all important. Rather, it’s important to be more organized and give audiences a better edited version [which was why I recut the film for its general release].

What continues to attract you to C-list films?

Today, not many independent, original films are made in Korea. From investment to release, indie films seem to have become a sub-category of commercial films. The only difference, really, is the scale. Doing C-list films is like a movement that stimulates filmmakers [of our kind]. I have a plan of producing the trilogy: “Super Virgin,” “Super Origin” and “Super Nova.” The next film is about the future. All I want is to continue making films.

BY NA WON-JEONG [kim.hyangmin@joongang.co.kr]

[히말라야도 동네 뒷산처럼 찍어 버린 C급 영화 탄생이오!]
‘시발, 놈: 인류의 시작’ 백승기 감독

제작비 1300만원으로 인류의 기원을 파헤친 자칭 C급 코미디 ‘시발, 놈:인류의 시작’(8월 18일 개봉, 이하 ‘놈’). 상영 시간 71분의 장편으로, 해외 로케이션까지 감행했다. 충격적일 만큼 거친 만듦새. 그러나 전 재산 100만원을 탈탈 털어 “누구나 찍을 수 있는 C급 영화 정신”을 실현한 백승기(34) 감독의 장편 데뷔작 ‘숫호구’(2014)에 배꼽 잡았던 관객에게 ‘놈’은 오래 기다린 신작이다. 찜통 같던 8월의 어느 날, 백 감독이 극 중 ‘원숭이 옷’을 입고 서울숲에 나타났다. “‘포켓몬 고(Pokemon GO)’ 같은 ‘시발놈 고’를 만들 건데요….” ‘미술 교사’라는 안정된 직업을 박차고 나와, 영화제작사 꾸러기스튜디오를 차린 것이 2006년의 일. 마음먹은 일은 무조건 저지르는 10년 차 C급 영화감독의 도전은 이제 막 시작된 참이었다.

-‘시발놈 고’가 뭔가.

“‘놈’ 개봉관이 열 개다. 우리 색깔대로 파이팅하자며 만든 홍보 이벤트다. ‘숫호구’부터 함께한 주연 배우 손이용과 내가 극 중 의상을 입고 돌아다닐 생각이다. 그 모습을 사진 찍어 보내면, 차기작 출연 기회 등 경품을 주는 거다. ‘포켓몬 고’ 같은 증강현실을 패러디한 ‘증말현실’ 게임이지. 실제 앱도 개발하면 좋겠지만, 무엇이든 돈을 써서 해결하면 영 개운치가 않거든. 그게 C급 영화의 습성이다.”

-제목이 절묘하다.
“어떤 일의 처음을 뜻하는 ‘시발(始發)’이다. 일종의 자책에서 착안한 영화다. 연애할 때 어렵게 고백해 사귀어 놓고 마음이 먼저 식기도 한다. 반대의 경우라면 모두가 행복할 텐데. 아예 남녀가 한 명씩만 살았던 최초의 인류도 이랬을까? 고민할수록 화가 나더라. 그때 장 자크 아노 감독의 걸작 ‘불을 찾아서’(1981)를 봤다. 8만 년 전 원시 부족의 모험을 그린 무성영화다. ‘이거다’ 하고 무릎을 쳤다.”

-저예산 영화로는 다소 거대한 이야기 아닌가.
“그래서 더 꽂혔다. 우리 같은 ‘무(無)예산’, 동네 영화도 할 수 있음을 보여 주고 싶었다. 원시인 이야기는 CG(컴퓨터 그래픽) 없이 자연과 알몸만 있으면 완벽히 표현할 수 있잖나. 진화에 관한 책이나 성경·신화 등을 뒤지다 발견한 공통점들도 녹여냈다. 1년 중 가장 낮이 짧은 동지(冬至) 해가 다시 길어지는 데 사흘 걸리는데, 예수도 죽은 지 3일 만에 부활한다든지.”

-‘숫호구’ 투자·배급사 엣나인필름으로부터 1000만원, 인천영상위원회로부터 300만원을 지원받았다. 그렇다 해도 빠듯한 예산이다.
“일단 해외 로케이션 촬영에 힘을 실었다. 히말라야에서 설산과 사막 장면을 3주 찍었다. 앞뒤 설명 없이 ‘여기다’ 싶은 곳에서 원시인 옷을 입고 촬영했더니, 현지인 가이드와 셰르파가 놀라더라. 비행기 경유지였던 태국에서도 일주일간 바닷가 장면을 찍었다. 동네 뒷산 같은 데서 찍다가 갑자기 히말라야 풍경이 나오니까, 다들 합성 화면으로 착각한다는 게 맹점이다(웃음). 나머지 분량은 인천 굴업도에서 일주일 동안 노는 셈 치고 거의 노 개런티로 찍었다. 최초의 현생인류 시발놈 역의 손이용은 뱀이 기어 다니는 굴업도 촬영 현장에서 안전장치도 없이 알몸 투혼을 발휘했다. 기간제 교사로 일하고 영상물을 제작하며 틈틈이 번 사비도 썼다.”

-‘놈’을 찍으며 오히려 ‘돈에 취하면 안 되겠다’는 생각을 했다고.
“ 자본이 투입되고 스케일이 커진 만큼 촬영 현장에서 이것저것 새로운 걸 시도하려 했다. 그러다 보니 정통극과 키치적 톤이 정돈되지 않고 섞여 버렸다. 애초에 하려던 이야기도 제대로 표현이 안 되더라. 지난해 제19회 부천국제판타스틱영화제에서 틀었을 때, 썰렁한 관객 반응을 보고 부랴부랴 재편집했다.”

-그럼에도 C급 영화를 고집하는 이유라면.
“요즘은 오리지널 독립영화가 많지 않다. 투자부터 개봉까지 규모가 작은 ‘준(準)상업영화’ 같다. C급 영화는 우리끼리 자극을 불어넣는 일종의 운동이다. 조기축구회도 프리미어 리그에 나갈 수 있을지 누가 아나. ‘숫호구’와 ‘놈’의 영어 제목이 각각 ‘수퍼 버진(Super Virgin)’과 ‘수퍼 오리진(Super Origin)’인데, 미래 우주를 소재로 다룬 차기작 ‘수퍼 노바(Super Nova)’까지 ‘우리 몸 3부작’을 만들 작정이다. 한국형 히어로 무비와 뮤지컬영화도 구상 중이다. 영화를 계속 만들고 싶다.”

나원정 기자 na.wonjeong@joongang.co.kr 사진=라희찬(STUDIO 706)

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