Yeon Sang-ho loves his films, even if you don’t

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Yeon Sang-ho loves his films, even if you don’t



Zombie movies are a major draw for theater lovers all over the world. But until 2016, there had never been a big-scale zombie movie in Korea - or at least one that captured audiences’ attention. That all changed when director Yeon Sang-ho took on the genre with his major hit “Train to Busan.”

The movie was the year’s biggest success, with a total of 11.6 million tickets sold and movie fans wanting more from the talented auteur.

So when Yeon made his return with “Psychokinesis,” yet another pioneering movie with a theme uncommon in Korea, fans were eager to see what the director had up his sleeves. However, despite all the hype, many audiences left theaters disappointed. Many expressed their displeasure, saying that the plot fell short of their expectations.

“I don’t know what audiences will say, but for me, I am very happy,” said Yeon in an interview with the Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily. “You have to watch the same clip over and over when it comes to the final stages of the editing. So it gets tiring even if is your movie. But that wasn’t the case with ‘Psychokinesis.’ It was always good. And the editing was not hard, either.”

The following are edited excerpts of the interview, in which Yeon gets frank when discussing his thoughts and emotions regarding the response to his latest film.


A scene from “Psychokinesis,” director Yeon Sang-ho’s follow-up to his 2016 hit movie “Train to Busan.” [NEXT ENTERTAINMENT WORLD]

Q. You released your second film not long after your first film sold more than 10 million tickets at the box office. Did you feel pressured in any way while making your second film?

No. I don’t make movies under that kind of pressure. I don’t even have the mindset of “needing to get good reviews for my great work.” I felt especially comfortable filming “Psychokinesis.” There was a lot of meaning behind being able to film a movie about a subject that I love and enjoy.

As the director, what were your thoughts about the reviews for “Psychokinesis?”

It was quite a mystical movie. To be honest, I don’t completely understand why audiences’ ratings were so low. I’m trying to figure out the reason behind such reviews, asking myself, “Where did the movie go wrong? Which parts did I make viewers uncomfortable?” I try to see what the problem was from the general public’s point of view and don’t stress about every individual opinion.

Did you expect the movie to receive the reaction that it did from moviegoers?

Yes. It was expected, but I don’t know what the reason behind it was. During the movie screenings, I saw negative responses from the audience. I was taken by surprise. At first, I thought maybe there were little details that caused some problems but later realized that the overall framework of the movie just didn’t work for viewers. I found out that there are things that the public just does not like.

Did you ever think that maybe the success of “Train to Busan” might be the reason why this movie was not able to do so well?

Of course I did. I’m sure that was one of the reasons why, but not the only reason behind this movie’s failure.

What made filming ‘Psychokinesis’ more difficult than “Train to Busan?”

I would say the weather. Both “Train to Busan” and “Psychokinesis” were films shot in April. The difference was that “Train to Busan” was mostly filmed on a set and “Psychokinesis” was filmed in many different outdoor locations. The filming took place from April to August and the biggest problem was the rainy season in June. As you already know, our weather here in Korea is unpredictable, so even if it is pouring rain today, tomorrow could be sunny.

When do you feel the most motivated while working?

I would have to say when I find a great piece to work on. I haven’t been watching many shows or movies these days, but I did watch the TV series “Fargo” and was very impressed. The concept of the show was inspired by the movie “Fargo” by Joel and Ethan Coen. I watched the first season and immediately thought it was the best show, but the show went downhill after season one.

When do you feel the most stressed?

When nothing has been decided. It’s the uncertainty that stresses me out; whether investors will decide to invest or actors will choose to take part in the film. It would be best if I get straight answers like “Yes” or “No,” but when I get a feedback of “I want to be part of the film, but I would like it if you could change this and that,” that’s when I get really stressed out.

Do you have any plans to direct abroad?

I have been offered a few projects, but nothing that caught my eye. I don’t think lightly about directing abroad, but I don’t have any specific plans for now.


연상호 감독 "'염력' 참패 '발목 잡혔다' 생각 안해요"

'돼지의 왕', '사이비' 등 블랙코미디 가득한 사회 고발 애니메이션으로 마니아층을 형성한 한 감독의 첫 실사영화는 '좀비'라는 신 소재로 한국 영화계에 길이 남을 신드롬 효과를 불러 일으켰다. 2016년. 영화 '부산행'으로 '1000만 감독', '스타감독 탄생'이라는 평생의 꼬리표와 국내외 호평을 한 몸에 받은 연상호 감독의 등장은 분명 센세이션 그 자체였다.

부산행' 열기가 잠잠해지기 전 들려온 그의 차기작 소식은 업계 관계자들의 관심을 모으기 충분했다. '좀비에 이어 이번엔 초능력이다' 연상호 감독의 이름 석자만으로 충분한 마케팅이었다. 하지만 감독의 만족도와 관객들의 평가가 늘 일치할 수는 없다. 연상호 감독의 두번째 실사영화 '염력'은 누적관객수 100만 명을 넘기지 못하며 사실상 흥행에 참패했다.

-1000만 '부산행' 이후 차기작이 생각보다 빨리 나왔어요. 부담은 없었나요.

"부담을 갖고 작업하지는 않았어요. '염력'은 특별히 더 그랬던 것 같아요. '전 작품만큼의 성과를 내야 한다'는 강박이 있지도 않았고요. 그저 편하게 작업했고, 내가 재미있어 하고 좋아하는 것으로 영화를 만든다는데 의미를 뒀죠."

-'염력'에 담긴 의미보다 '염력'을 둘러싼 관객들의 반응에 대한 감독의 생각이 더 듣고 싶어요.

"신비한 영화입니다.(웃음) 솔직히 저도 100% 이해 하지는 못했어요. 러프하게나마 이유를 찾으려고 노력 중이죠. '뭐가 문제였을까. 어떤 지점이 보편적인 대중들을 불편하게 만들었을까' 전반적인 분위기를 살피는거지 개별 의견에 의미를 두지는 않아요."

-개봉 전부터 예상한 분위기인가요.

"원인을 몰라 답답했을 뿐이지 예상은 했어요. 모니터 시사회 때 반응이 너무 안 좋았거든요. 의외일 정도로요. 처음에는 작은 것을 따졌는데, 본질적으로 이 영화가 갖고 있는, 큰 텍스트가 안 맞았던 것 같아요. 한 포인트를 찾아내긴 했어요. 대중들이 절대적으로 싫어하는 포인트가 있다는 것을 알겠더라고요."

-감독으로서 만족도는 어떤가요.

"관객 분들이 뭐라고 할지는 모르겠지만 전 너무 좋아요. 막판 편집 땐 질리도록 여러 번 보게 되거든요? 그럼 아무리 내 영화라 해도 지치잖아요. 근데 '염력'은 전혀 그렇지 않았어요. 늘 좋았어요. 편집도 어렵지 않았고요."

-대단했던 '부산행'과 그 성공에 오히려 발목 잡혔다는 생각은 안 하나요.

"물론 그런 것도 있겠죠. 근데 '염력'에 대한 외면과 참패라는 결과가 명확히 그 하나 때문에 이뤄진건 아니라고 봐요."

-'부산행' 때보다 더 힘들었던 점이 있나요.

"날씨요. '부산행'도, '염력'도 다 4월에 촬영을 시작했어요. 차이점은 '부산행'은 세트 촬영이 많았다는 것이고, '염력'은 로케이션에 세트 촬영이라 해도 야외가 많았죠. 4월부터 시작하면 8월 정도까지 촬영을 진행하는데 6월에 우기가 시작돼요. 우리나라 날씨가 오늘 미친듯이 비가 쏟아져도 내일이면 언제 그랬냐는 듯 활짝 개이거든요. 아무리 비싼 해외 날씨 앱을 사서 체크해도 예측하기가 힘들더라고요."

-일을 하면서 가장 자극 받을 땐 언제인가요.

"아무래도 좋은 작품을 만났을 때죠. '와, 저건 정말 재미있다' 싶을 때. 최근에는 작품을 많이 못 봤는데 드라마 '파고'를 보면서 감동 받았어요. 나온지 좀 된 작품인데 제가 늦게 봤죠. 조엘 코엔 감독의 '파고'라는 영화를 콘셉트로 만든 드라마예요. 시즌1을 봤는데 '최고'라는 소리가 절로 나오더라고요. 시즌1만 재미있다는게 함정이지만.(웃음)"

-가장 예민해 지는 순간은요.

"아무것도 정해지지 않았을 때? 불확실성에 대한 불안이죠. 투자를 한다는 건지 만다는 건지, 출연을 한다는 건지 만다는 건지 알 수 없을 때요. 차라리 '하겠다, 안 하겠다' 확실한 답변을 주면 편한데 '하긴 할거고 했으면 좋겠는데 좀 고쳤으면 좋겠고'라는 피드백이 오면 제일 민감해져요. 다 정해지면 그 안에서 조율하는건 어렵지 않죠."

-해외가 사랑하는 감독이에요. 해외진출 계획도 있나요.

"해외 쪽은 여러 제안을 받기는 했는데 딱 마음에 드는 기획이 없었어요. 가볍게 생각은 하는데 구체적인 계획은 없어요. 좋은 소식 있으면 자랑스럽게 공개할게요."

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