The long journey to make ‘Dark Figure of Crime’: Director Kim Tae-kyun was focused on making sure the film was not too gruesome

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The long journey to make ‘Dark Figure of Crime’: Director Kim Tae-kyun was focused on making sure the film was not too gruesome


Despite the controversy surrounding its release, “Dark Figure of Crime” has done well at the box office. It has sold more than three million tickets as of Wednesday. [SHOWBOX]

“Dark Figure of Crime” was shrouded in controversy well before its release on Oct. 3. Inspired by a real-life serial murderer, the movie tells the story of a prisoner named Tae-ho (Ju Ji-hoon) who confesses to committing a slew of murders to a respected detective named Hyung-min (Kim Yoon-seok).

Prior to its theatrical release, the family of one of the serial killer’s victims applied for an injunction to ban the movie from being screened, arguing that the film’s producers did not ask for consent before making the story into a film, and that many actual events, including the crime itself and where the incident took place, are reflected in the movie. The family, however, ultimately decided to withdraw the case just before the film’s scheduled release after receiving a sincere apology from the producers.

In spite of the controversy, the movie is performing well at the box office. It initially trailed the Hollywood antihero flick “Venom” upon its debut, but eventually climbed to the top of the box office last week. It has sold more than three million tickets as of Wednesday.

Director Kim Tae-kyun said he focused on making sure to not show the victims of the serial killer too vividly because he did not want to repeat what in real life on the big screen.

In a recent interview with JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, Kim talked about the care he took while making the film. “The movie tells the story of a detective who searches for victims that were murdered without anyone knowing. They were someone’s daughter, son and mom, so I thought it would be very insensitive to vividly depict their death under the guise of portraying the characters.”

Kim added, “Producers, distributors as well as actors could have demanded that I shoot the film in a more provoking way, but thankfully, they agreed with the direction I had hoped to take with this feature. I am glad that I did not do any financial damage to those people who trusted me and invested in the film. This movie is quite different from average commercial titles, and I’m hoping for people to watch and sympathize [with the story].”

Instead of depicting brutal scenes, which are often seen in commercial crime flicks, “Dark Figure of Crime,” instead demonstrates the intense psychological confrontation between Tae-ho and Hyung-min. Tae-ho tactfully messes with Hyung-min, sometimes giving him the truth, while at other times handing over skewed information. Shedding light on the detective’s journey in discovering the dead victims, the movie highlights the tragedy caused by society’s indifference.

Stressing that “the film is a complete dramatization although it was inspired by an actual incident,” the director explained that the part where the detective offered money to the prisoner in exchange for clues is fictitious.

Kim, who had previously directed “Spring, Snow” (2011), learned about the murderer after watching the SBS investigative show “Unanswered Questions” by chance. The following day, he headed to Busan, where the incident happened, and met Detective Kim Jeong-su, who was in charge of the case.

The following are edited excerpts from the interview with Kim.


Director Kim Tae-kyun

Q.What drew you to the case?

. It seemed like the exact opposite of how murder cases are usually investigated. Since the detective was not sure whether the murder’s confessions were true, he had to start from the very end by searching for victims. After looking into the story, I learned that the murderer sent letters to many detectives, but only he (Kim Jeong-su) showed interest in his confessions. He could have focused more on new cases instead of inquiring further into the crimes of someone who was already in prison. When I asked the detective why he delved into the difficult case, he told me, “Since there are victims, there are bereaving families.” He says he is still looking for the victims. I am really glad that there is a detective like him. Hearing that, I was determined to make the story into a film.

What were some difficulties in making a true story into a film?

The actual case was a lot more comprehensive than what was shown on screen. My biggest homework was to construct a plausible story. Over a year, I met with Detective Kim Jeong-su around 10 times as well as his colleagues and others involved in the case. I also analyzed the case by looking at the murder list that was made based on the killer’s confessions. Until the court’s ruling was made in 2016, my script could not be completed. I developed several versions of its ending.

In the film, Tae-ho is shown as the absolute evil character and a victim of social indifference. What did you want to say through his character?

Tae-ho is a character that I mulled over the most. It felt irresponsible to simply depict him as a psychopath based on the little information that has been revealed about him. So I narrowed him down to someone at the lowest level of society, who eventually becomes a monster born in the sewers of Busan’s Jagalchi Market. I imagined that if there were just a few people who had paid attention to him, the tragedy coming from the monster would have been halted earlier.

The film was engulfed in controversy before its release. How did you feel when the family of the victim applied for an injunction to ban the movie screening?

My shoulders felt so heavy with guilt and responsibility that I could not use the internet for a while. From now on, I think I will be more cautious [about directing] a movie based on an actual incident.

Did you get any comfort from friends or colleagues?

I got a lot of support from long-time friend and cinematographer Hwang Gi-seok (who worked on 2005’s “Duelist”) and mentor Kwak Kyung-taek, (who directed 2015’s “RV: Resurrected Victims” and 2001’s “Friend”). When I worked on my autobiographical drama “Spring, Snow,” I acted like a dictator on set. I later realized how many people’s feelings I had hurt, and I felt deeply regretful. So for “Dark Figure of Crime,” I opened my ears and exchanged opinions with the actors and the entire staff.

It took six years for the murderer to get a ruling from the time Detective Kim Jeong-su took charge of the murder case. This is the same period of time that I spent on this movie from the beginning until it premiered. Looking over the movie again, I can only see what should be improved. From now on, I earnestly hope to communicate with contemporary people through meaningful works.


사회의 무관심이 사이코패스 괴물 만들었다

“영화 ‘암수살인’을 시작하며 선언한 게 있어요. 적어도 이 영화에 ‘폭력미학’은 없다. 살인마에 아무도 모르게 희생당한 이들을 찾아 나선 형사의 얘기잖아요. 누군가의 딸이고 아들이고 엄마였을 피해자들의 가족을 그리는데, 살인마 캐릭터를 강화한단 명목으로 그들이 죽어가는 모습을 적나라하게 비추는 건 모순이라 생각했죠.”

3일 개봉한 영화 ‘암수살인’으로 손익분기점 200만 관객을 넘기고 300만을 앞둔 김태균(47) 감독의 말이다. 그는 “좀 자극적으로 찍으라고 요구할 수도 있었을 텐데 제작사와 배우들, 투자·배급사가 영화의 방향에 동의해줬다”며 “일단 믿고 투자해준 분들에게 손해가 안 가서 다행이다. 기존 상업영화와 다른 점이 있는 영화라 좀 더 많은 관객이 보고 공감해주시면 좋겠다”고 했다.

살인죄로 복역 중 여섯 건의 추가 살인을 자백하는 죄수 강태오(주지훈 분)와 이를 파헤치는 형사 김형민(김윤석 분)의 맞대결을 다루는 이 영화는 잔혹한 묘사를 앞세운 여느 범죄 스릴러와는 다르다. 교묘하게 거짓말을 일삼는 범죄자와 심리 싸움을 벌이며 이미 백골이 된 피해자들을 찾아 나선 형사의 여정을 부각한다. 신고도 수사도 없어 세상에 알려지지 않은 이른바 ‘암수(暗數) 범죄’가 사회의 무관심이 낳은 비극임을 강조한 것이다.

6년 전 자전적 데뷔작 ‘봄, 눈’을 선보였던 김태균 감독은 같은 해 말 SBS 탐사프로 ‘그것이 알고 싶다’를 우연히 보고 이 영화의 토대가 된 부산의 실제 사건에 대해 알게 됐다. 다음날 무작정 부산에 가서 사건을 담당한 김정수 형사를 만났다.

실제 사건의 어떤 점에 끌렸나.

“보통 살인사건 수사와 정반대였다. 죽였다는 살인범의 자백이 진실인지 알 수 없으니 역 수사로 피해자가 있는지 찾아야 했다. 취재해보니 그 살인범이 많은 형사에게 편지를 보냈는데 이 형사님이 관심을 가진 것이었다. 이미 복역 중인 살인범의 여죄보단 지금 당면한 사건에 집중할 수도 있었을 텐데, 묻힐 뻔한 사건을 끄집어낸 것이다. 왜 이렇게 어려운 수사를 하느냐고 물으니 ‘피해자가 있고 유족이 있으니 한다’고 하더라. 세상에 이런 형사가 있어 다행이다. 이 영화를 꼭 해야겠다, 결심했다.”

실화를 옮기며 어려웠던 점은.

“실제 이야기는 방송에서 다뤄진 것보다 광범위하고 파편적이었다. 영화를 개연성 있게 구성하는 것이 첫 번째 숙제였다. 처음 1년간 김정수 형사와 10차례 만나며 주변 동료들, 취재원부터 취재했고 실제 살인범이 자백한 살인 리스트를 중심으로 두세 배 정도의 사건 케이스를 분석했다. 2016년 판결이 내려지기까지는 제 시나리오도 엔딩 없이 달렸다. 여러 버전을 발전시켜 나갔다.”

그는 “실화에서 영감을 받았지만, 영화는 완전히 극화된 이야기”라 거듭 말했다. 가령 영화에서 김형민 형사가 강태오에게 살인 단서를 얻으려 금전을 줬다는 건 극적 긴장을 위한 허구다. 강태오가 작성한 살인 리스트는 실제 살인범이 저질렀다고 주장한 11개 살인항목을 토대로 최대한 각색했다고 했다.

강태오를 절대 악이자, 무관심이 낳은 또 다른 비극으로 묘사했는데.

“가장 오래 고민한 캐릭터다. 드러난 빙산의 일각만 갖고 다 이해하는 것처럼 그냥 사이코패스로 그리는 건 무책임하게 느껴졌다. 계층적으로 바닥에 있고 감정선이 급격히 변하는 인물, 자갈치시장 시궁창에서 탄생한 괴물로 좁혀갔다. 이 괴물도 주변에서 관심을 가져주는 사람이 있었다면 좀 더 빨리 비극이 멈추지 않았을지 상상했다. 암수살인이 무관심이 만든 비극이었던 것처럼.”

영화에 묘사된 한 살인사건의 실제 피해자 유족이 동의 없이 만들어진 영화라며 개봉 전 상영금지가처분신청을 냈다가 제작진의 사과를 받고 조건 없이 고소를 취하한 것도 법정에서 영화를 보고 이런 제작 취지에 공감해서였다. 그럼에도 살인사건을 다루며 유가족의 동의를 받지 않은 데 대해선 비판 여론이 남아있다. 김태균 감독은 “한동안 포털사이트를 열어보지도 못할 만큼 힘들고 무거운 자책감을 느꼈다”며 “앞으로 실화 모티브 영화들은 고민이 더 많아질 것”이라고 밝혔다.

가장 힘이 돼준 건 22년 지기 황기석 촬영감독(‘친구’ ‘형사 Dualist’)과 총제작자이자 스승 곽경택 감독이다. 김태균 감독은 곽 감독의 데뷔작 ‘억수탕’의 조감독으로 인연을 시작했다. 그는 “전작 ‘봄, 눈’은 큰 누님을 암으로 떠나보낸 내 이야기를 각색한 영화다 보니 다른 사람은 몰라, 하며 독재자처럼 배우들과 스태프를 다그쳤다. 결과적으론 내가 얼마나 많은 사람에게 상처 줬나, 후회했다”며 “이번 영화는 (김)윤석 선배, (주)지훈씨, 모든 스태프에게 귀를 열고 의견을 주고받으면서 하나하나 찾아갔다”고 했다. 그는 “김정수 형사가 영화의 토대가 된 사건을 맡아 판결을 받기까지 6년 걸렸는데 저도 영화를 시작해서 개봉까지 꼭 그만큼 걸렸다. 형사님은 아직도 남은 피해자들을 찾고 있다”고 전했다. “돌아보면 영화엔 아쉬운 부분만 보여요. 앞으로 더 치열하게, 동시대 사람들에게 유의미한 영화로 소통하고 싶습니다.”

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