Seol Kyung-gu is disappointed his new film is still relevant
“Although our film is about school bullying among kids, it’s more so about their parents. [The issue of school violence] cannot simply be defined to be a problem about kids — it ultimately is a problem about the parents.”
Actor Seol Kyung-gu, who portrays the father of one of the perpetrators of school violence in the film “I Want to Know Your Parents,” made this remark at an online press interview Monday.
Adapted from a Japanese theatrical play with the same title by Seigo Hatasawa, the film, which was released in local theaters Wednesday, tackles one of the most socially prevalent issues of today — school bullying. The story starts off when a victim of school violence leaves a suicide note for his homeroom teacher, and the names of four perpetrators. Instead of reprimanding their children, the parents immediately gather at the school with the school principal to eradicate all evidence of the matter.
Seol Kyung-gu portrays a character named Kang Ho-chang, a single father to his son Kang Han-gyeol, whose name was fourth on the list.
Ho-chang clings to the belief that his son has a chance for redemption — or at the minimum, he had the least to do with the incident because Han-gyeol’s name appears last in the letter. This belief is strengthened by the fact that Han-gyeol doesn’t show up in some of the evidence the parents find as they secretly work together to remove all proof of the bullying.
“What motivated Ho-chang to keep on defending his child was the emotion of resentment,” Seol said. “He was doing all he could to [mentally] distance himself from other parents because he believed that his kid wasn’t the leader behind this [...] Although the parents do, and have to believe in their children, they do not think of themselves as the culprits. That’s why they become more demonized.”
Seol emphasized that he did not put any effort into demonizing his character.
“Approaching the character was easy because he starts off as an ordinary father,” he said. “The character must not become self-aware that he’s transforming into a demon, but I wanted to show that process [to the audience]. I did not think of Ho-chang as a villain, nor did I want to accentuate his evil side or anything. I felt that this would make the audience realize that this is the story of us, what’s happening to us right now."
The matter of school bullying is not the only social issue tackled in the film. Set in a prestigious international middle school, abuse of power and corruptive practices among the elite class are also highlighted. The parents have jobs that offer power and resources: a retired police chief, a chairman of the hospital board, a mathematics teacher at the school and a lawyer. The culprits in the case are oblivious to their wrongdoings as their parents scramble to cover up everything rather than confront them.
Shot in 2017, the film was initially set to be released the following year, but the date was indefinitely postponed when one of the main cast members, actor Oh Dal-su, was swept up in the Me Too scandal. However, the narrative shows no sign of aging — something that Seol is regretful about.
“I’ve heard reviews that the film does not feel like it was shot five years ago, but I don’t know if this is a good thing or not,” Seol said. “I hoped it would become a story of the past and for people to say, ‘this is a thing of the past’ but people saying that it’s not means that such things are still happening now.”
Actor Moon So-ri, whom Seol has worked with in films “Peppermint Candy” (2000), “Oasis” (2002) and “The Spy: Undercover Operation” (2013), portrays the mother of the victim. Unlike other films, however, Seol said that he kept his distance from Moon.
“Even when we’re not working together, we would get together from time to time to get something to eat or drink,” he said. “However, even before shooting for this film began, we didn’t have a proper conversation with one another. I purposefully kept my distance from her to concentrate on the character, and somehow, I couldn’t speak to her because I was ashamed [of Ho-chang], which ironically, increased our chemistry on the set.”
Seol gave some insight into the scenes that had an impact on him.
“I was naturally drawn to the characters of Moon and Chun Woo-hee,” he said. “When the mother [Moon] goes inside the ICU and slaps her unconscious son, demanding him to wake up, I felt like I was suffocating too. I felt rage and tears. I just immediately sympathized with Moon and Chun — my eyes went red. It is hard to express in words what I felt, but the way my body reacted to the story is my review of the film. Although the story was depicted from the perspectives of the perpetrators’ parents, if the audience, like myself, appreciated the story from the victim’s perspective, then I think that fulfills the purpose of this film.”
School violence, class hierarchy and social disparity frequently pop up in content today, such as in Netflix original zombie horror series “All of Us are Dead” and Tving original series “The King of Pigs” (both 2022) adapted from director Yeon Sang-ho’s 2011 animated feature film with the same title. Seol believes that such content need to be consistently created to continue discussion which will hopefully lead to change.
“The four parents were depicted to the extreme to leave a strong imprint on the audience,” Seol said. “We know that not all parents are like this — there are adults who wish to guide their offspring along the right path and seek forgiveness when needed [...] I don’t think their [the parents’] lives will ever be the same after this. And they will be punished, one way or another, for their wrongs, including Kang ho-chang, whom I believe will lead a hellish life [due to his choice]. I don’t think this film will change the world, but it was still disappointing to hear that the story did not become old, and that it’s still an ongoing issue. My small hope is that the film will become part of the motive for continuing discussion. If we stop talking about it, then the process for change also stops. So I believe our film’s role is to motivate discussion.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]