PEOPLE look at you with a certain amount of envy and curiosity when you say you have just returned from Cannes.
You don’t even have to add, film festival.
They often forget it’s still work: writing, chasing people, interviewing, talking, reviewing – there’s little time to relax, even when there’s a glass in your hand, you’re often thinking, is there a story, could there be a story? Are they for real?
there’s little time to relax, even when there’s a glass in your hand, you’re often thinking, is there a story, could there be a story? Are they for real?
You need a certain barometer for BS…because everyone’s got something to sell.
It wasn’t a vintage year by any means, but there were some distinct high points, personal and otherwise.
Let’s start with the Indians – there were two clear high points for the nation more often than not synonymous with the word, Bollywood in a film context.
But as Indian super film producer Guneet Monga from Sikhya Entertainment said: “Bollywood can’t be the definition of everything we do.”
On the Red Carpet on the very first evening was “Grace of Monaco” backed largely by Indian money.
Yash Raj Films in Los Angeles co-produced the film which stars Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth.
Despite this top notch cast and considerable support (Frank Langella, no less as a wily old Roman Catholic priest and Grace confidant), the western critics were scathing and the Monaco royal family criticised the film and wanted nothing to do with it.
But the movie, which opens this week (June 6) in the UK, is a largely very positive portrait of Grace.
It tries to show how the one-time Hollywood star had to transform herself into a princess and be in some respects, both aloof and disengaged from every-day life in the tiny principality wedged between France and Italy.
It was for all that, a proud moment for Uday Chopra who went to LA to set up YRF from scratch in the Hollywood town.
“I enrolled on a production course at UCLA and lived out of a hotel for three months,” he told a panel about the making of Grace hosted by the India pavilion.
It was hard, but he loved the challenge and when he took to probably the most famous red carpet of them all, with Kidman by his side, there was a sense of arrival.
The film isn’t as bad as the critics make out; it has on old style Hollywood glamour and tone and many Indian journalists were actually impressed and enjoyed the film. It certainly went down well with the Cannes premiere crowd.
Chopra said Indian women would respond to the film – it is expected to release there mid June.
He is now working with the British-Iranian screenwriter Arash Amel, who wrote Grace, on another film. It will feature a torrid affair between star Ingrid Bergman and famous second World War photographer, Robert Capa.
“We want to make international movies for international audiences,” Chopra said, outlining the strategy for his LA outfit.
There was also much cheer for the Chopra family with a film in the Un Certain Regard section. Only the main competition section is more important.
“Titli” is directed by Kanu Behl and the film is produced by YRF (India) and Dibakar Banerjee Productions. Banerjee is one of India’s most innovative directors working outside of Bollywood and is something of a mentor to the younger Behl (who wrote the 2008 cult hit, Love Sex Aur Dhoka).
“Titli” is a gritty, ably told tale about a family in crisis and the relationships binding three brothers and their dad together. The youngest, ‘Titli’, desperately wants to leave the family business – carjacking – but it isn’t as simple as all that, as it is with most families steeped in crime.
It didn’t win any awards in the UCR section (the top award was taken by ‘White God’, a timely allegory about racism in eastern Europe, featuring a young girl and her mongrel dog, Hagen in Budapest).
So India was there building on its anniversary celebrations last year – but one might cynically ask – apart from “The Lunchbox”, which has done some tremendous business ($15m reportedly), few of the other films got a wide release. If films are to make money, they need a wide release – Cannes or not.
Away from the business of films and all that, there were three high points (for this writer).
Sophia Loren, almost 80, was majestic and beautiful and seeing her the masterclass was special, even though the translation loops didn’t make it to my seat.
There was a real Cannes buzz around Ryan Gosling’s first film as a director, “Lost River”, but it was a bit of a disappointment. Getting into the first showing was something of a feat in itself, considering how many febrile American females were piled high in the queues.
And seeing and hearing a very relaxed and genial Quentin Tarantino in his press conference, as he came to close the festival, was quietly thrilling for any fan of his movies.
It shows that despite the many travails, Cannes remains something special and unique and gives as good as it gets.
Job rejection is always hard to take but here we tell you how to cope with it and keep your head held high. Article by Antal International
A Facebook reject went on to sign a $19 billion deal with the company that once did not consider him worth employing… This story about WhatsApp founder Brian Acton is fast becoming the stuff of legend. However, equally interesting is what Acton posted online in the year 2009 once he was told he wasn’t getting the job – “Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life’s next adventure.”
Hey, even Twitter didn’t think Acton had what it takes. “Got denied by Twitter HQ. That’s ok. Would have been a long commute,” is what he had posted on his, ahem, Twitter account after getting to know of the rejection.
As a recruiter, it’s these two sentences by Acton that have really caught my attention in the entire ‘WhatsApp sold to FB” saga. If only our candidates reacted so positively when informed that they were not considered a suitable fit in the companies we had helped them contact for job change. While the more positive ones shrug and move on with a “It’s their loss if they are not hiring a talent… I was doing well in my current company and another new company has recognised my talent,” more often than not I’m faced with reactions like “How is that possible? I had an hour long interview with the CEO? Was I being led along for the last 6 months only to be rejected now?” Oh yes, I have had one of these too. Worse, he insisted on speaking directly to the MD about his rejection, only to earn himself a black mark.
To be fair, rejections are sad news, especially in these lean times, what with the Indian economy in doldrums. But it is especially in times as these when candidates need to be more positive about rejections. For, when the economy is in a bad shape, companies tend to be very conservative in hiring and one may not get selected for minor points that work against him. For instance, the candidate I was talking about earlier was rejected because, according to the hiring heads at the major pharma company that rejected him, he did not display “energy”. Their exact words to me were, “The role we were interviewing him for requires one to display energy and aggression, which during our interaction with him we felt was lacking.” Now, they did not understand that the candidate having cleared up to 7 rounds for a role he really aspired for, was understandably nervous and maybe just slightly subdued. Does that make him a bad candidate? Not at all. The hiring heads can also be excused for misconstruing his nervousness as lack of energy and aggression.
However, it is very important for candidates to not take a rejection as the end of the world. For that may force them to take wrong decisions. And this also comes from experience. In fact, even as we speak I’m dealing with a candidate, who is aggressively looking for a job as his current firm is downsizing. Now, having been rejected in an interview, this particular candidate seems to be losing hope. If we are not careful he may end up accepting positions in minor firms which will give his entire career graph a negative turn.
Therefore, my advice to jobseekers in today’s times: a rejection does not mean you are a hopeless candidate, it just indicates that you may not be the right fit for a particular role or company. Similarly, HR heads agree that judging a candidate in even an hour’s worth interview is tough. So, when faced with a rejection slip, sit back and review. Always go back to your recruitment consultant to discuss what went wrong because HR heads are able to explain freely to consultants the reason for rejecting a candidate. Even this can be illustrated with an example.
My recruitment consultants were dealing with a candidate who had applied for the senior manager position at the multinational company. Unfortunately he was rejected in the final round and was understandably upset about it. My recruitment consultant, after having a detailed talk with the hiring manager discovered that the candidate was seen as lacking on the commercial aspect. It took a little convincing but in the end, the candidate took the entire episode on the chin as learning experience and went on to have better interactions after some training in these aspects.
So, take time out to iron out the wrinkles and go to the next interview with your head held high and a confident smile.
Antal International Lucknow
Prahlad Bubbar gallery is bringing work of Italy’s most celebrated living photographer Gianni Berengo Gardin (born 1930), in his first UK exhibition since he was selected by Bill Brandt for Twentieth Century Landscape Photographs at the V&A, London, in 1975.
The Sense of a Moment: Gianni Berengo Gardin opens at Prahlad Bubbar from 11 April until 23 May 2014 and features original prints drawn from the artist’s personal archive. Berengo Gardin’s iconic images of post-war Italy will be shown alongside his first photographic series shot away from home, in a rarely documented rural India between 1977-1979.
Berengo Gardin was prompted to visit India’s rural heartland, the regions between New Delhi and Bombay, because “I have always been a great admirer of Gandhi and one of his statements is engraved on my mind. He said that Europeans and Westerners come to India and visit the big cities but they never go to see the villages, even though, in reality, India is made up of small villages.”
Over the course of two years, Berengo Gardin documented the India talked about by Gandhi in a fascinating series of portraits that intimately depict the lives of ordinary people, their rituals, customs and industry. These images were to later feature in his prestigious Scanno prize-winning publication India dei Villaggi (1980) and continue to serve as a remarkable record of life in India during an altogether different epoch.
Much like his Indian series, Berengo Gardin’s photographs of post-war Italy also capture a country on the brink of transformation, from an agricultural based economy, which had been severely affected by the consequences of World War II, into one of the world’s most industrialized nations.
Many of Berengo Gardin’s famous views of Italy will be featured in the exhibition, alongside previously unseen pieces. His iconic images of Venice will be shown as will Henri Cartier Bresson’s favourite shot by the artist, taken from inside a vaporetto – its glass and mirrors ingeniously reassembling the sharp-suited men aboard.
Gallery owner Prahlad Bubbar ( He is a leading specialist in classical Indian and Islamic art and widely known for his knowledge of the masters of 19th century Indian photography) is delighted to present this beautiful portrait of the countries in which he himself grew up, shot at a pivotal point in their histories by family friend and master of Italian photography: Gianni Berengo Gardin.
AGI presents five must-see films from this year (plus one runner-up and a special home video release) for any fan of Asian cinema. In alphabetical order.
1. The Grandmaster: A ‘grand’ return to form for the ‘master’ director from Hong Kong, Wong Kar Wai. Only his second martial arts film, this one centers on Bruce Lee’s real-life teacher Ip Man (the subject of numerous other Hong Kong films). Breathtaking cinematography, often choreographed in slow-motion, brings his story to life. With an excellent cast including Tony Leung (‘Hero’, ‘In the Mood for Love’) and Zhang Ziyi (‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’).
2. Hide and Seek (숨바꼭질 in Korean): The only film without an English-language poster here (yet), H&S was shown as the opening film of the 2013 London Korean Film Festival, and based on the noisy reactions of the audience throughout, it was a tremendous success. An intense thriller which never lets up from start to finish, it may lose something if you can only watch it at home, but it is sure to put nearly anyone on edge and is guaranteed to have you checking your doors after seeing it. Fingers crossed that it will pick up a distributor in the UK and the US for a wider release, which it strongly deserves.
3. Like Someone in Love: Although filmed exclusively in Tokyo with Japanese actors, LSIL was made by the famous Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Shown at film festivals in 2012, it opened in more markets during 2013, and is now available on home video. The abrupt ending had some reviewers confused or disappointed, but we think it was most appropriate when you consider everything that comes before it.
4. The Lunchbox: Screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October (and at quite a few other festivals around the world), this touching Indian indie features a great performance by the always-reliable Irrfan Khan. From first-time feature director Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox forgoes the usual song-and-dance numbers of Bollywood for something a little more simple but no less effective.
5. The Wind Rises: Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki recently announced that this will be his final film as a director, which has saddened many who love his work (‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Spirited Away’, etc). All the more reason to make sure you catch this one in theatres when it is released sometime next year in America and presumably the UK. In Japan, however, it has already conquered the box office, selling more tickets than any other film released this year. It’s also been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film prize at the Golden Globe Awards.
Runner-up: The Act of Killing, a savage and surreal documentary ‘starring’ Anwar Congo, a former death squad leader in Indonesia responsible for the deaths of numerous people. He is invited to re-enact many of his heinous deeds, which he does gleefully, but slowly he comes to realize the true nature of his actions and their ramifications.
DVD/Blu-ray release: Revenge (Mest’) is a 1989 film from Kazakhstan recently released in the UK as part of a special boxed set from the Masters of Cinema series and the World Cinema Project presented by Martin Scorsese. Unfortunately the only way you can obtain this rare film at the moment is by buying the whole box set (which includes 2 other films: one from Morocco and the other from Turkey), but it may be worth it to get your hands on such a rich and unique piece of cinema. Directed by Ermek Shinarbaev in collaboration with Korean-Russian writer Anatoli Kim, it’s a slow-moving but picturesque drama (think Tarkovsky) set in the first half of the twentieth century in Korea, China and eastern Russia.
With a little something for everyone, here’s the 13 best books related to Asia that we came across in 2013, organized by category….
ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY
Asian Britain: A Photographic History
by Susheila Nasta – Published in partnership with the British Library and Getty Images, this book chronicles the long history of South Asian immigrants in the United Kingdom through B&W photographs.
The Chinese Art Book, Phaidon / Korean Art: The Power of Now, Thames & Hudson (tie) – A bit of a cheat, but both of these great art books deserve a mention. You can see reviews of both of them in the next print issue of AGI magazine.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang – A new kind of fable for kids and adults alike, this short novel from Korean writer Hwang (who will be a special guest at the London Book Fair in 2014) was a massive hit selling over 2 million copies in South Korea alone, and inspired a popular animated film. Delightfully illustrated by London-based artist Nomoco.
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida – Brought to English language readers by British author David Mitchell (‘Cloud Atlas’), this personal look at autism by a boy from Japan became a surprise best-seller in the summer, with some calling it the best book ever on the subject.
Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka
by Bree Hutchins – An essential book if you want to expand your range of Asian recipes, this cookbook presents a wide range of delicious treats from the island nation of Sri Lanka.
The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia – Another lesser-known national cuisine which is slowly increasing in popularity, this book focuses on modern versions of classic Iranian dishes.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – Another hugely successful novel from the author of ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Sons’, who takes us back to war-torn Afghanistan once again.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – A Booker Prize nominee this year, this was a personal favourite which takes us from the windswept beaches of British Columbia to the streets of Tokyo in search of a lost teenage girl and her Buddhist grandmother.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – Another novel shortlisted for the 2013 Booker, this looks at the consequences of the radical choices made by two brothers from Calcutta in the 1960s.
Boxers & Saintsby Gene Luen Yang – Far and away one of the best graphic novels of the year (it’s actually a box set of two linked books that should be read together), the story revolves around the Boxer Rebellion which occurred in China in at the turn of the 20th century. Yang, previously best known for ‘American Born Chinese’, is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang – Another epic biography by Chang (following ‘Mao’), this one is a must-read for anyone interested in power, politics, and historical revisionism.
The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy – A tough read, but one with a hard-hitting look at how terrorists took over the famous Taj Hotel in Mumbai for nearly three days in 2008 and the brave folks who dared to stand up to them.
Mr Ma and Son by Lao She – Originally published in 1929, this has recently been translated into English and published by Penguin Books China (along with ‘Cat Country’ by the same author). This is a tale of the two title characters “who run an antiques shop nestled in a quiet street by St Paul’s Cathedral in London, where, far from their native Peking, they struggle to navigate the bustling pavements and myriad social conventions of 1920s English society”.
Jukhee Kwon is a book artist or rather, a book sculptor. She takes books which have been thrown out or ‘abandoned’ by their owners and turns them into a different form of art to give them a new lease on life. The Korean-born resident of Italy, a graduate of Camberwell College of Arts, recently visited London to open a new solo exhibition of her work at the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, which will be displayed to the public until Feb 1, 2014 and are also on sale (there are a wide variety of sculptures, so it is recommended that you visit in person to see them all for yourself). During Kwon’s trip, she sat down with AGI to give us this exclusive interview about her incredible creations, which range in size and shape from one book to many, and several inches to several feet in height.
AGI: Your blog is titled ‘From the book to the space‘. Is there any special meaning behind that?
JK: The physical meaning is from the book -the information and contents coming out – to the space; spreading it. But for me, it also has a metaphorical meaning, which is from inside, releasing your potential into the world; expressing an energy which is hidden.
AGI: In regards to your work, do you usually have an idea for something you want to create first, and then find a book to use, or do you find the book first and then an idea comes to you?
JK: I shift from side to side. When I choose a book, sometimes I choose it because I had an inspiration from the title, from the contents, or simply the material quality. It’s like when you draw, when you paint, if you have many [kinds of] paint, it’s much easier; you can do better. For me, collecting the books is a kind of research which I will use afterwards.
AGI: Where do you find the books that you use for your art?
JK: In rubbish bins. By accident. One time, I was in New York for a book art fair conference. There was a bookshop outside with a recycling bin and a box of books, and I just took it! It’s like meeting new people, finding and discovering [these books].
AGI: What is it about this particular form of art that attracts you?
JK: It’s not just that I want to create something new with books, but more like I want to open myself. The book is like a prop. You need a prop that can work instead of yourself. It’s like a tool or a symbol. Whenever I see my opened books, I feel great excitement. Also relief, and freedom. I release myself. Just as the book is speaking, I feel like I am speaking [through my art]. As a foreigner, it’s difficult to communicate in another language, but doing art is for me, the perfect language [with which] I can communicate. Also, the reason I like to work with books is because they have ideas inside, they have been written by someone; it contains a spirit. Especially old books. And a book is a very personal object; you carry it, you touch it, you leave your fingerprints and notes on it. It’s very intense.
AGI: One unique thing about your work is that it could not exist without the work of other people before you. So in that sense, it is not a completely new thing. Is that part of the interest for you?
JK: I am a collaborator. I like sharing, I like exchanging. [Original] art is fine, I could make something new, but there’s something missing which is sharing, connecting. Something between you and the object, between you and another person, between you and the world. Within that, I just want to clarify who I am, rather than only [doing something] by myself.
AGI: To some people, the book is a very special thing which should be preserved and not altered or destroyed. Do you not consider this as kind of ‘book torture’?
JK: Yes, I know, some people said it’s violent, destructive. But simply, I didn’t cut the words. I left the words [intact]. And secondly, I used a ‘dead’ book, which someone threw away. To me, throwing it away is more violent. [laughs] Now they are in a gallery and they have been re-created into a new artwork. Creation comes through destruction; a butterfly comes out of a cocoon by destroying the surface. The Big Bang as well.
AGI: What has been the reaction to your work so far, for example at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair which you participated in last month?
JK: They said, ‘what’s this?’. ‘Did you add any paper?’. But no, I didn’t add anything. If I did that then it wouldn’t be true. And they asked ‘How did you do it?’. At first they were struck by it, but eventually they started to figure it out, how I did it. Later on, they could also feel how I felt when I was making them, which was [a sense of] freedom. So I was very glad about that because it means I was able to transmit my will or my hope through the book, to share that with people.
Interview and photography by Tim Holm
Na-Young Jeon is a well-known Dutch Korean actress in Holland (the Netherlands) where she starred in ‘Miss Saigon’ and she has appeared in numerous television programs there and in Belgium. Miss Jeon is currently performing in the stage production of ‘Les Miserables’ at the Queen’s Theatre in London’s West End until June, 2014. Les Miserables has been running in London continuously since its debut in 1985. Tickets to this must-see show are available through the official website.
Q: What is it like to be playing one of the most recognisable characters in musical history on the stage in London’s West End?
A: Well, first of all, when I heard that I got the job, I couldn’t believe it. It was something I had been dreaming of. And I think that if you really do believe in something, then you can achieve it. I worked for it. It’s funny because I wrote it down: “2013, Les Miserables in London” [a couple of years before I got the part]. I did that just to remind myself that’s what I wanted to do. So I was very proud and happy when I got the call. It feels like a very big responsibility, but it’s also a relief for me that I am recognised for my talent. Because when I was in college during musical training [in the Netherlands] I was not always anchored and I was not always sure about what I was doing as I was still a student then. And when I was chosen for the leading role in ‘Miss Saigon’ it could have been only because I am an Asian girl. But to be chosen to play the role of Fantine in the London West End production of ‘Les Miserables’, that was really more of a recognition [of my ability as an actress].
Q: How were you cast for the role of Fantine in Les Miserables?
A: Three years ago I auditioned for the role of Kim in Miss Saigon in Holland, and I was chosen to play her. That was a Cameron Macintosh production, so Cameron and all the creative team from England flew over to Holland to work with me. So that’s how we met. And when they were casting again for Les Miserables in London they called me to ask me if I wanted to audition for it. Actually, I auditioned for three main parts including Cosette. At first, they wanted to see me as Cosette in the Korean production of Les Mis. Afterwards, I auditioned for Eponine, but [in the end] they wanted me as Fantine.
Q: What do you think about the film adaptation of Les Miserables and the original book by Victor Hugo? Particularly in relation to the character of Fantine.
A: Well of course they are different. It would be very boring if they were all the same. But I have seen the film and I am reading the book. I really, really liked [the film]. It’s an honour to portray the role that Anne Hathaway played so well. Because I really thought it was brilliant what she did. I have to say I just inspire myself with all of those things – the book, the film. But after that, I think it’s very important for me to make my own version, my own portrayal of Fantine.
Q: Do you consider it significant that you are one of the first women of Asian descent to play such a major role in Les Miserables and in a famous London theatre?
A: I’m very proud and happy to see that because it means that people are getting more open-minded. It’s not about typecasting. If you are suitable for the role and you have everything to give, then you can be chosen. I hope it gives a lot of hope to Asian actors all over.
Q: Your profile describes you as a ‘Korean singer and actress born in Holland’. Do you think of yourself as an Asian woman or as a European?
A: I consider myself as both – Dutch and Korean. I can understand that might seem strange. I have to say I have had trouble with my identity for a long time. I am Korean but my family lives in Holland, so I was brought up very traditionally Korean but my friends were all Dutch and I was surrounded by Western culture, so it was a big conflict.
Q: How did you get involved with acting and musical theatre originally?
A: Since I was very young, there were a few films that I was really drawn to. Stories, and telling stories, listening to stories, watching stories on film, or listening to stories in music, whatever it is – storytelling is really one of my passions. So if you are passionate about storytelling, I think it is just a very small step to becoming an actress. I’ve always played the piano and sang while playing the piano. And I was very fascinated by theatre. So I started acting when I was 14, 15 and then I didn’t stop!
Q: Are you recognised in Korea? Do people know you over there?
A: I don’t know if they know me there. That would be nice. But sometimes I get a tweet from somebody in South Korea saying “I’m your biggest fan” and that gives me hope. That really makes my day. And sometimes at the stage door after my show, there are people who flew over from Korea specially to see me here in the West End. That is so heartwarming.
Q: Would you like to work there someday?
A: I would love to work in Korea and I’m really hoping to live and work in Korea in the future, but these are not really concrete plans yet. I know there is a huge musical theatre scene over there, but I think there is more to life than only musical theatre. I don’t really mind what I’m doing, but I traveled to Korea 3 years ago on my own and I went to a Buddhist temple in Gyeongju [Golgulsa] where all the monks are also training in martial arts and I trained with them. And they said I’m always welcome to go there again. So that’s something that is still in my mind. I love nature and the Buddhist life and martial arts so I would really like to dedicate my life for a couple of months to being there.
Q: And are you enjoying your life in London now?
A: Yes, I’m very much enjoying it, although I’m away from my family and friends. That’s new for me. I’ve never been away from them for such a long time so I do miss them but I also think it’s very good because you realize how precious they are to you.
NOTE: This is an unusually slow week for Asian events in London. Hopefully things will pick up again next week…
The ‘House of Ho‘ is a new Vietnamese restaurant opening at 55-59 Old Compton Street in Soho on November 18. It is run by celebrity chef Bobby Chinn, who is known for being the host of World Cafe on the Living Channel. He has already opened two successful restaurants in Vietnam as well. If you are looking for something tasty, informal, and moderately priced, then this might just be the place for you. Check their twitter feed (@HouseOfHo) for more updates.
As part of the Korean President State Visit in November 2013 and to celebrate the 130th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Korea and the UK, the 2013 Korea – UK Forum on the Peaceful Unification of Korea (including formal dinner) will be held at the Cromwell Suite of the Millennium Gloucester Hotel on Tuesday the 19th from 7-9PM. The Key-Note Speech will be about the Park Geun-Hye Administration’s Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula. Please RSVP to Mr TK Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.
There are two EFG London Jazz Festival events you should know about this week – the first, at 8PM on Nov 21 is a collaboration between trumpet player Byron Wallen and Korean taegum artist Hyelim Kim (see our interview with her). Venue and ticket details here. The second event is at 7:30PM on Nov 24 at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Trilok Gurtu & Open Souls will perform. Tabla master Trilok Gurtu and Open Souls blend Indian classical music, jazz and the sounds of the street. Book your tickets at the Southbank Centre website now.
A couple of talks at the Japan Foundation coming up look interesting – one is a book launch of ‘Japan Copes with Calamity‘ which is a collection of studies by researchers who traveled to north-eastern Japan to study first-hand the conditions in the disaster zone. It will be introduced by co-editor Brigette Steger and two other speakers will also discuss topics related to the book. Time: 6:30PM on Nov 20. Also, on the 22nd at the same time, you can see internationally acclaimed artist Chiharu Shiota talk about her work in an event called ‘Labyrinthine Memories‘. Shiota will trace her journey to date as an installation and performance artist, demonstrating the painstaking and daunting process of filling huge gallery spaces including the Towner Gallery, and how she thrives on these challenges set by each venue. Reflecting on her education at art schools in Japan and Germany, and studying under Marina Abramović, Shiota, now based in Berlin, will also explore what way such an environment impacted upon her creative practice, ethos and her career as a female artist working overseas. Please note that both of these events are free but you must RSVP to email@example.com beforehand.
If you have an event you would like to share, please contact us.
Information compiled by Tim Holm
Kang Woo-suk (강우석) has been called ‘the most powerful man in Korean cinema’. Why? Because, aside from his prolific and hugely successful directorial career reaching back to the 1980s, he has also produced and/or helped finance approximately 140 films in Korea. His films as a director include the ‘Public Enemy’ series of thrillers, ‘Two Cops’ 1 & 2, suspense-mystery ‘Moss’, and ‘Silmido’, an action film about a planned real-life invasion of North Korea by South Korean marines in the late 1960s that became the first film ever to top 10 million admissions in Korea. His latest feature about mixed martial arts fighters is called ‘Fists of Legend’. The film has already been shown as part of the London Korean Film Festival, but it will be screened at Oxford on Nov 17. As the LKFF comes to a close, we offer this parting interview with one of Korea’s most successful filmmakers of all-time.
You are in London to show your most recent film, but also to be honored with a retrospective of your work. One of your most popular films is still ‘Public Enemy’ (공공의 적, first released in 2002). Did you expect that Public Enemy would be successful enough that you were able to direct two sequels to the film (in 2005 and 2008)?
It wasn’t really an issue whether the film would be successful or not. In the previous ten years I had made other films like Mister Mama and Two Cops – about five films which were hugely successful – so I was just playing around and didn’t really make any films for about three years; simply producing other films. It turned out that I wasn’t directing anything so I just quickly shot [Public Enemy] because I thought I needed to direct another film. If I had one hope from making that film it was whether as a director I could have a film that contained some entertainment within it. In terms of the two sequels that emerged from that, it was simply because the (Korean) audience really wanted to see those sequels.
You’ve worked with actor Sol Kyung-gu (설경구 of ‘Oasis’ fame, who was also in London to screen his newest film, ‘Hope’) on at least four or five films so far, including the massive hit ‘Silmido’. What is your working relationship like with Mr. Sol and do you have any plan to work with him again in the future?
Once Sol Kyung-gu starts working on a film, it’s not easy for directors to part with him, because he instills so much passion into the work and his attitude is extremely good, so in the span of five years I made four films with him and there was a mistaken belief going around at the time that Sol Kyung-gu only works with me. So we decided to have some time apart [since then]. However, for my next film – my 20th film – I’ll be working with him again.
The script for that film has not been completed yet so I don’t know how the story might change and it’s slightly awkward to tell you too much about it but it’s definitely a historical piece set in a time two or three hundred years ago and again it involves a detective in the story. It’s like a cop under an older guise.
How do you go about deciding whether you want to direct a project or simply produce it?
When I feel that it’s only me that can direct the film and I know I can do it, that’s when I will be directing it. If I don’t feel comfortable directing it but I feel strongly that this type of film needs to be made and needs to exist, that’s when I will be producing it.
What is your role as a producer like? How do you help each film you produce in general?
I help make the decision whether to make the film or not. When the directors actually shoot the film, I don’t usually interfere that much, but during the editing process I would be heavily involved. Because I’ve made so many films myself, it’s a case of using my experience to help them as much as possible.
Do you do auditioning for your films, or if you have an actor that you want, do you just contact them directly and ask them to be in your film?
In terms of the supporting cast and the minor roles below the main characters, the assistant director will be holding auditions to find candidates who would be suitable for the role and then I will contact them myself and make the final decision on that. In terms of the main characters, I will personally call them myself and say whatever you do, you have to make time from this period to this period. That’s how I decide about the actors.
Most of your films feature leading male actors in the primary roles. Is there any particular reason why you lean towards more masculine films (without leading actresses)?
Well, I don’t really like melodramas. I’m not really confident in portraying them; I’m not really interested in love stories either. Naturally, that has led me to make more masculine films. Even now, I’m more interested in making extreme and powerful films rather than love stories as you can see from my CV.
Your most recent film, ‘Fists of Legend’ (which is being screened at the 2013 London Korean Film Festival) was based on a webtoon (internet comic). Why do you think this is becoming a more popular trend these days?
Webtoons themselves are cinematic. They flow well on screen. They appear visually like a film because they are very flowing and it seems that they are very easy to make into a film because of the clarity behind them. Actually, one of my previous films called ‘Moss’ was based on a webtoon as well. The original webtoon was extremely popular and successful. However, the actual process of turning it into a film was extremely difficult. If you followed the exact webtoon, there’s really no reason to turn it into a film. So although it might seem appealing, it’s not an easy process at all. Fists of Legend was also very difficult in the process of making it. A lot of things that make sense in the webtoon don’t make sense after translating it onto the screen. But since ‘Moss’, the trend of making films from webtoons has really grown and I think it will continue in the future simply because there is a misconception that it looks really easy to turn them into films.
Your earlier films, such as Silmido and the Public Enemy series, up to your 2006 film ‘Hanbando’ (The Korean Peninsula) seemed to be more political in nature. Yet since that time you have steered clear of overtly political works. Is that perhaps due to some criticism you received around ‘Hanbando’ that it was too patriotic and anti-Japanese?
Yeah, that makes sense. It wasn’t really intended to be a very political film; it was shot from a fantasy-like stance, but the audiences watching it really took it to heart in terms of its nationalism etcetera and criticised it a lot. However, I really like the film and I enjoyed shooting the film so I don’t have any regrets from that. I think now I’m just at a stage of wanting to make more warm-hearted films, taking a break from the emotions that I had previously. However, my next film is extremely political and has a lot of satirical/social criticism so I think I have returned to [my earlier self].
AGI: How did you reach Philippines and what was your first thought?
Bulling: We arrived by boat at the port in Ormoc City. As soon as we stepped onto the port, we were in the middle of a disaster zone. Everything was destroyed. Tin roofing sheets were hanging off trees like wet blankets.
AGI: What was the situation like there?
Bulling: All the houses along the coast are completely flattened. Everything was destroyed. Further inland, about 80 percent of the houses were roofless. About five percent of the houses were completely collapsed – these were mainly wooden houses. It seems like everyone we saw had a hammer or tools in their hands, trying to repair their houses and their roofs. People were picking up poles and pieces of wood from the street. There were long queues at hardware stores, pharmacies. We waited in line for two hours to get fuel. So far the roads are okay, but it’s taking a long time to get anywhere.
AGI: People of Philippines are known to be resilient. How are they coping up with this devastation?
Bulling: I talked to a shop owner whose shop was destroyed; he lost everything. He’s wondering how he’s going to feed his five children. I also met a little girl, who was trying to dry out her books. Her house was totally destroyed, but there she was, worried about her school books, because she wants to go to school. And it’s the only thing she has left.
AGI: As an aid worker, what challenges are you facing?
Bulling: We arrived in Jaro, a small town on the way to Tacloban. It was dark when we arrived, so we couldn’t go any further. We stayed in the police station that night but we were not sure where we’ll sleep, maybe in the car, or outside. There was an electricity pole that was leaning dangerously over the police station, so everyone was trying to steer clear of that. Our plan was to go to Dulag, just south of Tacloban. Our driver just came from there, and says it’s very bad, and they need help.
AGI: Devastation like this can create a huge sense of desperation. What’s the situation in Philippines?
Bulling: People are becoming quite desperate. Some officials just came and told us that there has been looting in the area, people trying to get rice for their families. People haven’t had food for three days, and they’re trying to feed their families. That’s why it’s so important to get food and emergency supplies in to these areas as soon as possible. In Ormoc, there was food; we could buy chicken and rice. But there were big queues at the food stalls and shops. We’re in an urban area now, and I don’t even want to think what it’s like the rural areas. We’ll start moving again at first light. I don’t think anyone is going to get any sleep tonight.