Posted : 2013-09-06 16:21
Updated : 2013-09-06 16:21

Korean indie film creating buzz in US

A scene from "Let Me Out," Korean indie film, which is now showing in the United States and Korea. / Courtesy of Giant Ape Media

Low-budget movie 'Let Me Out' making a difference

By Chung Ah-young

Director Jae Soh, left, and actor Kwon Hyun-sang, a son of veteran director Im Kwon-taek, pose prior to an interview with The Korea Times about their film "Let Me Out" in central Seoul.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
The Korean low-budget film "Let Me Out" doesn't have Kim Ki-duk's pervading sense of grimness or Park Chan-wook's brutal subject matter. This is a simple but hilarious indie meta-film about the coming of age of an amateur student director from a film school making his first zombie melodrama.

This entertaining flick is now showing in Korea and also in the United States, drawing much attention from critics and fans for its unique storyline and subject of zombies which have not been popular in Korean films as of yet.

"Let Me Out" made its U.S. debut at the Downtown Independent Theatre in Los Angeles to a sold out audience on Aug. 16 just a day after the release in Korea. The film is the first of its kind to be released back to back in both Korea and the U.S.

The film is distributed in the U.S. by FUNimation Entertainment, a division of Group 1200 Media, based in Flower Mound, Texas.

Written and directed by Jae Soh and Kim Chang-rae from the Seoul Institute of the Arts and produced by Irene Cho and Min Soh, the film starring Kwon Hyun-sang is a comedy with a slew of critical comments capturing the harsh realities of the Korean filmmaking industry.

"When we attended the premiere of the film in L.A., some critics praised our movie's uniqueness and difference from other films. Difference really matters for the U.S. audience. There is a huge fandom for indie movies there. So I think Korean indie films have competitiveness there as they are looking for new and different films," Soh said in an interview with The Korea Times.

In Korea, he has to fight the conventional wisdom of indie films ― hard to understand or boring. The film is just the same as other films from the aspect of entertainment, but is called an indie film only because of the low budget, he said.

He added that many critics from other countries often associate Korean films with cruelty or grimness and find them similar in subject matter.

"In that sense, they saw our film as very different and creative and not violent. Many critics think Korean films are tinged with dark, serious, horrific and strong themes. Deviating from the conventional trajectory is one of the reasons for the growing buzz of our movie in the U.S., I think," the director said.

The film will be on an expanded release schedule to screen in more cities ― it will be released in San Francisco, San Diego and Dallas on Sept. 25 as demand from filmgoers is rising there.

"Let Me Out" made its U.S. debut at the Downtown Independent Theatre in Los Angeles to a sold out audience on Aug. 16. / Courtesy of Giant Ape Media

The film revolves around Mu-young's (Kwon Hyun-sang) work at film school. Mu-young is a senior who knows everything about cinema theoretically but has never done any actual filmmaking. He is critical of everyone else and heckles Yang Ik-june, a famous indie director (who is the actual director of the 2008 indie hit "Breathless") at a campus screening, telling him to stop making "bogus films." As revenge, Yang surprisingly gives his cash prize to him to see how he makes a film, instead of criticizing other Korean cineastes. As he commences his shooting of the zombie melodrama, nothing goes to plan. His filmmaking faces a series of obstacles and accidents, from casting actors to securing locations and funds. He comes to realize how different reality and theory are in making a film.

"Perhaps I wanted to tell what I had to say about the Korean cinematic arena through Mu-young. But the thing I really want to tell the audience the most is don't give up on your dream and go ahead with what you think and don't listen to others. Then your dreams will come true," Soh said.

For Soh, it's his first feature film but it doesn't mean he hasn't attempted one before. He said that his filmmaking projects had been aborted several times.

He said that indie films are a channel for experimenting which other commercial films cannot do. The reason why the status of Korean indie films remains on the periphery is that consumers don't want to see them. "For a country to advance its own art, people should be supporters. It cannot be changed overnight. The change of the audience's attitudes toward appreciating art is needed to foster indie films," he said.

"The U.S. audiences enjoyed our film more than Korean audiences. FUNimation bought the rights for the U.S. release as it saw the movie's potential. We expect that the release in both countries can shed new light on Korean indie films as a whole," he said.

The director confessed that most of the unexpected things that happened in Mu-young's filmmaking process for the zombie drama are based on his own experiences. For example, Mu-young is late for the first day of the shooting after drinking heavily at a party last night.

In the film, various entertaining and humorous factors are mixed up along with witty characters, but the most important point is that it reveals the directors' critical voice concerning the reality of Korean filmmaking.

It depicts how filmmakers are struggling with the influence of sponsors and investors in the process of making a film. "While we were making this film, we were really free in expressing our voices because we didn't have to be concerned about commercial success. But if we work on something more commercial with investments and sponsors, we cannot do it that way. That's the biggest advantage of indie films. I'm not sure I will be able to do it left to my own devices next time," he said.

From legendary director's son to mature actor

Like Mu-young's speech in the last scene of "Let Me Out," Kwon might be the one who did not trust himself on whether he could successfully complete the first ever lead role from the start. As Mu-young ends up finishing his first film, Kwon said that his speech was like a confession to himself.

"It was my first lead role. I had so much pressure and felt burdened like Mu-young in the movie. But at the end of the film, I felt it was finally completed in the same way that Mu-young felt," Kwon said.

The 32-year-old is a rising actor who is gaining popularity in Asian countries due to his television dramas and films. He debuted in the horror film "Death Bell," and has played supporting roles in the film "Don't Cry Mommy" and the TV series "The King 2 Hearts" and "Vampire Prosecutor 2."

However, he is better known as the son of veteran director Im Kwon-taek. The actor wants to shed the image of just being Im's son, and instead has started to establish his acting career independently from his father. "I don't talk about my career or films with my father at all. He saw this film but never talked about it," he said.

Soh said that Kwon had grown into a mature actor when the shooting was nearly finished. He felt empathy with his role of the student director as he was also a student who studied films at university.

"While playing the part of the director in the film, I realized how hard directors and the crew work in filmmaking. Such experiences helped me grow a lot," Kwon said.
He wants to make his own film someday but is now more focused on acting. "I'd like to become a memorable actor who leaves a strong impression to the audience so that they want to see my next film," he said.

Concerning his next work, he said that he doesn't have any preference toward the genre. "I think whether it's an indie film or a commercial one isn't important. I think choosing between the two is restricting the spectrum of one's acting. The movie is just a movie," he said.

The film is distributed in Korea through Baekdu Daegan Film Company and was released on Aug. 15 in Korea in approximately 15 theaters in including Art House Momo (Baekdu's Art House theaters), CGV Movie Collage (the Art House division of CJ Entertainment), and Artplus Cinema Network in various cities throughout Korea, including Seoul.

Now the film is showing only in Art House Momo in Seoul with English subtitles.

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