A selfie and an interview with director Choi Dong-Hoon

I met director Choi Dong-hoon at the opening for the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF). This was back in 2012 when he was showcasing his comedy heist film ‘The Thieves’ (2012) (도둑들)’
I remember tentatively approaching him for a photo after seeing his film. He was very friendly, we exchanged a few words, I took a photo, and that was it.
Ten years later and I am now meeting him under different circumstances. I am a Korea.Net reporter and have arranged for a press pass at this year’s London Korean Film Festival. His blockbuster film ‘Alienoid (외계+인 1부)’ is launching the opening of the festival, now in its 17th year. I am a little nervous as I think of the questions to ask him. I know one of them will involve taking a picture.
I get to the venue at the ICA, and meet two other journalists, who are both there to interview him as well. My good friend, Timothy Holm from the ‘Not So Korean Podcast’ and Luke Georgiades from the newly launched magazine ‘A Rabbits Foot’. A magazine dedicated to film, art culture and confessions. We all talk about our love for Korean film and what sparked our passion. A bond soon forms, and we agree to do a round table interview asking three questions each and to include director Choi’s responses in our  respective works.
Director Choi soon appears along with his interpreter. He does a couple of  quick fire social media interviews before he sits down with us.
 When it is my turn, I introduce myself and tell him we met ten years ago. He asks me if he has changed, and I pause as I show him the photo to which he exclaims ‘Oh my god! I changed a lot’. He surprisingly pulls out his Samsung flip phone and takes a photo of my photo. We all laugh and he agrees to take a follow up selfie. This is the only reason I have come, oh and to ask him some questions and see the movie.
Below I have summarised the themes of the questions that were  asked and have included director Choi’s answers in the first person.

On mixing various genres in Alienoid

“It really started from two curiosities. The first being, when I think of science fiction, I think this is something that might happen in the future. However, fantasy is something that never happens, but I hope that it is does. I wanted to see what would happen if I combined those two, slightly different but similar concepts together.

The second curiosity being what would happen if an alien would fight a traditional Korean magician.”

Where he gets his inspiration.

“When I was a teenager, I was a bad child because I would lie to my parents and go out to the cinema and watch several films over the weekend.  However, the memories of what I watched as a child live with me and they are somehow reflected in this film. [References to Back to the Future, Terminator, Alien are strongly represented in this film]. The experience of being excited about watching a film in the cinema still lives with me and I think that is one of the elements that comes across in my films.

The biggest source of inspiration is is my film.  ‘Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard ‘ (2009) (전우치) It is my own creation, but it serves as a stimulant and a challenge for me.”

Why he feels his films connect with audiences

“My stories are always simple and focus on people meeting, their journey together and then people parting ways.  I try to package this with fun elements, so it does not seem like this is the only focus. I always ensure there is an open ending, so people are unsure of what is going to happen next. However, I think the main connection is people meeting and parting that resonates with the audience.”

On scripting and changes in the film making process

“As a director, in Korea you need to write your own scripts to debut. It usually takes me about a year to write a 70 page script. In the case of this film (Alienoid) it actually took me two years.  In terms of shooting the film, I somewhat feel it’s a bit like jazz. There is an element of improvisation . Things maybe are different. I may change the script in some places or I will consult the actors. We have a discussion and we have a suggestion and if something does not work, we may change the script. We may change what the actors say, or we may change the circumstances or situation. In all that sense it all comes together to build the story.”

On selecting and working with cast members.

“When I am writing a script, I have a certain person in mind of whom I would like to cast. Of course, there is no guarantee that I can cast that person, but whilst writing the script, I would meet that person for tea and coffee. We will talk a lot and it will help me to get a sense of them. Once I am done with the script, I am present it to the person and we go from there.

For example, if you take Kim Tae-Ri’s character. She is poised to do a lot of action in the film; however I wanted her to be quite an elegant person. So, when meeting her , I tried to draw out the elegance in her which was what I had in mind for the character.”

Where he sees himself 10 years from now.

“When it comes to scripts, I like it to be very dense. I want there to be many characters and I want to present many situations so I don’t think that will change. But maybe in the future, I would like to focus on films that are more about humanity! Let’s see ..!”

The change in the Korean film industry over the past 10 years

“We have a lot of good directors in Korea. Directors who have their own character that have their own colours their own genre their own stories. I feel like we stimulate each other. We are all quite close. We will exchange ideas. Because of the pandemic, a lot of the cinemas shut down. We are all out there looking for a new story.”

What he does in his free time

“I like watching old movies and reading books. Since I was coming to the UK, I thought to read Agatha Christie novels. Because I really enjoyed it, I finished it quite quickly and now I am reading a book about the laws and principles of editing.”

Is he likely to do a mystery movie

“I wish. However I have to write a really good story. and as I get older I find my brain is not as youthful as it used to be.”

What he hopes to do in London

“I love walking around and visiting the National Gallery, and Sommerset House. I always visit the Tate Modern whenever I am here.”

After our twenty mintues are over, we take our respective photos. Like a true director, he asks me to check the photo and ensue that it is okay. I briefly glance at it and realise the angle is not so great. But I am concious of his time and the request of my two colleagues. I say that it is okay, thank him and leave for the screening.

It is only much later that I regret not taking another photo, as the angle was not the most flattering. However I happen to meet him by chance a few days later at the screening of Jang Sun-woo’s ‘The Road to The Racetrack‘(1991) 경마장 가는 길 He happens to be an audience member at the film. (He did say he enjoyed watching movies in his free time)

This time I ask for his autograph and retake the selfie. He understands why and says the angle we had originally used was too wide. Despite the crazed look in my eye and my hat hair, I feel it is much better than the one we had taken a few days ago. I leave happy and cannot wait until Alienoid part 2, hopefully where I shall meet him again, perhaps for another selfie?

All image stills are courtesy of the London Korean Film Festival. Thank you to the KCCUK and Sanam Hasan PR and director Choi and his interpretor.

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