“Respect Each Other’s Vision”: Interview with Bumsue Chun, NYU Tisch Asia

| April 4, 2016

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What’s a middle-aged low life gangster to do? Panho, who evicts slum residents in South Korea for a living, faces the ultimate challenge of kicking out a small child from his humble abode. But what goes on in this evictor’s head? In a brilliant, understated by lead Minsu Sung, the results are poignant, funny and frightening.

The Evictor will screen as part of Aspen Shortsfest’s Program One. We caught up with filmmaker Bumsue Chun about filming in his native country, as well as what to do when the neighbors don’t like you shooting on their block.

Minsu Sung as the Thug in a car after finishing a job of eviction

Minsu Sung as the Thug in a car after finishing a job in The Evictor

Hey Bumsue. Tell us about yourself, your background and how you got excited about film.

I grew up in a middle class family with parents who are heavily academic. In such a sheltered environment, my exposure to the world was mainly through excessive cable TV and internet consumption, just like so many other millennials.

When I was around 12, I was heavily into staying up late every night watching TV, mainly just hoping to catch some R-rated movies with nudity on cable channels. But one night, this one movie just had my attention not because there was sex, but because it was something I’d never seen before in my life. It was initially just another crime drama where the protagonist was holding a gun threatening and yelling at innocent people that he was holding hostage, but scene after scene I just started feeling so much sadness from his eyes. I was gradually drawn to this guy and found myself rooting for him despite what he was doing. The movie had so much realness and even a lot of sense of humor despite its tragic ending. I remember that the sun rose when the movie finished and I felt overwhelmed with shock from this experience. The film was Dog Day Afternoon and it was Al Pacino’s performance that fascinated me deeply.

Although I was very young at that time,  I think it completely changed my view on film at a subconscious level, and the same shock I felt from that movie is still what excites me the most about watching films or filmmaking.

So, who is The Evictor? Can you also tell us how the story and this film came about?

The main character is a low level thug who illegally evicts people for a living. He gets to have an unexpected encounter with a little boy in the course of his job in the story.

So, the film was my 2nd year project in the graduate film program of NYU Tisch Asia in Singapore. It was the first chance for students to make a film outside Singapore. I’ve always wanted to make a film about a gangster back home and it was a great chance for me to do so.

Your lead Minsu Sung is fantastic! What a brilliant, creepy performance. There were so many notes: he was cruel, funny, tender. Can you tell us about how you cast him? 

After casting call, I got an email from him. My first impression of him was that he was like a Korean version of Willem Dafoe. We met up in a restaurant in his neighborhood, and I saw him just perfectly comfortable in his own skin. He was expressing all sorts of emotions on his life and career. In fact, he was very much like the character in the movie except [being]  a gangster in real life. There was no doubt I wanted him for the lead role and I really do think his presence made the film.

The Thug’s first encounter with the Kid

The Thug’s first encounter with the Kid

What’s your process like working with actors?

I think it’s most important to listen to what the actors think first. They are the ones thinking the most about their characters and whatever they say is worth listening to. If you’re a chef, your job is to make the most delicious food from choosing the best ingredients possible, not to tell the farmers how to grow their wheat.

How did you cast the child, Young Joon Kim? 

I found the profile of Young Joon online on an agency website. Unlike many other child actors that look perfect for commercials, he just looked different. He looked more like a cute nephew you would want to hang out with than a child model. So I met with him and his mom. He was only 7 at that time and too shy to talk with me. I just felt the kid’s sincerity from his shyness. And knowing how close he actually is to his mom, I thought the absence of mother for his character in the story would be more impactful.

Very first appearance of the Kid played by Youngjoon Kim

The Kid played by Youngjoon Kim

I’m always curious to know how directors deal with younger actors. In other words, if there are tips or tricks you can share with us.

I think for child actors it’s mostly the same as adult actors. They have certain understanding and vision of the character, and if that serves your vision you go with it, and if not you can’t.

But the big difference is that kids are less likely to handle stress well on set. So it’s best to have child actors that are more patient than others, but if they are not, making extra effort to entertain them is key. In our case, just like the character it was video game that made him happy. So letting him play when he’s not on camera was good way to relax him.

Cats recur twice: there’s a kitty at the beginning and we see an alley cat halfway through. Also, one of the characters is pranked with a Sharpie to make him look like a cat? Why so much feline?

Initially a cat only appears in the beginning in the script, but the location had many stray cats and some of the residents were living with many cats. So that naturally helped us get random shots of the cats outside for cutaways. And the cat face is also inspired from the location, since in the script it wasn’t necessarily meant to be a cat face but just a sharpie pranking.

A stray cat in the slum neighborhood staring at Minsu Sung as the Thug

A stray cat in the slum neighborhood staring at Minsu Sung as the Thug

Also I like cats, so it sort of all worked out to my liking.

Tell us about where you shot the film. How was it securing locations?

Location was this small area of Yeongdeungpo-gu in Seoul where these impoverished housings still remain with residents living there. Luckily one of the houses has been often used by filmmakers and getting an agreement from the owner wasn’t difficult.

What are the challenges and benefits of shooting in South Korea? How’s the local film scene out there for indie directors?

A benefit was the fact that I’m from there and speak the language as my mother tongue. A challenge was the management of both crew members from Korea and classmates from NYU at the same time. I had to be culturally and linguistically ambidextrous at all times on set to fill any gap between them.

There are so many indie film directors and film students in Korea since its film industry has become one of the biggest in the world. However, just like Hollywood, not many make it to the top and many of them suffer long hours of working on other people’s set for not so much money struggling to get their film made.

Do you consider this a comedy? It’s funny, but always permeated with a sense of dread.

I don’t generally say “comedy” to describe this film, but if people thought it was a good comedy, that makes me feel happy too. I think great hilarity always comes from a sense of dread.

The Thug and Mansu played by Incheol Kim examining the house soon to be evicted

The Thug and Mansu played by Incheol Kim examining the house soon to be evicted

What do you think changes for the Evictor throughout the film? He seems a different person at the end.

I don’t think it changed him much. He’s still who he is and gets his job done. But I do think what happened to his character may give him a chance to reflect on himself in his life after the story. This may affect the way he makes decision on things in the future, or not.

Any horror stories from the production?

We were actually shooting in a underprivileged neighborhood in Seoul, and the neighbors didn’t really like us making a movie there, since there had been so many other people from TV stations there previously. On the very first day of the shoot, this lady from the next door started yelling and throwing stuff at us to sabotage the production.

We managed to avoid any serious trouble with the lady, and from then on we offered the neighbors snacks to appease them. Fortunately, after they realized we were a student production team from various countries, they stopped raging and left us alone eventually.

Filmmaker Bumsue Chun

Filmmaker Bumsue Chun

Who do you cite as influences?

Scorsese’s films were definitely a strong influence from my early days. But besides his works I’d say films by Takeshi Kitano, Robert Bresson and Ryu Seungwan.

Tell us about your NYU Tisch Asia experience.

It was a special program since it was in Singapore. When I was going to college in America, I always had sense of being an alien as a kid from South Korea, but in Tisch Asia, no one’s from Singapore in my class, and everyone was basically an alien. Even with the faculty members we all shared the same sentiment of living abroad together, which made us closer to each other. We all tended to get along well with little ego battle.

It’s tragic the school is now closed and there won’t be any more students from Tisch Asia.

Do you have any advice for student filmmakers?

I think I’m more in need of getting an advice than giving one.

But if you’re a student filmmaker and in a film school, it really helps to understand that everyone has their own reason for making their films whether you think it’s genuine or pretentious. It’s important to respect each other’s vision no matter what your taste is. Things could get really tense in the creative process with tight deadlines and it could be really tempting to judge others. But that ultimately doesn’t really help your process of finding your own voice.

Bumsue Chun is a South Korean writer/director based in Seoul, Korea. Now he is preparing for his graduate thesis film for NYU in Seoul, Korea.

Like The Evictor on Facebook: facebook.com/TheEvictorShortFilm

The Evictor screens as part of Aspen Shortsfest’s Program One showcase on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 @ 7:30pm.

All screenings are at Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado.

 

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