YI OK-SEOP, KOO KYO-HWAN, & THEIR PET FISH, “MAGGIE”

Review of Maggie (2018)

I introduced myself to Yi Ok-seop (the director) and Koo Kyo-hwan (actor/producer) and handed over 366’s business card. Unfortunately, my handwriting in Korean is just as bad as my handwriting in English.

Yi Ok-seop

366: My name is Giles Edwards and I’m here for 366 Weird Movies. I may have written that incorrectly below…

Yi/Koo: “Dogs”?

366: Oh dear. My hand-writing is pretty bad, I was just looking that up before I got here… Not “dogs”—um, “movies”. But!… I want to ask about the choice of songs for the movie, as they were very clear and dominant from the beginning.

Y/K: When editing, we usual edit as we play music, and look through what kind of music goes well with this scene, this situation, and this line. And when we feel stuck when trying to explain the story in a better way, we look toward the music instead of hanging on to the problem we have in the story. So we look through music and try to find the solution by looking. We felt really empowered by putting the music and the scene together, because when they go really well together, it feels much more synergistic than when we tried to solve this problem as written, or when we couldn’t solve the problem at all, so it was a hint as well as a solution for us.

366: Last night, you both spoke about the nature of the catfish and the prediction of earthquakes. I was wondering if you might be able to repeat that again for this interview.

Y/K: The nature of “Maggie”, the catfish, is that they can sense, predict when there will be an earthquake in the next three or four days—it could be longer, it could be shorter—it’s not precise, but it can sense it and predict it. We thought the character of the catfish was like, when you were at school, in a classroom, and there are so many different people, but there is one group of people who are not really talking much, not really involved in any groups, or socializing with others, so you might think they don’t know anything, but at the same time they’re witnessing everything going on in the class-room, they know everything, every little story that’s going back and forth with other people. So we thought the character of Maggie, the character of those people on the streets in daily life that we think know nothing are kind of similar.

Also, the look of Maggie, there was this little… beard that would kind of make him look wiser in appearance. So the reason we decided to have a catfish was that we probably need little elements like Maggie, like a catfish in our everyday lives, where it just comforts us by just looking at it. And even if it’s not going to protect us in a precise way, it will let us know when things go wrong. It’s also a question about whether to “believe” or not—something might happen tomorrow, it might happen three days later, or a week later, but it is still there.

Y: I have a dog, and my dog is where I get the most comfort. And even though it cannot talk and cannot share anything with me, it is still there, and by existing there it really makes me calm down and relax. It was just natural to pick Maggie as the key in this movie.

366: It was mentioned last night that this was done in conjunction with the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea. I was wondering how they got involved and what direct connection they had with this particular movie.

Y/K: The Human Rights Commission of South Korea has made a number of films so far. It doesn’t happen every year, but they had made thirteen films before, and ours is the fourteenth. They chose us for the specific theme of “youth,” which is the key word for this movie. We didn’t submit any scenario to begin with, they just chose our team and afterwords it was totally up to us, and we had the freedom of creating what we wanted to about regarding youth.

366: This being your directorial debut, at least feature-length, were there any filmmakers, Korean or otherwise, that influenced you or your producer?

Y/K: We basically got inspiration from all Korean media because it’s very related to what we wanted to talk about: it’s for Korean people and the central problems that they have. So we don’t have a specific person or movie, though we are huge fans of the director of The Lobster and The Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri(?)].

Y: Also the film The White (?) Invocation.

K: And [Ruben Östlund’s] The Square.

366: You also spoke about Korea’s social problems last night after the movie, I’d be very happy to hear about those again, as I know it was very important for you to have these different issues addressed.

Y/K: So our theme was “youth”, and to talk about the youth we couldn’t just pick one out of a group because they are all different. So we decided to talk about what’s going on around the youth that’s affecting them the most. We couldn’t ignore the fact that these social issues are affecting that directly. For example, at the beginning of the movie we address the issue of illegal photo-shoots in public spaces, with hidden cameras, which happen very often in Korea and people are very aware of it. So if you’re going into a public washroom, you know you’re going to be on camera somehow without your consent.

[I] also wanted to talk about how [Korea] is lacking housing for youth. It’s hard to find places to live within one’s budget, and all these high rise buildings are being built over places that one could actually afford to live. And even the literal ground was unsafe, so there’s this constant anxiety throughout young people’s lives—it doesn’t matter which person it is, but it’s always there—and I wanted to talk about it in an indirect way. It’s a reference and inspiration, and I wanted to bring it into a story and talk about it.

It’s typically a very private thing to talk about—those photos that are taken in public spaces, being unable to afford your own home. No matter how much you earn or save, it’s practically impossible in Korea to buy a house, and with the hidden cameras in the washrooms, there’s nothing you can do about it—you don’t know where they are, you can’t stop them as an individual—so I thought it needed a bigger challenge and a bigger change to find a solution for it. It’s not about individuals, or private stories, we are all going through that problem and we all need to know how to fix it and how to be aware of it.

Koo Kyo-hwan

366: There was a narrative question that struck me at the end when Koo Kyo-hwan’s character falls in the sinkhole. His side of certain events was never discussed and I was curious as to why that wasn’t addressed.

Y/K: We wanted to tell the audience that, violence is violence. So what’s wrong is wrong. So there’s no story or reason needed to explain such a thing. So even with me [Koo] playing that character, there was no reason to think about the reason why that character hit the girl, because [I] could not really understand it as a person.

There is no excuse for hitting anybody, for committing violence over anything. And it’s very typical in Korea, in movies, dramas, or music or in the news, it’s very casual to talk about “why” a person committed that crime, and the reason behind it, and the inspiration behind that crime, but in the end it doesn’t really matter: it doesn’t change anything, and there is always a victim, and who’s going to talk about the story of the victim?

K: With my style of acting, I try to keep the distance between myself and the part of the character that I don’t own in myself, and it makes it easier for me to look at it from a third-eye view, to understand, instead of trying to be that character, inside him.

366: And one final question, could you two recommend a hometown restaurant?

K: “Shake-Shake-Burger!” (joking)

Y/K: In the town of Bangbae-dong [Seocho-gu, Seoul], right in front of this girl’s highschool, there’s a place called “Misoui Jib” (미소의 집), which means “the house of smile” and they make ddukbokki [a stir-friced rice with hot sauce], and that’s our favorite place.

K: “Ddukbokki” is like poutine.

366: Well thank you very much for your time, this was a pleasant way to start my day.

Y/K: Thank you!

Special thanks to Taylor Kim for her translations.

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