Action film director Ryoo Seung-wan has seen enormous success with his most recent film The Berlin File. Smashing box office records in Korea, it finds its way to North America courtesy of the fine folks at CJ Entertainment and their DVD release due December 24, 2013! To promote the upcoming release, Ryoo Seung-wan graciously took the time to answer a few of our questions. We talk about his action process, his relationship with the film’s stars and crew, and what’s next for the director nicknamed “The Action Kid.”
Q: The Berlin File is a sprawling international action production. What challenges did you face when shooting overseas versus in Korea?
A: I had a hard time eating the food in Europe. Filming in an unfamiliar location was challenging because I had to capture the essence of the world of the film in a short amount of time. The higher production cost of filming abroad and also knowing that I won’t be able to do a reshoot during post-production was a lot of pressure. Above all, a movie of this scale doesn’t get produced as much in Korea so making this a successful film was another added pressure.
Q. What films influenced the story and direction of The Berlin File?
A: The influence came from all the spy genre related movies that I loved watching. The inspiration for the main character mainly came from Lee Marvin’s movies especially “Point Blank” and “ Prime Cut.”
Q. Much praise has been mentioned about the action set pieces in The Berlin File, What was your thought process when you sat down to write these scenes. Did you think any would be very challenging to film?
A: Let me explain the process of making an action scene.
When I write the scenario, I think about the situation.
I imagine the rough scenario of the situation and discuss with the martial arts director.
When the martial arts director suggest a good idea, I apply the idea to the scenario.
And when I describe the scenario to the martial arts director, he/she makes a storyboard of the scene for me to see. Then we proceed to shooting the scene.
I give a detailed action scenario to the producer and art director so that they can start building the set and scout for locations to shoot the movie.
For scenes that require even more details, the crew and I actually plan the scene on location with a rough set built in the background.
Once the design of the set and the action sequence is complete, we begin pre-shooting with cameras and edit afterwards.
With the rough footage of the scene, we create a more accurate storyboard. We then go back to the location and rethink what we have already shot in order to discover alternative ways of shooting the scene.
With that finished continuity, we make a storyboard again.
And we go to the location and destroy what we have prepared in order to find better things.
Q. There are scenes were languages other than Korean were spoken in the film, what preparations went into helping the actors speak English, German, and North Korean.
A. The actors were learning to how to speak the North Korean dialect along with other languages with language coaches on set. It definitely was a challenge for the actors to express genuine emotions with an unfamiliar language.
Q. Was casting Han Seok Gyu in your film a nod to his 2003 film Double Agent?
A: Before “Double Agent,” there was another super successful spy film called “Shiri” in South Korea. Han Seok Gyu’s character falls in love with a North Korean spy trying to bomb a stadium in Seoul. I certainly could have subconsciously cast Han Seok Gyu because of his role in “Shiri.”
Q. Having worked with your brother numerous times, how do you feel about his own rise to stardom in the film industry?
A: As a director and a brother, I feel proud. Even though we no longer desire to get more famous.
Q. Do you always have a character in mind for your brother when you are working on a film? Main /Supporting, or even Minor.
A: Of course not. When studying the story and character, my brother might happen to have similar traits but I don’t intentionally try to cast him in my movies. However, since I have worked with him before and am comfortable working with him, I sometimes naturally cast him in my movies.
Q: You have worked with Jung Doo-Hong on basically all of your films, why do you think the both of you work so well together. If not in front of the camera like in City Of Violence, then as fight coordinator on your films.
A: That’s because he works hard and also can act so well. He also provides me with lots of inspiration. For your information, Jung Doo-Hong actually was not part of the crew for my debut film and couple of short films I directed.
Q. What was it like working with Jeon Ji-hyun?
A: What do you think? Haha.
Q. As an action director you must have your own Top 10 Actions Films that have influenced you. Care to let us know what they might be?
A: Movies that give me inspiration for action scenes include Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan’s movies from the 80s. “Police Story” and “Project A” are always delightful to watch.
Q. With a number of other South Korean directors making a transition to English language markets, do you have any plans to do so yourself?
A: Actually, I had a project in progress a couple of years ago and I also currently am getting requests to direct a movie from abroad. What’s most important for me is to actually make a good movie rather than just trying my hand at U.S. cinema. If a movie is good, where it’s made does not matter. I also think that’s important for me to tell stories that I know best instead of pretending to know a world that I don’t know for the sake of entering a bigger film market. I still have many stories to tell in the world that I’m actually living in.
Q. Let’s talk about Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer situation, which I am sure you know about. On a good note, The Berlin File was released here states side uncut, and will be released on DVD the same way. What are your thoughts on some Asian films being edited down for the American Audience? What if this had been The Berlin File.
A: I think when it comes to editing down, you have to be very careful. It is obvious that there’s a cultural difference between countries, and what’s important is that the director should participate in editing down process. In my case, I participated in editing down the “Crying Fist” for domestic and international audiences. I think it only becomes a problem when the director does not get a say in editing down the movie.
Q. After viewing The Berlin File, what do you want audiences to take away?
A: It’s all in the movie. I can’t force the audiences to feel a certain way about the movie. It all depends on their own feelings about the movie.
Q. When you direct a film, do you prefer commercial or critical success?
A: To me I think a good movie will also be able to achieve commercial success. Of course there are exceptions like “Blade Runner” which didn’t do well during its opening but now is considered one of the most important films of our time. Same goes for “Citizen Kane.” I want to make a movie that lasts through the ages versus a short-term immediate success.
Q. If you had to pick one of your films dearest to you, which one would you pick and why?
A: My dearest film is.. my next film. All the films that were already made and released now belong to the audience. So I would say my next film is my dearest.
Q: Will you make any more comedies like Dachimawa Lee? Will he have any more adventures?
A: No. I had enough fun making that movie, so I’m making something else.
Q. You’ve been attached to upcoming film Veteran. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
A: My next movie will be a cheerful detective movie called “Veteran.” The story is about a detective who goes after a corrupt wealthy character and on the way has to fight the system that tries to defend the corruption. Oh, and I’m currently in post-production for 3D omnibus short film called “Ghost” I recently directed.
Q. Do you have any message to your fans in North America?
A: Thank you for all the U.S. fans’ love and support for my films including “The Berlin File.” Please stay tuned for my upcoming films.
Film Smash would like to thank CJ Entertainment and Ryoo Seung-wan for making this interview possible and be sure to pick up your copy of The Berlin File on December 24, 2013! Check out our review here and be sure to enter our contest for chance to win the movie!