BUSAN — Many terms have been coined about Jung Jin-woo, “the youngest person to debut as a director,” “the producer with a Midas Touch,” “the founder of the Cine Poem movement,” and “the person who set up what was to become the Korean Film Council.” The belated focus of a retrospective at BIFF this year, Jung sees eight titles spanning four decades being screened.
A ceremony dedicating a specially-made director’s chair to Jung and a hand-printing ceremony took place last weekend to celebrate his achievements in Korean cinema both as a director (50 titles) and producer (112 titles).
Attended by veteran directors and actors including Im Kwon-taek and Kim Jimi, the highlight was the screening of footage from “Eyes of Dawn,” (1982) a film which was never completed due to Jung being imprisoned under false charges for not casting a top-ranking politician’s mistress. The recently-discovered footage was thought lost after everything to do with the shoot was destroyed. Jung and his contemporaries looked deep in thought as they watched the footage restored by the Korean Film Archive.
Jung was also a prolific producer who often worked with his contemporary Im Kwon-taek.
The first Korean filmmaker to be selected in the competition section at the Berlinale for “Long Live the Island Frog” (1972), he was a pioneer of film technology in Korea, becoming the first Korean to direct a real-time recorded film in 1978.
As one of the most successful importers of Hollywood films, he caused the wrath of many filmmakers when he sided with the authorities at a time when the rest of the industry was campaigning for the screen quota for local films not to be cut. Relations between Jung and many of the current big names in the Korean film scene, including the BIFF leadership, have remained been thorny due to this reason, and may explain the belatedness of his retrospective.
The 77-year-old director talked to Variety about his films and life.
You majored in law but went on to be a filmmaker.
I joined a theater group at college and the renowned actor Choi Mu-ryong took me under his wing. I trained as a stage actor, but when I saw my face on the big screen, I realized it wasn’t going to work, so I turned to other aspects of filmmaking such as lighting, design, camera work and set building, with the intention of becoming a director. I still got good grades as a law major, though.
You went to prison a total of three times during your career.
I was shooting a snow scene for “Eyes of Dawn” when I was arrested and put in jail. By the time I was released, and I went to the set, and there was nothing there. All that just because I wouldn’t cast a politician’s concubine. The charge was “inciting filmmakers to be anti-government.” I didn’t have time for that. I was making blockbusters and running my company. After that experience, I named my next film “Parrot Cries with Its Body.” I wanted to tell them that I was no parrot for politicians. The title has a sexy tone in Korean, so it drew a lot of people who thought it was an erotic film.
There is a bird theme in your titles.
I was making a film based on a novel called “The Village Deity” which is a great story but the title was so boring. On the first day of the shoot on a mountain, I saw a lone baby cuckoo calling. The main character loses her mother and the cuckoo reminded me of her, hence the title “Does the Cuckoo Cry at Night.” That also sounds sexy in Korean and many people came, but it’s really about humans and nature. I guess sex is part of human nature.
You were the first Korean filmmaker to be included in the competition section at the Berlinale.
I was at a press conference there with other directors and a reporter compared my film to a Charlie Chaplin film. Korea didn’t have the technology or the equipment for real-time recording even in the early 1970s. My pride was really bruised. I went straight to the Pinewood Studios in London and learned the technique for a month.
After promoting Korean cinema to the rest of the world in the 1970s you must happy to see so many Korean films at major film festivals around the world.
Of course. But it perplexes me that there is a vast chasm between films selected by film festivals and those that do well at the box office. Cinema is a business as well as art. It’s made by so many people whose livelihoods depend on the money it makes.
Some filmmakers say you are too conservative?
I’m only conservative in my lifestyle, not in politics. I’m an anarchist. I don’t concern myself with politics. I like to look to the sky and not restrict myself to the concerns of one single country.