Busan: Korean Director Ryoo Seung-wan Survives Ups and Downs

Abundantly talented, Ryoo Seung-wan has often had problems with other people’s expectations. After his feature directing debut, 2000 cult hit “Die Bad,” the flop of his second film “No Blood No Tears” led to a period of reflection. He has had other ups and downs too. His current hit, cop comedy actioner “Veteran” represents a welcome rebound after the bloated actioner “Berlin File.” But Ryoo admits to Variety that he is a filmmaker that can’t let go.

Congratulations on “Veteran.”

I didn’t expect it to do so well at the box office. In fact it worries me. My message is about the bad behavior of people in power, and yet my film has sold more tickets (12.5 million) than people who voted for the president. And I’m concerned about the impact on the Korean film industry, where we really need diversity. I want people to see many more kinds of films than investors are prepared to back.

Are the big companies at fault in the film industry too?

Pressure from politicians is the worst thing in the Korean film industry at the moment. But, yes, I see the irony of criticizing chaebols, while these conglomerates are also investors in the film. “Veteran” certainly fits the “nut rage era.” We had our internal premiere the day that story became news.

From the king of noir, “Veteran” seems like a big tonal shift.

I don’t accept that I have changed my style. “Arahan” was a comedy. Of all my films, “Veteran” is the most me! What is true is that “Veteran” is meant for younger audiences.

Is that what you learned from “Berlin File?”

Today’s young generation knows nothing of the Cold War and wasn’t prepared to make the parallel between that era and the North-South Korea conflict. To them “Berlin File” was just another Hollywood spy movie. After making such an expensive film, my take-away was that I needed to make a cheaper one.

How do you decide when to be writer, producer or director?

Ideally, I’d only direct. But like, a lot of Korean directors, I started poor and could not afford to hire screenwriters. I find both writing and editing painful, but interesting processes. And I’m possessive, I don’t want other people to touch. I don’t consider myself gifted as a producer, but I’m good at working within a budget, so people assume that I’m behaving like the producer. Really, I’d like to be thought of not as a director, but as a filmmaker.

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