Cannes: Shin Su-won’s Dream Comes True

South Korean writer-director Shin Su-won’s third feature, “Madonna,” is premiering in Un Certain Regard.

After your 2012 short “Circle Line” in Critics’ Week, how does it feel to return to the festival?

When I went to Cannes in 2012, I had a chance to see a film from Un Certain Regard. I thought at that time it would be great if my film could be screened here one day, and that dream came true after three years! I am very happy. Above all, it feels even more rewarding as I shot “Madonna” in the summer of last year on a low budget (around $400,000), with lots of difficulties. I would like to express my sincere gratitude, on behalf of the whole crew and the actors, to the Cannes Film Festival.

Your second feature, “Pluto,” drew on your experience as a teacher. Is there any personal element in “Madonna”?

I have several acquaintances who work as temporary workers with low income. I wanted to talk about the pain and the lives of female temporary workers in Korea who have no guarantees about the future, so I started to write the first draft of “Madonna.” After writing the first draft of the film, I had an opportunity to shoot a documentary on single mothers, and although it doesn’t have any relation to the characters in the film, the mothers’ strength, trying to give birth and raise their babies in the midst of difficult conditions, gave me deep inspiration.

Why did organ transplants/donations inspire/interest you?

I read an article about illegal transplants taking place in China, using the organs of convicts who were executed. I also heard stories of Koreans who would spend a fortune to go to the hospitals in China to get transplants. This cannot happen at hospitals in Korea, but I thought if someone was in desperate need of a heart donation, this kind of conduct might happen at a discreet place where no one knows.

“Pluto” caused quite a stir at Busan and Berlin. Do you think “Madonna” will have a similar effect? How do you hope audiences will react to the film?

“Pluto” was a film with a strong social message, but “Madonna” is focused on the wounds and the inner struggle of the main character. I cannot quite imagine how the reaction will be when the film is screened. I am always nervous. My only wish now is that when the film is screened in Cannes, the audience can sympathize with the characters, although the film is dark.

There are four Korean films in Cannes this year. Does this say anything about the health of the film industry?

There are many commercial movies coming out in Korea, and there were megahits passing 10 million admissions for some years. But films that are not categorized as commercial films have difficulty finding investors, and even if they get completed, it’s hard to get them distributed at theaters. There was a period in the past when creative genre films or arthouse films could be produced with the support of the government and investment companies. But now it is difficult to survive as a director if you don’t shoot a commercial film. I was lucky to get “Madonna” financed, even with a small budget. While shooting it, I thought many times that it might be my last film. I hope that’s not the case.

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