Lee Won-tae’s thriller “The Devil’s Deal” reveals how revenge can twist anyone into something else when political hopeful Jeon Hae-woong (Cho Jin-woong) breaks bad after a stolen election. Betrayal and murder punctuate the film, set in the economic skin game of early ’90s Busan.
Debuting at Fantasia, “The Devil’s Deal” is produced by Seo Kang-ho and Billy Acumen. Lee’s previous feature “The Gangster, The Cop, the Devil” was a Cannes’ 2019 midnight screening.
Variety spoke with director Lee ahead of “The Devil’s Deal” debuting at Fantasia.
How did you approach the idea of revenge in “The Devil’s Deal”? Did you find it important to show different aspects of the theme?
I believe that there is no such thing as perfect revenge in the world. The process of revenge not only results in the opponent’s destruction but also in the destruction of the self. In this line of thought, I came to think that the most realistic option is to be on the same side as your enemy unless you are confident that you can wipe them out.
This film has a twist ending which I didn’t see coming, yet on re-watching I noticed many hints laced throughout the film. Was it fun to leave clues about the ending during filming?
I think well-crafted foreshadowing is very important because it slowly and unknowingly immerses the audience in the movie like a drizzle, and it also makes them think about the movie again when they reach the ending. Of course, I truly appreciate it when the audience, after watching the movie, recognizes the foreshadowing elements I prepared. Also, as a filmmaker, I feel absolutely delighted.
The dialogue in “The Devil’s Deal” stands out, with many foreshadowed lines and aphorisms. How did the writing inform your choices in casting and cinematography?
In fact, this film is distinctively characterized by its dialogue in the dialect of Busan, a port city. Accordingly, it was key to keep alive the feelings and emotions conveyed in this dialect and to deliver these sentiments to all audiences outside of Busan. Therefore, while writing the screenplay, I worked hard to preserve the particularity of one region without losing touch with the universality of others. I had to pay a lot of attention to the translation. I am very happy to see that the translated screenplay is being appreciated.
The setting of early 1990s Busan is vivid and bursting with character. How did you recreate the city at that time?
In the early 1990’s, South Korea’s desire for democracy and national aspiration for economic development were simultaneously increasing explosively. Being in my early twenties at the time, I remember vividly the situation in those days. As I see it, these memories are a big part of the movie. Also, the art director and DP were selected from those who had a rich memory of that period. Indeed, it is a crucial task to ensure that the time and space of the movie are reproduced faithfully to reality and in detail. However, I believe that the space of a film has real power when it has a “cinematic aura” that goes beyond realistic reproduction. To create this aura, we hunted down countless spaces across the country and changed the design several times. Also, props that might enhance scenes of the movie were chosen meticulously. After all, I believe that this film is the culmination of all these details.