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Director examines the world of Korean cinema

‘National Security’ director Chung openly criticizes film distribution system

Celebrated director Chung Ji-young is making a lot of political remarks with his films lately, after breaking the 13-year hiatus in January with the highly controversial, real-life based courtroom drama “Unbowed.”

Last month, he returned with “National Security,” another socially conscious, politically themed drama inspired by the true story of late politician and democracy activist Kim Geun-tae.

The film was premiered during this year’s BIFF, and Chung received much attention from the press by saying he wants the current presidential candidates to see the film ― which openly criticizes former president Chun Doo-hwan’s military regime in the ‘80s and consists of hard-to-watch, graphic torture scenes throughout. 
Director Jeong Ji-young (center) stars in documentary “Ari Ari the Korean Cinema.” (Aura Pictures)
Director Jeong Ji-young (center) stars in documentary “Ari Ari the Korean Cinema.” (Aura Pictures)

The 66-year-old director made another critical remark on Wednesday, this time about the current film distribution system which he thinks makes it difficult for independent or small-budget films to secure screens. The timing could not have been better ― his upcoming documentary, “Ari Ari the Korean Cinema,” features the history of Korean cinema and the issues that the local film industry face today.

“The current distributions system does not allow small films to survive in the industry,” Chung said after the press screening of the film at Megabox COEX in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. “We definitely need a new measure to protect these films and guarantee a certain number of screenings when they are released.”

For the documentary, Chung met with about 100 cineastes, including directors Im Kwon-taek, Park Chan-wook, Bong Jun-ho, and Kang Je-kyu. They also talked to the country’s top actors and actresses, including Ahn Sung-ki, Song Kang-ho, Choi Min-sik, Bae Jong-ok, Kang Soo-yeon and Kim Hye-soo. The interviews began in 2009 and continued to early this year.

While doing the interviews, Chung worked with actress Yoon Jin-seo, who is best known for her performance in Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy.” The 29-year-old brings her own perspectives to the film, as an actress who belongs to the younger generation. The two, as a team, discuss Korean cinema with their interviewees, often asking them difficult questions in front of the camera.

“It was certainly meaningful to talk to actors like Park Joong-hoon and Ahn Sung-ki and learn about their old days in the past,” Yoon told reporters on Wednesday.

“I used to find it very difficult to approach them, since they are such respected figures in the industry. But I’m definitely more comfortable around them now after spending so much time with them for this movie.”

Chung and Yoon ask questions that are personally related to their own careers.

Before he made a comeback with “Unbowed” last year, Chung had a number of his projects rejected by major investors and production houses. In the film, he questions why major film companies in the country prefer working with up-and-coming directors ― it turns out it is because it is easier for the companies to take control over the products ― and how challenging it is for older directors like himself to produce the kind of movies that they want to make.

“Unbowed,” which was based on the true story of Kim Kyung-ho, a math professor who was convicted for shooting a crossbow arrow at a judge, was a low-budget production of 1.5 billion won. The movie was successful at the box office, drawing some 3.4 million viewers.

“Making ‘Unbowed’ was only possible because the actors helped me,” Chung said.

“I could only do a low-budget film. I could not pay them a lot but they offered to perform in the movie regardless. I think there’s still a lot of passion in this industry, and that’s what keeps the diversity of Korean cinema against the dominance of the major production houses.”

“Ari Ari the Korean Cinema” opens in local theaters on Dec. 6.

By Claire Lee (