Hey kids, we have one final bit of fabulosity from the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival. Yeon Sang-ho, the director behind the disturbing, stunningly dark animated feature, King of Pigs spoke with us about his unique vision, playing the Cannes Film Festival and the impact the film has made in South Korea. Miyazaki, this ainít.
King of Pigs
Director Yeon Sang-ho
The Lady Miz Diva: What are your thoughts about experiencing your film with a New York audience?
Yeon Sang-ho: When I was making King of Pigs, I did not expect the film would be shown to a worldwide audience. Iím really curious to see how the New York audience will react to this, because the story it quite esoteric; itís really about Korean society, so Iím actually curious to the audienceís reaction.
LMD: You received a lot of praise when the film screened recently in Europe. How did you feel having King of Pigs chosen to be the first South Korean animated feature film to show at Cannes?
YSh: I was very glad. In the Korean animation market, there is more of a commercial aspect rather than artistic. I was very glad that it got attention from an artistic perspective, and by going to Cannes, I think the attention from the artistic perspective could inspire other Korean animation directors to persevere and keep making artistic Korean animation films.
LMD: Where did the seeds of King of Pigs begin?
YSh: There was a dream that I had when I was in the army; it was about three friends, including myself, committing suicide in order to take revenge on someone. It was quite horrifying and I wrote that in my notes.
Later, when I was working on many shorts, I was browsing for a feature idea and I found this note again. As horrifying as it was, I wanted to make this into an allegory about social class and it turned out to be this film.
LMD: Did you have any hesitation about King of Pigsí dark content, or did you have any feedback about it when you were showing the film?
YSh: No, I really didnít hesitate because the first short that got my name known to audiences was called The Hell. Itís really quite dark, as well. Because of that, I felt the audience was expecting something dark from me when I was making the feature, so I didnít really feel that pressure. I kind of felt that I had to maintain that style in my feature.
Of course, because of that, it was hard to get investments, but now that I think about it, I think it was a really good choice to maintain such a dark style.
LMD: Was that why you chose to self-finance the film?
YSh: At first, I funded myself and prepared for the feature, but in the middle of the process, I actually got a private entity company that would fund for independent films, so I actually got funding from them and got to finish the film.
LMD: Do you feel that shocking or very dramatic scenes are the best way to get your message across to an audience?
YSh: At first, I did not want to bore the audience, and in order to do that in terms of atmosphere, I tried to make this film similar to a genre film like horror or action.
Indeed, thereís quite a mixture of genres; emotionally, especially, it relates to horror films. I think itís because of that, although this film sends a lot of social messages, I think the audience could still enjoy the film because of the horror-related elements.
LMD: Right now in the US thereís a very strong movement against bullying. People are coming to realise how damaging it really is with children killing themselves or sometimes growing up unable to cope as adults because of what they endured. Is this the same situation in South Korea?
YSh: In Korea, it is quite a big issue, and when this film came out, it really got attention because people started to realise about bullying in school.
There was another incident in Daegu, where a student killed himself because of the school bullying. Because of all these incidents and the film, I was actually able to speak to the Secretary of the government to discuss what would be the best way to solve this problem.
LMD: Thereís a noticeable lack of participation by the adult characters in the film. Is that typical of the way things are in the schools in South Korea? Is there a hierarchy of the children running the schools and the adults not really being too involved?
YSh: In Korean schools, unfortunately, there is this clear purpose starting to take place, which is, first of all, making the students have a good grade for admission to good colleges. Secondly, the reputation for the students with a higher average of scores.
Because of such a clear purpose set in the school system, bullying is kind of overlooked. I think thatís probably why this bullying issue has grown so big now.
LMD: I had to look away during the cat scene. Do you hear that a lot from people whoíve seen the film?
YSh: For the main characters, I kind of wanted to portray their evil side. I wanted to show some injustice of those characters. I didnít just want them to be heroes.
In order to have the other two characters have some kind of admiration and fear for Chul-yi, I had to put in such a sequence; doing such an uncivilised, horrifying crime against this cat.
Later in this film, that killing sequence triggers guilt in these characters, and I think guilt is one of the key elements in this film. Therefore, the cat plays a very crucial part in this film, too. Thatís probably why I actually voice-acted for the cat in this film.
LMD: Did you have a Chul-yi in your life? Was there one child who stood up against the bullies or injustices in your school?
YSh: No, there wasnít. The bullying guys, they were so huge, and you just canít take a stance against them.
In Korean schools right now, thereís a really strange thing going on, because earlier in the schools, those bullies were mostly outsiders, but nowadays those bullies tend to actually be the elite: They would have good grades and a good social standing. Itís really different now. We would call the bullies nowadays ilgueb, and that literally means, ďfirst class.Ē
LMD: Who influenced and inspired you to become an animator?
YSh: Movie directors I was influenced by were Clint Eastwood, Korean directors Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, the Japanese director, Kon Satoshi, and also Japanese manga artist, Minoru Furuya.
LMD: Is King of Pigs completely CG animated, or is there any hand-drawn element?
YSh: Itís CG. I actually used computers and digital drawing.
LMD: What would you like for people to take away from King of Pigs?
YSh: Itís very simple; itís desperation from the bullied peopleís shoes. I think through going through this experience of watching this film, I think that things will get changed.
LMD: What can our readers look forward to from Yeon Sang-ho in the future?
YSh: After King of Pigs, I made a short called The Window about the Korean army. The next feature that Iím working on right now is called Saibi; itís about fake religion in Korea. Itíll be released early next year and if it gets lucky, later on itíll be shown to audiences in the world, globally.
~ The Lady Miz Diva