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After 2014ís acclaimed, GYEONGJU, Director Zhang Lu returns to the New York Asian Film Festival with A QUIET DREAM

With a little help from his star, Han Ye-ri, Zhang spoke with me about blurring the lines between the subconscious and reality, celebrity cameos, and what makes the ideal man?

Dig it!



Director Zhang Lu and Star Han Ye-ri



The Lady Miz Diva:  What was the idea behind casting directors for the three suitors? {Yang Ik-June, Yoon Jong-Bin, Park Jung-Bum}. I know they are all actors, as well, but did you cast them because they were directors?

Zhang Lu:  Iím well aware that they are very good directors, but honestly, they are very good actors, as well, as you see in their own films.  So, I naturally wanted to see if I could work together with them.  Also, I wanted to see - because they are actors and directors - what sort of tricks they had up their sleeves.


LMD:  I recently interviewed a director who had another famous director act in his film and he loved the experience because he said that director knew what he was going for, and would sometimes even help him.  You had three times the blessing.  Did you consult with the directors during the filming?

ZL:  It was a similar experience.  We definitely discussed a lot on set.  And because they already have good directing skills, they are always thinking one step ahead.  But sometimes, because they have too many thoughts about what they needed in a sceneÖ

Han Ye-ri: That is when director would be like, ďOkay, just stop thinking and do it.Ē  {Laughs} ďLetís just get this done.Ē


LMD: With GYEONGJU, you said you wanted to pursue "What didn't happen mixed in with what happened." Is this theme continued with A QUIET DREAM? I felt like there were RASHOMON-ish, or INCEPTION-ish elements.

ZL:  I wouldnít say that sort of thing is my philosophy, but I would say thatís kind of my state of being.  Itís kind of the way I go about my life; íIs this a dream, or is this reality?í  I kind of feel that is what I go through as a human being.  So, thinking for myself why I made these films, GYEONGJU, or A QUIET DREAM, I was thinking about the general publicís tendency to separate the dream world from reality. 

I feel that sometimes we have a tendency to have a hard border between them, but I feel, for me, dreams are very much a part of reality.  I was more curious about exploring the borders between those two worlds, and Iím also sort of examining our attitudes toward that sort of overlapping state, and also how that overlap may influence our lives.


LMD:  You have many cameos from artists you have worked with previously, or have connections to.  How did you judge how much of these starsí appearances you would use in the film? 

And as all of this may possibly not be tethered in strict reality, are those cameos meant to be seen as actual celebrities by the main characters in the film, or idealised versions of the people in their lives?

ZL:  About the cameo appearances, Iíve known these actors personally for a while, and I was just asking them for help.  So, that was kind of the context of how that came about.  To answer your question, when she {Ye-ri}ís dancing and Yoo Yeon-seok is in that scene; if this film is really about Ye-riís dream, I feel like she would have a male that is not the three characters in her reality. 

As you know, Yoo Yeon-seok is also a well-known actor, and a good actor, as well, and as a director, I felt like I hadnít done much for Ye-ri as an actress, so I wanted to give her the opportunity to be with a very ideal male character.


LMD: How did you know what question I was going to ask next?  Yoo Yeon-seok is one of my favorite actors and gave me his very first overseas interview.  How did he come to be in the production, and how did you decide that he would essentially be the only dream or desire that Ye-ri has in the film?

HYr:  I just recently did a cameo appearance in another film of Director Zhangís.  My impression is a lot of actors want to be in Director Zhangís films, even if itís a very short cameo appearance, I just feel like there are a lot of fans in the cinematic world.

Actually, I was just recently talking to Director Bong Joon-ho, and he was asking me, ďWhatís the secret?  Why is he so popular among actors?Ē  So, even Director Bong was asking me what was Director Zhangís secret?  {Laughs} I feel like that attests to how popular he is with his actors.

ZL:  Because Iím mixing dreams with reality, maybe I will be able to send Yoo Yeon-seok into your dream. {Laughs}

Regarding how Yoo Yeon-seok came to be in the film; Iíd done GYEONGJU with Park Hae-il, and he and Yoo Yeon-seok had done a film together {Whistleblower/ Jeboja}.  I think that we were out for drinks at the Busan International Film Festival, and we met and we chatted, and I had a good impression of him.  Also, I was in the process of thinking for myself what character would be most helpful for Ye-riís dream, and also his schedule happened to work out, so we were able to have him on the set for that day. 

Also, in my private conversations with Ye-ri, I donít know if she remembers, but I once asked her what her ideal sort of male dream was?  She answered to me, ďA man who is healthy in mind and body.Ē  And that quote actually made into the film.  So, when you think about it, I kind of felt like Yoo Yeon-seok kind of fits the bill of the healthy body and mind, so it all just kind of came together.


LMD: The look of the film is very unique.  You place the film in this sort of rundown, industrial, uncinematic area of Seoul, but film it in such beautiful black and white with lush silver tones.  What was the vision that you had for the artistic look of the film?

ZL:  I havenít really seen many films depicting neighborhoods in Seoul.  I do want to tell you that there are actually a lot of neighborhoods like the one in this film, but I feel like itís a matter of whether the camera chooses to go to those neighborhoods or not. 

Why I chose to do this in black and white, that space is a space that I go to often, but when I come back home, when I think again about that space, I never really recollect it in color.  For me, that neighborhood always comes to me and black and white.  And one thing about filming I feel, is that you have to be truthful to the vibe that youíre getting from that space.  For me, the vibe was very black and white. 

So, for example, compared to the very fast-changing neighborhoods; you automatically associate those neighborhoods with color, because theyíre so rapidly changing, but that neighborhood, it was pretty much the same every day, and I felt that that vibe was very well expressed in black and white. So, that was why I made that decision.


LMD:  Ms. Han: How did you first read the character of Ye-ri?

HYr:  For me, I felt like I got to know a lot more about the character of Ye-ri a lot more while I was in the process of filming, rather than through the lines that were on the script.  I felt like the direction sort of changed as we were in the midst of filming.  And through that process, I really realised that the character Ye-ri really loves all of the male characters as a family.  Not just from a romantic point of view, but just as a motherly relationship, and that goes beyond romantic attraction.

Also, while I was filming, I also realized how she has this immense desire to hold on to her life.  That was another thing that came up for me.  And that I feel was kind of hard for me to experience as an actor in that role.  So, some parts of that have been a little difficult.


LMD:  You mentioned the direction of the character changing during the process of filming.  Were you free to contribute suggestions and ideas about Ye-ri to Director Zhang?

HYr:  Essentially, his working style with me has been he really doesnít tell me what to do.  He really very much leaves things open, which is very freeing for me.  So, he allows me to do whatever I do, and then maybe after that, he would say, ďLetís try something new,Ē or ďLetís try this,Ē or ďLetís try that.Ē  So, Iím also able to explore it in another direction.  I would say that working with him is great, because there are really no mistakes.  There are no bad takes.  Itís really all open and very interesting. 

And for him, it didnít really matter how specifically I did things; simple things like giving a cup to someone Ė whether I threw it at someone, or just handed it to someone Ė it wouldnít really matter, because he was just very open to working with me doing me, so to speak.


LMD:  Director Zhang isnít the first director of yours Iíve interviewed. I was happy to speak with Director Shim Sung-Bo for HAEMOO, where he praised your acting and work ethic.  I loved that character as I love this character in A QUIET DREAM because they are both very strong inside.  Is that what you look for in choosing your roles?

HYr:  Thatís not like a specific criteria that I go for when Iím choosing my roles.  I have done a lot of other roles that are not internally strong, but I feel like for some reason, the films that have been well-received abroad, have mostly featured my characters who are internally strong.  Thatís probably a side of me that youíve been exposed to more.


LMD:  Ms. Han: Your KUNDO co-star Mr. Gang Dong-won will be here to receive the Star Asia award.  Many people are excited about both of you appearing.  Are you ever surprised to be greeted by overseas fans?

What does it tell you about the reach of Korean cinema and what would you and Director Zhang like to see take place with regard to Korean cinema reaching out in the west?

HYr:  Whenever I come abroad, I am always surprised by how many Korean film lovers there are abroad.  When I started out with acting, it was really because I was having fun acting, but when I see the fans, I do feel a bigger sense of responsibility, so to speak.  And I feel like, I should really think through when Iím choosing my next role. 

I would say that basically Iím very grateful for all the love that weíre receiving abroad.  And piggybacking on that, I really hope that Korean film keeps on developing in various directions.  I feel like also, Korean films, especially in the artistic arena, are very well-received, and I feel like I really want to collaborate with those filmmakers.

ZL:  So, to be honest, I feel like my films donít have that many viewers in Korea.  {Laughs} So, I feel like yes, itís Korean cinema developing in a better way.  Maybe Iíll be able to get on the bandwagon and get more viewers for my films. Thatís always something to look forward to.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 12th, 2017


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