Exclusive Filmmaker Interview with Ryoo Seung-wan

Ryan Izay: You are no stranger to action, in a variety of different style and genres throughout your filmography.  The Berlin File utilizes many of these, including some gun play, hand-to-and combat, chase sequences and more. Do you have a favorite to work with?


Ryoo Seung-wan : I must’ve liked to work with all of them in order to have put them in the movie right? Of course, I do like to add actions scenes that I prefer but I now try to think more about what kind of action scenes the movie needs. The above mentioned action scenes that you’ve mentioned are a combination of my personal preferences and also what the movie needed to push the story forward. It’s hard to choose a favorite because each type of action has its own unique flavor. It was so difficult choosing the various action scenes while making the movie, please don’t make me choose again!


Q: Your action sequences are remarkably gripping, in a way that the actual seams of filmmaking can be remarkably invisible to the viewer.  Do you have any special preparation method for filming an action sequence? Do you storyboard or create shot lists beforehand?


A: Let me explain the process of making an action scene.
When I write the scenario, I think about the situation.
I imagine the rough scenario of the situation and discuss with the martial arts director.When the martial arts director suggest a good idea, I apply the idea to the scenario.
And when I describe the scenario to the martial arts director, he/she makes a storyboard of the scene for me to see. Then we proceed to shooting the scene. I give a detailed action scenario to the producer and art director so that they can start building the set and scout for locations to shoot the movie.
For scenes that require even more details, the crew and I actually plan the scene on location with a rough set built in the background.Once the design of the set and the action sequence is complete, we begin pre-shooting with cameras and edit afterwards. With the rough footage of the scene, we create a more accurate storyboard. We then go back to the location and rethink what we have already shot in order to discover alternative ways of shooting the scene.With that finished continuity, we make a storyboard again. And we go to the location and destroy what we have prepared in order to find better things.


Q: Dachimawa Lee, which was a short you then made into a feature in 2008 are tongue-in-cheek spy spoofs. What was it like returning to the genre, but in a serious capacity?


A: My first film was “Die Bad.” As I returned to the gritty spy genre, I found myself to be in a dark mood also.


Q:It is clear what the influences are for Dachimawa Lee, but were there any films that influenced The Berlin File?


A: I think it was influenced by 1970s French noir spy movies.


Q: On a separate note, I would love to hear some of your influences for The City of Violence and Crying Fist, as well.


A: “The City of Violence” was heavily influenced by the 60s Hong Kong action movies along with the Japanese Yakuza genre movies. A lot of people relate the movie to “Kill Bill” and that’s probably because “Kill Bill” was also influenced by the similar 60s films. For the “Crying Fist,” the inspiration actually came from real life people rather than a novel.


Q. You often seem to work with some of the same actors, including your brother, of course. Do you find that it becomes easier to work with actors when you know them or have worked with them previously?


A: It certainly becomes easier to work with actors you’ve already worked with previously. You get to know what their strengths and weaknesses are.


Q: The Berlin File has somewhat of an open-ended conclusion. Is there any chance we will see a sequel?


A: For now, I’m not planning to make a sequel. I just want the audiences to cheer for the main character’s life lying ahead. But since there are many requests on making a sequel in Korea, and if there are many requests from international fans, then I might consider it.


Q: You have quite an international cast and storyline in The Berlin File, with a portion of the film’s dialogue even written in English. What was it like directing in several languages?


A: Directing a film in another language that I don’t speak was like going into a war without a weapon. It was very challenging.


Q: 2013 was a big year for South Korean directors in Hollywood, with the English-language debuts of Kim Jee-Woon (The Last Stand), Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) and Park Chan-wook (Stoker). Do you have any aspirations to make a Hollywood feature in the future?


A: Actually, I had a project in progress a couple of years ago and I also currently am getting requests to direct a movie from abroad. What’s most important for me is to actually make a good movie rather than just trying my hand at U.S. cinema. If a movie is good, where it’s made does not matter. I also think that’s important for me to tell stories that I know best instead of pretending to know a world that I don’t know for the sake of entering a bigger film market. I still have many stories to tell in the world that I’m actually living in.


Q: Are there any projects you are working on now that you can tell me about?


A: My next movie will be a cheerful detective movie called “Veteran.” The story is about a detective who goes after a corrupt wealthy character and on the way has to fight the system that tries to defend the corruption. Oh, and I’m currently in post-production for 3D omnibus short film called “Ghost” I recently directed.


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