On The Front Line: an interview with Jang Hun
We speak to Jang Hun, the talented director of The Front Line, Secret Reunion and Rough Cut, and one of many Korean filmmakers to have served with autuer Kim Ki-duk…
Your last film, Secret Reunion, was a more contemporary look at the situation between North and South Korea. What attracted you to the story of The Front Line, and how did you become involved the film?
It was not my original plan to direct The Front Line after Secret Reunion but when I received the script of this film, I found out that the story was very attractive and decided to be onboard of this project. Korea is still a divided country and considering the current situation between North and South, the subject of the film was timing-wise something we should talk about.
The Front Line covers more universal themes of the futility of war, beautifully played out in one sequence where we see the different sides claim the Aerok Hills from each other over changing weather. Was that one of the things you wanted to say with the film?
Through the film, I wanted to show the weariness of the war having repetitious battles over the same hill and its meaningless killing thousands of people in order to take over a space which is only a few centimeters on the map.
What moment are you proudest of in the film?
Among the scenes I directed in this film, I’m most satisfied with the last battle scene. The ironical situation that the soldiers have to continue their war even after the ceasefire shows futility and meaningless of the war. I tried to capture the emotional moments when they sing together in the fog and run to the midst of fierce battle, which were the most important parts of this film.
Your films have involved a lot of action, but nothing on the scale of the battles in The Front Line. Was that more difficult to direct? Did you run into any problems while filming?
Filming in the mountain was physically challenging for both staffs and actors. We had to carry the equipments ourselves because the access was impossible for cars and had to remodel the technical materials to fit in the location. The actors had to run a lot over the hills which must have been really demanding.
With Secret Reunion you were lucky enough to have Song Kang-ho and ‘sad eyes’ Kang Dong-won to play off each other. How did you go about casting The Front Line?
There was no special episode while casting the actors for The Front Line but as you mentioned, I was one of the luckiest directors in Korea to work with such great actors thorough out three films. I feel also thankful for the actors who played out members of the Alligator Company.
The Korean war has been filmed several times before. Did you find inspiration for The Front Line in any previous war films?
I can’t deny that this film has been inspired partially by the previous films on Korean war but what makes The Front Line different from other films is that tells the story of how the war ended whereas they start from how it began. Apart from putting focus on the drama of brotherhood or friendship with the setting of war, I wanted to characterize the war itself more centered. At the same time, I wanted to show the front line area over the hill which have been devastated by the repetitious battles as another main character of this film.
Both Secret Reunion and The Front Line underline the fact that there is no difference between North and South Koreans except territory. With recent events in North Korea, particularly the passing of Kim Jong-il, what are your hopes for the future of Korea? Do you think north and south can be reunited?
Like many other people, I hope for the stable peace in this country. Before talking about reunification, the relationship between North and South you be more settled on trust and only then we can move on to discuss on the detailed plans.
You are one of many directors to have begun their careers as an assistant to Kim Ki-duk. How important do you think Kim Ki-duk has been to Korean cinema? How was he to work with?
Director Kim Ki-duk is one of the most well-known directors from Korea in the world. Needless to say, his films have made great contribution to the reputation of Korean films in overseas. The experiences of working with the director Kim were very special and his philosophy of film and the styles of his storytelling still give me inspiration.
Both Front Line and another film by an ex Kim Ki-duk assistant, Poongsan by Juhn Jai-hong, were considered for South Korea’s official submission to the Oscars. Your film won, but was there any rivalry between you, especially considering that Ki-duk wrote and produced Poongsan?
There was no special rivalry between us. Personally, I think film is not a medium proves the director’s capability throughout competing with others’. The Front Line and Poongsan are very different films and I’m really happy that Poongsan made an impressive outcome in Korean market last year.
In many respects The Front Line is more accessible to international audiences than Secret Reunion. Was that deliberate? With several top Korean directors about to make their Hollywood/USA debuts, do you think there has been a change in focus for filmmakers and producers to appeal to audiences outside of Korea?
It was not our deliberate plan to make this film more accessible in international market than Secret Reunion but I agree that it’s an important trend that many Korean filmmakers try to expand the marketability of the Korean film.
What are you working on next?
I don’t have any certain project confirmed, yet, but some items are in consideration now.