An American Director Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." However, perhaps for a movie director like Kim, his eighty percent of success might be just the opposite. Reminiscing of the time when he was placed under academic probation twice while studying in Hanyang University (HYU), Kim still smiles with confidence saying, "Grades were never important in my life."
Director Byung-woo Kim (Theater and Film, '01) is the most well-known movie director in Korea for his recent hit movie The Terror Live, which attracted over 555 million viewers. Besides his famous title, he has many nicknames. A perfectionist, an experimentalist, and an all round director who is capable of handling numerous tasks at once such as directing, editing, sound effects, and even computer graphics. However, despite his big success in the movie industry, Kim had never thought of becoming a movie director. To reveal Kim's success story, Internet Hanyang News (IHN) met with Director Kim for an interview.
HYU's department of theater and film was not Kim's first choice of study. Before entering HYU, he studied in Hongik University's College of Engineering. However, after spending three semesters in Hongik University, Kim was put under academic probation and got expelled. "The school called me on August giving me the notice. I had never thought of studying for the university entrance exam again, but I desperately studied hard for two months and got accepted in HYU with a four-year scholarship," Kim said.
Although it seemed like Kim's university life was moving towards a betterment of his future, his failure to meet the standards for a scholarship student of maintaining a minimum 3.5 GPA score again placed him under academic probation. "To tell you the truth, I never wanted to study engineering nor theater and film. I chose College of Engineering because my 3rd grade high school teacher was majoring in chemistry. After being expelled from Hongik University I chose HYU's Department of Theater and Film solely because it was not engineering," recalled Kim.
Many people tend to expect successful people to show certain signs of genius or innate disposition in their fields of study. For Kim, however, this expectation can be considered an unnecessary burden. Even after getting admitted to HYU, Kim was not interested nor had a vision in becoming a film director. All he had in mind was to learn a little more about images and pictures.
It was in Kim's second year in HYU, which was the time he first made a movie which dramatically changed his way of thinking. The first movie Kim directed and produced was Anamorphic, a thriller movie released in 2003. At a young age of 24, Kim still had yet to be called a professional director. Nevertheless, Kim's work was shown in Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, RESFEST Digital Film Festival, and Seoul Independent Film Festival. Along with bringing a sensational reaction in the independent film industry, Kim's Anamorphic was praised as being stylish with its visuals and originality in storytelling. However, it was Kim's second film that was even more impressive.
His second film Written, also a thriller movie, was Kim's graduation work. Whereas Anamorphic was made by Kim's independent will, since Written was a graduation project required by the school, Kim was able to utilize school facility to a greater extent. Inspired by the play 'Six Characters in Search of an Author' written by an Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, Kim started shaping the series of thoughts that first came to his mind. Showing the quality of displaying dynamics within limited amount of space, Written impressed a vast array of audiences. Although Written was a low-budget film made by twenty million dollars in total, it was deemed as a well made film considering that it was a college student's work.
Kim's successful output was not without cost. When he was working on Written, Kim suffered from serious alopecia areata which involves hair loss in one or more round spots on the scalp. However, as much as Kim strived hard to make his film, his achievement Written or any of his works in film industry were unequaled. His method of producing or his style of filming without using continuity could only be achieved by Kim.
"I remember taking a course in the Sociology department taught by Professor Tae-sun Han. The class wasn't about films but was about the writings of many renowned sociologists. There was a book called 'Simulacres et simulation' written by a French author Jean Baudrillard. This book deals with the blurred and obscure boundaries between the virtual world and the real world, indicating that the virtual images will someday influence the real world. In fact, the famous movie Matrix was inspired by this book. Knowing that I was a theater and film major, Professor Han gave me numerous inspirations related to movies," said Kim.
Moreover, Kim insisted that drama major classes were of greater experiences rather than film classes. Whereas film classes mainly focus on the filming tactics and skills, drama classes are directed at interpreting the minds of the actors and actresses. "Since filming mostly entails working and meeting with people, communication is the utmost priority. Learning how to derive acting skills from the actors and actresses helped me find ways to work with them efficiently. These classes answered the fundamental questions I had in regards to plays and films," Kim stated.
Despite the fact that Kim had low grades and frequent absences, he deems his university experiences and his two full-length films as invaluable assets. Although in retrospect, Kim thinks the sense of accomplishment he felt after making the films is now rather embarrassing and immature, he says he never regrets those moments. Perhaps, all those efforts eventually accumulated to create a box office hit The Terror Live.
After graduating in 2008, Kim faced a gloomy situation. Since there was no one who provided realistic guidelines for Kim to utilize or a predecessor film maker who could help him, Kim had to survive in the film industry on his own. "My first debut into commercial movie industry had to be groundbreaking and appealable. Most rookie directors choose to make romantic comedy movies because they are easy to make. However, I have zero interest in making romantic comedy movies. Struggling for a year to come up with fresh material, I began writing the scenario for The Terror Live in 2009," said Kim.
Three and a half years were spent solely on writing the scenario. During the time, Kim was technically jobless with no economic gain. He said that the three and a half years of isolation he went through was the hardest obstacle he had to overcome. However, that was all Kim was anxious about. Other than that, Kim was confident enough to believe in the success of his film no matter how long it would take to complete. Kim was never weak enough to drop out in the middle.
After completing the scenario, Kim went straight into producing the movie. Even though Kim had a relatively hard time working with unfamiliar staff, actors, and actresses while filming, he now attributes the glory to those people who were able to work with enthusiasm and in harmony. Among them, Kim specifically recalled the excellent work of Jung-woo Ha, a famous Korean actor who performed in a series of box-office hit movies as a main character.
"Jung-woo Ha was an extremely hard working actor. Although, as a main character, he had loads of lines to memorize compared to other actors and actresses, he managed to perfectly act his part through tremendous amount of practices. What is more, since his level of understanding and interpreting the scenes was similar to that of an expert director, it was easy to work with him," complimented Kim.
Kim's scenarios are considered very detailed in terms of the characters and their changing emotions. In other words, he is perfect in every way when it comes to making films. What would be a piece of advice that Kim could give to the future potential movie directors? "Don't drink too much alcohol. Drinking with your seniors won't give you the answers to your questions. They can't help you; it is only you who has the answers," said Kim, smiling.