New York Asian 2018 Interview: HIT THE NIGHT Director Jeong Ga-young on Twisting Tropes and Gender Roles

New York Asian 2018 Interview: HIT THE NIGHT Director Jeong Ga-young on Twisting Tropes and Gender Roles

With the rising tide of feminism in South Korea, the fearless, flawed, funny, and fully-realised women of director/writer/actress Jeong Ga-young’s films feel right on time.  At the New York Asian Film Festival with her second feature, Hit the Night, Jeong unspools a tale of seduction, thrilling, hilarious, and cringeworthy, that turns the tables on familiar South Korean romance tropes.

The Lady Miz Diva:  Your first feature, BITCH ON THE BEACH, created a lot of buzz around festivals.  Was that success part of the impetus to go further and create HIT THE NIGHT?  

Jeong Ga-young:  It did surprise me, but that reception didn’t particularly encourage me.  It wasn’t the festival buzz from Bitch on the Beach that led to Hit the Night.  Actually, the script for Hit the Night came before the release of Bitch on the Beach.  So, for me, I really wanted to get started on my second feature.  

LMD:  What was the inspiration behind HIT THE NIGHT? 

JGy:  The actor who plays the main character, Park Jong-hwan, I really wanted to work with him.  I started from the question of what would be interesting thing to work on with him.  So, because, as you see in the movie, he is quite an attractive person, I thought it might be a really fun idea to make a movie that involved seducing him.

LMD:  So much of the film depends on Park Jong-hwan’s reactions.  His portrayal in HIT THE NIGHT was so successful that he won Actor of the Year at the Busan Film Festival.  Please talk about your collaboration with Mr. Park when creating his character, Jin-hyeok.  Did he add anything that perhaps wasn’t there before?

JGy:  I don’t think there was a definite process of collaborating with him, character-wise, because I had cast him already with him in mind.  Then I shared the script with him, and we did several readings, and then we went on to memorise our lines, and then we went straight into filming.

LMD:  The performances are so naturalistic, I’d wondered if there was any improvisational dialogue or ad-libbing?

JGy:  Ninety-eight percent of the dialogue that happens the movie was scripted.

LMD:  Park Jong-hwan is an established actor.  The dialogue in this film is very sexually provocative compared to other South Korean films.  Was Mr. Park comfortable with the dialogue and subjects you discuss in the film?

JGy:  Park Jong-hwan, I feel, felt that the story itself was really fun.  I think we both had a lot of fun making it, as well.  I think he really saw my take on these themes as a very fun and irreverent sort of piece, so I think he enjoyed working on it.

LMD:  The main character bears your name.  Perhaps that might lead people to ask how much of what we’re seeing is based on your personal experience?  

JGy:  Definitely, there are ingredients of my own life that are reflected in the film, of course.  But because it’s a film, my basic mindset when approaching working on a film is it has to be more fun than actual life.  So, I think some sort of fantastical elements have also been added.  And I always feel and think in a way that if such and such happened, it will be more fun for the story, or if such and such a thing happened, wouldn’t this be more fun?  So, I always have that in mind when I’m working on it.

LMD:  I’m pretty easygoing, but there are many moments in the film where I cringe watching this character, and hearing some of the things she says while trying to seduce this man.  It’s often said that part of being a great artist is the willingness to expose yourself.  Where did you get the courage to show the world this very unusual character that is clearly going to be confused with yourself?

JGy:  I think that courage comes from loving films more than myself.  I’m kind of cringing saying it right now, but I think my love to make fun films, my desire to make fun films is a big part of what I do, and what I want to do.  I really do enjoy it, whether it’s acting or directing.  I do try to find the fun in whatever I do, and I think that’s a big part of what it is.

LMD:  Another thing I admire is that your character seems to be the antithesis of everything a woman in South Korean cinema is supposed to be.  In terms of being onscreen, we are told that there is a very strict, small standard of female beauty, and a pretty limited depiction of womanhood.  It is extremely rare to see a female character who is not only sexually active, but initiating the relationship, and is even aggressive.  Is it part of your mission to show us that whole other spectrum and a more realistic portrayal of women?

JGy:  I didn’t particularly see this film in terms of man versus woman.  I think more so, because I am a woman, in the past, the women portrayed in TV and film were not very three-dimensional.  I think there were either evil, or either good.  In a sense, this Ga-young character, she is sexually liberated, she knows what she wants, and she’s also very self-assured.  I feel that that is a kind of a character that is hard to see in Korean media, nowadays.  So, yeah, I wanted to do that.  It sounds like I’m bragging, but yeah, that is what it was. {Laughs}

LMD:  Jin-hyeok tells Ga-young he’s offended by her deceit and advances, and she doesn’t really seem to take it in, and continues to push him.  It felt like the reversal of when a man comes on too strongly to a woman, which is also uncomfortable to watch.  Did you consider that people might react poorly to that aspect of Ga-young? 

JGy:  I think my answer to your question is that fundamentally I feel that Ga-young’s character, she is not the type to back off, even after learning that he has a girlfriend, and that’s why I think the story went the course that it took in the film.  And even also from the point of view of the audience, I wanted to sort of portray someone who kept on going, even after learning that the guy does have a girlfriend.  The result is kind of devastating, and that is kind of where I wanted to push that character to go to, and so I feel that is also what the audience will feel in the end.

LMD:  It’s interesting that you mention that, because there are the scenes when your character, Ga-young is getting along amazingly with Jin-hyeok’s friend; who Jin-hyeok throws in unexpectedly to deflect her advances.  It’s clear they are a good match, yet she doesn’t stop going after Jin-hyeok.  Why doesn’t Ga-young take the prize in her hand?  Was she that determined to have Jin-hyeok?

JGy:  Jin-hyeok is someone that Ga-young is uncertain whether her love will be consummated, or not?  And this friend who comes in later, he is someone who she has a possibility with him.  And so to speak, after all the seduction that went on, Ga-young is essentially in heat.  If we were just sexually speaking, yes, she would be able to sleep with this other guy, and sort of satisfy her needs, so to speak, but I feel that because in her heart of hearts, she really wanted to express her love for Jin-hyeok, and not the friend, that makes her not into this other proposition.

LMD:  The visuals in HIT THE NIGHT give the audience the feeling of almost eavesdropping on these personal and potentially humiliating or devastating moments for all the characters.  Did you intend to convey that sense of peeking in?

JGy:  Because this film deals with a few characters in a limited space and time, there wasn’t a lot that we could actually do, visually.  I really did try to work with the tone, and I worked with the DP on how to make this come across as — I wouldn’t say simplistic, but something that was simple, yet something that really speaks of the tone and the intimacy of the moment.

LMD:  We have heard how South Korea has embraced the Me Too movement.  Was that show of female strength any encouragement to make this film?  Or perhaps gave you a sense that you were aiming in the right direction with your films’ content and perspective? 

JGy:  I think it’s a welcome change, for sure, because in the Korean film industry, in general right now, there are so few female directors, or characters.  I feel like the Me Too movement will certainly sort of galvanise and hopefully be the increase of female directors, as well as well-written characters.

Another thing that I feel is that I should be careful because of the Me Too movement: Say, if someone says no, I should take it as a no, and not keep on going.  I mean, that’s the only way I would be able to keep on making movies, so that is sort of another reminder for me, as well.

LMD:  I spoke with Yim Soon-rye about some her challenges as a female director in South Korea.  As a relative newcomer, what would you say have been some of your challenges?

JGy:  To be honest, currently, I’m not very sure what to say about the challenge I face as a female director, for now.  But I am in the process of preparing for a commercial feature, soon.  For commercial features in Korea, most of the crew are men, so I do anticipate maybe I’ll face some challenges then, but for now, I don’t think that’s been an experience for me.  

LMD:  Well, now you have to tell us about this commercial film you’re working on.  Is there a storyline or cast?

JGy:  I’m in the first stages of screenwriting.  One is about friends with benefits situation.  The second one is about an affair.

LMD:  These are provocative subjects.  Do you feel it is your role as an artist to provoke the audience, or change people’s perspectives?

JGy:  I have long been a fan of love stories and melodramas in Korea, and I feel that it’s very important nowadays to bring a fresh perspective, whether it comes from character, or whether it comes from storyline.  I mean, I’m in the process of screenwriting right now, but I think that is sort of my wish to present to the audience, as well, a fresher perspective on a genre that has been done many times, but to bring a fresh take on it.  That is sort of my goal.

LMD:  In HIT THE NIGHT, BITCH ON THE BEACH, and your short film, LOVE JO. RIGHT NOW {Centered around the Korean star, Jo In-sung}, being a movie fan plays a part in your films.  Who are the filmmakers who inspired you to make movies? 

JGy:  I’m a big fan of Hong Sang-soo.  I’m also a big fan of Woody Allen. {Laughs}  I’m a fan of prolific directors; they are both very prolific, so that is why.

LMD:  You are also your own lead actress.  Which came first; the desire to act, or to direct? 

JGy:  First, came my love of directing.  Then, when I was making my short films, that’s when I first started delving into acting, as well.  I realised that it was really fun to act.  The fun that you get from acting is something that is really can’t be substituted with something else.  So, I plan to keep on acting in my films, as well.  But in my third feature that I am currently preparing for, that is something that I will also be in, but I will be completely nude in this film.

LMD:  When one directs oneself, can you tell when something isn’t working on camera?  

JGy:  BITCH ON THE BEACH and HIT THE NIGHT, because on set we were all drinking, so on set, I wasn’t really aware, or consciously thinking of was it a good take, or any of that.  But after, in post-production, in the editing process, my standard for choosing takes is the one where I come out the prettiest is the one I choose.

LMD:  How would you like HIT THE NIGHT to play to the New York audience?

JGy:  I want to say that I’m so happy to be presenting this film this year before the New York audiences.  I’m also really curious about how they would feel and how they will react?  I really can’t believe that I’m here today in New York.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.

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