Lee Kyoung-mi Reveals THE TRUTH BENEATH in Q&A
Opening Film The Truth Beneath
On the opening night of the 11th London Korean Film Festival director Lee Kyoung-mi introduced her film, THE TRUTH BENEATH, to an enthusiastic audience. Having recently been awarded a prestigious Best Director Award from Korean critics and recognition of the film's myriad qualities increasing the further it travels; the LKFF proved the perfect time to present the film to UK cinema fans. The powerful thriller didn't disappoint as it's complex narrative and twisting structure elicited audible gasps from the sold-out crowd. The story follows one woman (Son Ye-jin) who's world falls apart when her daughter is kidnapped on the eve of her politician husband's election campaign. Amid a media frenzy the desperate mother searches for her missing child, desperate to uncover the truth beneath the disappearance, no matter what the cost...
After the screening director Lee returned to the stage to enter into conversation with Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns before taking questions from the audience.
Tony Rayns (TR): Is this completely fiction? There’s no basis in fact, no real political scandal, no real kidnapping or murder or anything?
Lee Kyoung-mi (LK): It’s a fiction.
TR: Well then, how did you come up with such a cruel fiction?
LK: I think over the long period of time that I was writing this script, from a dark place it got darker and darker and more cruel. And I also became a bit more exhausted as well.
TR: Are there many politicians in Korea who act like this? I have to say as a humble foreigner it paints a grim picture of the political scene in Korea. If there really are these petty rivalries that are explained in the beginning (of the film), this behavior is pretty shocking.
LK: Actually when writing this script, I completed it two years ago and I finished shooting about 18-months ago, who knew it would perfectly coincide with the events going on now? During that time there have actually been many Korean films that shine a light on the realities of Korean politics and large conglomerates. As there were so many, there was the view that it (what the films were showing) was perhaps too excessive. But, actually these worries have now become a reality, which is even more worrying.
Lee Kyoung-mi: "...from a dark place it got darker..."
TR: What was your starting point? Did you want to tackle the political questions or was it more dishonesty within a family, or was it the teenage girl experience, all of which are important elements of the film, but I wonder what your starting point was?
LK: So actually the first thought and the starting point for this story was maternal love, when you lose the thing that’s the most precious and important to you - what a terrible nightmare that would be. Imagining that was the beginning and also moving on from that, when you love someone the most and feel you are loved by them but realise they’re a different person than you had known or imagined. Imaging that was another way that the story developed. As you can see from watching the film to the very end, making politics the main subject wasn’t my intent but having this character who gets closer and closer to the truth, she goes through in this process various different immoral and unfair ironies and that's the perspective.
TR: The ending is actually perversely touching, the idea that all of these terrible things happened because the daughter was in some way protecting her mother from dark truths makes it more ironic.
Audience Question (Q): I really liked the band, seeing the two girls together; I loved the aesthetic and the music video. Could you talk about their sound and their look?
LK: The girl’s band in the film was actually modeled on a real life existing indie band in Korea who have now since dispersed. The band and the type of music was originally envisioned as a rock band. During the pre-production stage when thinking about the massive truth that these two girls had to endure and bear for two years and how they could realise their strength during this time, I wondered what kind of music this would be. I thought the music would have to reflect the madness. The key features for me were that the lyrics were quite aggressive, but that the melodies would be cheerful and quite uplifting juxtaposed with this odd choreography that they had.
Q: Director Lee, that was a fantastic film, can you please explain your choice for locations, in the film, particularly the woods where the girls practiced? What was your reason for choosing those locations?
In the director's chair: Lee Kyoung-mi
LK: The most important thing was that, in the life of this story, in the context of this very harsh and cruel adult world, there would be something of these young girls that has a very beautiful and vibrant living essence, something soft and gentle and malleable.
So, within the adults world we can see the city, the home or the office and also an important space in my mind was the vast empty field where the murder takes place. These have contrast with the children’s spaces: we have the place where they rehearse as a band and this very rich forest which is exaggerated and can feel quite theatrical to really add the atmosphere of a fairy tale and to really sharpen the contrast between the two. The main colour I chose for the children was pink which is reminiscent of a young girl when you look at the film it could be the sports uniforms or the wallpaper colour or their accessories; they’re all very feminine. That was to highlight how cruel these experiences were from their point of view. That this very conceptual girlish colour would consciously convey the cruelty of what is going on.
Q. What kind of director were you, did you give the actors total freedom in the film to do whatever they wanted or did they have to follow your directions precisely?
LK: I use a different approach depending on the actors. In the case of new actors what is very important is they know how to relax in front of the cameras because they don't have any experience they don't know how to yet. So my method is if they are quite tense and can’t perform that although they might feel embarrassed that they should shout really loudly, jump up and down or bang on the desk. I heard later on the staff was saying this is a truly bizarre setting to be working in! In terms of the main actors they were all consummate professionals there was no need to give them direction like with the newer actors.
So, I might suggest one idea to them and ask what they thought and ask them to come up with an added suggestion, there was a real sense of joy in that collaboration.
Q: I really enjoyed the film. I can really feel the power of the hatred in the revenge, did you ever think about putting forgiveness in it?
And as you mentioned earlier there’s a political crisis in Seoul right now, I wonder what do you think the people in the film industry can contribute to put the politics right?
LK: So at the time when I was making this film that was my perspective on this world: that it is a very rational, dark one, and that's the world I wanted to convey. Despite that, what did get included was the sense of this really warm heart, this maternal love that could extend to someone who’s not your biological daughter, and in the context of this very rational, cold world that we live in, it could offer a small ray of light.
Korean films are made by creative people who reflect the reality that they are a part of, and they reflect that consciously or unconsciously in the product of their creative work. I don't think that films can change the world necessarily but I think that people living in this creative time that can offer a small sense of comfort or a brief fleeting sense of hope and I think that that has huge meaning and I hope films can serve that purpose. And also I think that after a time passes for future generations film can serve as a way to reflect and contemplate on previous events.