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AFI FEST '13: Interview with 'The Fake' Filmmaker, Yeon Sang-ho

It is rare when a film makes you reexamine what you thought you knew about yourself and your beliefs. That's exactly the effect that Yeon Sang-ho's animated film, THE FAKE, provokes. What follows is my conversation with Yeon at AFI FEST 2013 about his challenges with faith, Studio DADAshow and comic books.

What inspired the story?

There was an incident some time back in 2002 that involved a celebrity making a statement that angered the Korean government. It was a sensitive political issue that caused a public outcry. But what he said wasn't completely untrue. That's where the inspiration came from.

Was this political figure in the film?

No, not exactly. I was asked this question a lot in Korea about where I got the inspiration for the film. But it was such a sensitive issue, I wasn't able to talk about it. The figure I'm talking about used to be an actor and said something negative about FDA [Food and Drug Administration] issues. The public was swayed against him because they were confused by what he was saying, and he was saying these things while he was shooting advertisements for loan sharks. Since that time, he hasn't been able to pursue his career as before, and I was watching this person speak for himself when no one was listening. I wanted to take this incident and dramatize it in an extreme way.

I just watched THE KING OF PIGS (2011) and was totally blown away. It was so much heavier than I thought possible. You deal with the theme of being a monster. What draws you to this theme and why is it so present in your films?

Considering my work is in animation, I want to draw out the emotions expressively. That's why the story is more dramatic than most live-action films and why the characters look more monstrous.

Like the characters in THE FAKE, has there ever been an incident where you had to deal with the dilemma of loss of faith?

I face this feeling very frequently. It even comes with the most minor things in life, like when I'm trying to wake up but can't, or when I'm trying to do something but don't. A feeling of failure arises that sways my faith and determination to achieve bigger goals. Trivial things put me in a more unstable position in regards to bigger things.

Do you plan on making a live action film?

Not at the moment.

For people who don't know about your production company, DADA Show, can you tell us a little bit about it?

It is very different from other production companies. I tend to work with very low budgets with a small staff. For me, it's easier to work alone, using my own methods for animation that is cost effective. I realized there weren't many companies that could work with my methods, and some people I knew helped create this production house and I have come so far. Animation often involves getting others to help, but we mostly do everything in house. So yeah, we do things a little differently at DADA Show.

Do you plan on expanding the company and working with other filmmakers?

Yes, I am willing to do that. At the moment we are creating another filmmaker's animation under DADA. He is also the line producer on THE FAKE, and this is his debut film.

There are not many animated films that come out of Korea, and they aren't always very good. You are like a pioneer for animation in Korea.

Yeah, I guess I would say so.

Your films are so hard-hitting and grim to the point where I am completely exhausted from the heartbreaking story. What is the message you want to give to the public?

There are a lot of comics and animated films that I like and I just wish the audience could feel the same response from my films as I do with those comics. I would say if my film drives people to think and rethink, it'll be great. My wife asks me where I learn about all these diverse subjects and I say comic books.

So what are some of the comic books you read that inspired you the most?

There's this particular comic book that I can't think of right now that inspired THE KING OF PIGS. Sion Sono recently made a film called HIMIZU that's based on Minoru Furuya'smanga that I like. But if I were to recommend something for you to read, I would suggest my friend's comic book. His name is Chae Gu-suk and he was the character designer for THE FAKE. There's also another book called “Korea's Native.”

Do you have anything you are working on now?

I am working [on a] project about Seoul Station. It is an animated film about the homeless people around Seoul Station.

I feel like your work is a commentary on Korean society, like Lee Chang-dong's films. Anyone that watches your films can learn so much about the culture.

I am a big admirer of Lee Chang-dong. Like SECRET SUNSHINE.

Yes, it is very reminiscent of your film because that film and THE FAKE both deal with faith in different ways.

I like OASIS, too. I feel that his films are told in a very tight way.

Are there any other Korean filmmakers who inspire you?

Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook. For filmmakers my age, they would all say the same.

Be sure you also read my review of the film! (via. AFI FEST)

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