"Inspiration comes from feelings derived from my authentic experiences"
Winner of First Time Director at the LA Film Awards, Jae Won Jung, is a highly gifted, innovative screenwriter and director based in Seoul, South Korea. Her latest work, Shadow, is an artistic film that examines the meaning of existence through the main character's monologues on life and death. In the following interview, Jung shares her inspirations and her unique creative process making thought-provoking films.
We find it intriguing that you majored in law as an undergrad, and became a filmmaker. Tell us about your first steps into the film world. How did it begin for you?
Photography and films have been my passion ever since I was in University. After graduating from School of Law from Yonsei University, I moved to New York City to attend a law school. Every venue in New York City, really, served as huge inspiration where I could work on photography, while learning a lot from seeing a lot. Around then, I began writing a script based on my experience which I think is an ordained destiny. When I was finally convinced to pursue what I truly wanted, I chose to quit law school. Now I look back in hindsight, that was a big decision and challenge, also a beginning of second chapter in my life.
Later, you attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, for a Masters in Directing. Why did you choose to study there and what was it like for you? Looking back, what did you benefit from it?
School of Visual Arts, apart from its renown as an art school in New York, could provide more specific and constructive film directing programs. Especially Alex Dinelaris, a screenwriter who won the Academy Award for Best screenplay for the film Birdman and a teaching professor on screenwriting class offered me a new direction and epiphany, which allowed me to embody shadow’s idea and design a big picture.
Which film directors and movies inspired you, and from what else do you get the idea?
Happy Together by Wong Kar-Wai, Night On Earth by Jim Jarmusch, Blue Velvet by David Lynch and The Handmaiden by Park Chan Wook are among them. When setting off to my work, I believe that inspiration comes from people and events surrounding me, from feelings and learning derived from authentic experiences. It is my belief that directors must be able to translate their own narratives into a film language, so experiences are crucial. Those are the ones reflected in my work more often than not.
As far as I know, Shadow is your debut film. What was the message you wanted to deliver through this film?
I have worked on multiple film works, but “Shadow” was the first one I directed. Through practicing Sun-Woo’s monologue, I attempted to think about the existential meaning through life and death. Sun-Woo represents a duplicity of human psychology, portrayed metaphorically by light and shades which are inseparable. Eventually, I wanted to depict the finitude of human beings, as a shade vanishes along with the disappearance of light.
Shadow - Official Trailer
How did you cast the character of Sun-Woo? Did you hold auditions (and callbacks)?
While I was looking for the right person acting to Sun-Woo, I found this actress from a short film I watched by sheer chance – that’s where I first saw Se In Park who would later acting Sun-Woo. Having fallen in love with her at first sight, I asked to be introduced and sent her my script, soon to receive call back in few days. I made my mind - it had to be Se In Park to play Sun-Woo from the first moment we met, and I had already visualized how she had to be played. She had attractive eyes and voices. She thankfully agreed to work with me, and then we started building a more detailed and round character, based on her personality.
“...When I move too far, I lose myself. And when I am too close, I forget myself…” Shadow is full of memorable, thought-provoking monologues. How did you work on those with the cast, to achieve such excellence in the performances? Did you use any visual or musical references to help them get into your mind and bring your vision to life?
“Where we were”, a short play in Shadow, was originally created as my film script, so I thought the actors must have good understanding on its plot. The lines are abstract and hard to digest in many parts in my opinion, so I had to constantly communicate with the actress to share ideas on the character’s analysis, speech, voice and composition of the play. I believe that our sharing and collaboration definitely helped her comprehending the acting and playing the role better. As we communicated and learned about each other, we were simultaneously building trust and complete understanding about Sun-Woo in the play, even without having to explicitly mention it. She did a phenomenal work without mistakes throughout the shoot, and I was proud and enjoyed every moment of it. Thanks to these beliefs, scenes from the play in Shadow, and Sun-Woo’s character came out just as I had envisioned.
The “Where, We Were” writing on the wall is a wonderful example of how nuances in art and design can play an important role in the storytelling, providing an additional layer of depth to the film. Shadow is full of those beautiful nuances. At what stage of production did you come up with those? Were those ideas already featured in the screenplay or suggested by your crew during pre production?
A play appearing in the film, “Where we were” is in fact one of the most endeared script I completed in New York City. Shadow happened to be out first, somehow, but I wanted to give a preview for this script which will be directed at one point, and I also thought it would most well portray Sun-Woo’s emotions. So based on the plot of “Where We Were”, I began renewing its dialogue on remembrance, existence, farewell and death. A play in the film serves a crucial role in the movie’s storytelling, and I wished to focus more on Sun-Woo’s emotion and its flow. Accordingly, I had to choose a monodrama format to add specificity to lines in the play.
What is your favorite line or scene from Shadow and why?
My favorite line from the Shadow is spoken by Sun Woo during the play, “That’s why ephemerality is as beautiful as an eternity.” A moment is easily changeable, fragile and even transient, yet there are some that persist without transforming. The line is an embodiment of my hope for my precious memories to never disappear nor deform through passage of time.
You have a lot of experience in photography, as some photographic scenes in the film reflect. Did your past work help you with this film?
In fact, few people who watched the movie told me that some scenes were very photo like. I normally work on fine art images, and few scenes in the film resemble my own past works and also share similar impression. So yes, now I see that my experience in photography offered insights while writing a script and shooting the film.
Not only did you write and direct Shadow, you also shot if yourself, which is very impressive. Do you always shoot your own films?
For most of my works, I have written the scripts, directed and filmed them with my own hands. I normally have a specific, preconceived image of how the scenes will come out when I am working on a script, so I prefer to shoot them myself to create a composition that I want. As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a photographer in New York and feel comfortable shooting images. As a matter of fact, I did the shooting for photograph of the posters for both “Where We Were”, a play featured within the film, and for Shadow.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What are your career goals, and do you plan to keep creating both in the US and Korea?
10 years from now, I wish that my career will be based in Korea and the US, to direct a feature film with my own script. I want to try various genres, and perhaps I will teach students based on my career experience.
What are you up to, and what is your plan from now on?
I received Best First Time Director, Best Short Film and Best screenplay awards from 3 different international film festivals, and it is being officially selected by multiple festivals. I am also developing my next feature script. Little early to announce, but it will communicate on memory and existence, as I expect so.