"The Outlaws" Director Yoon-sung Kang sits down for a One-on-One Interview
<photo by Max Movie>
Yoon-sung Kang has been creating a lot of buzz this month. Within two weeks of his debut as writer and director of his first film, “The Outlaws” aka “Criminal City,” his film overtook the projected blockbuster of the year. Within a month, he has been awarded the Korean Film Association Critic Award (37th) for Best New Director. Within 5 weeks, his film has become the 3rd highest grossing film in Korea ever.
Based on 2004 Korean-Chinese gang related events that occurred in Seoul’s Chinatown, Garibong, Yoon-sung’s film follows Detective Ma as he maneuvers through the many social codes within the ill-funded police system, within the gang scene, and within his own quest to bring peace and safety to the people of Garibong. What results is a highly entertaining, indie crime caper based off of real life situations.
I sit down for an interview with film-maker Yoon-sung Kang.
Q: You have written and directed this film, but I have read that you actually majored in physics in college. Have you always had a love for film? Or storytelling? Since when did you have an interest in making films? Were there any films that inspired you to do so?
A: I had always enjoyed watching films, but it wasn’t until I joined the campus movie club in college that I started to gain interest in directing films. When I came across Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in 1992, I realized I had to write and direct my own film. The plot and storytelling of the film were fresh and so compelling to me at the time. It was in that moment that I was inspired to write my own film as well.
Q: You have had previous experience in documentary filming. Has that had any effect on this film? What kind of impression do you wish the audience would have after having watched the film?
A: I actually had a very long period of preparation before my debut. During that time, I did a lot of video work – some of those projects included documentary filming. [Along with some time spent acting as well.] When you spend time working on documentaries, you come to gain interest in the naturalness of a person and their behavior. Films are made to make you believe. You try to draw out the realness from the actors. My hope is that the audience will believe and enjoy the film.
Q: With the THAAD related recent embargo on all things Korean from the Chinese government and citizens, did you have any worries in its release? Did you have to take any precautions?
A: I actually had no worries whatsoever. Our film is based on a true incident that happened in real life. The true setting is the South Korean home base of Korean-blooded Chinese compatriots. And all the details of mise-en-scene, and daily living have been carefully researched and replicated in our film. Furthermore, our film is not about gang film – it has always been a detective film from the films conception.
<photo by Max Movie>
Q: What are you most satisfied with in the film, and are there any parts of the film where you wish you could have done differently?
A: The entire crew and the actors behaved more like an ensemble. They all had great focus on the work ahead of them and the team work was extraordinary. In particular, each and every actor carried great responsibility and understanding toward their respective roles. I think that is why we were able to draw deeper and distinct images of each character. I don’t have any particular disappointments in the film.
Q: From the first scene, Detective Ma (played by actor Ma Dong-seok) swiftly and deftly handles the precarious situation of a dead serious knife fight. His signature move: knocking out gangsters and gang lords with one decisive slap from his beefy hand. This is just the beginning. Tell me about your commitment to the action found in the film. Were there any serious injuries in filming? Were there any challenges you came across? How did you deal with these challenges?
A: To be honest, because there were so many action scenes, nearly every moment was a cause for worry. But as much as I had worried, fortunately, there weren’t any huge incidents in the bigger action scenes. It was actually the smaller scenes that had more injuries come about. For example, in the scene where Dong Seung-woo (actor Lim Hyung-joon) fights with his wife Ahn Hye-Gyung (actress Yoon Ji-yeon), Lim, absorbed in his role, kicks over the mini dinner table, creating a deep gash in his heel. In the same scene, Yoon falls hitting her head and ending up with a huge bump on her forehead. Other than this there were other small injuries like cuts and bruises on the fingers and joints and such. I just think we’re very fortunate to not have had any bigger scars or injuries.
Q: Yoon Kye-Sang, who plays the role of Chinese-Korean gang lord, Jang Chen, was actually part of the first wave of K-culture popularity outside of South Korea – only, at that time, as a singer and member of sensational boy band Groove OverDose or G.O.D. I remember thinking, “I know this guy from somewhere but I can’t place where,” and then just giving up because his performance as a villain was so disarming and just good. Had you worked with him before? This is a very different role for him – he usually plays the role of the good guy or the pretty boy. Were you ever surprised by him in this film or his commitment to the character?
A: This is my first time working with Yoon Gye-sang. Long before casting Gye-sang, when I watched the 2011 film Poong-san that Gye-sang was cast in I saw his viability as a strong male lead. It never once crossed my mind that he was once a pop star. Gye-sang is an extremely thorough actor who carefully analyzes his character. We communicated a lot, and on set we continued to discuss and collaborate even up until we started filming the scene. More than anything, I was very impressed by Gye-sang’s focus and level of concentration.
Q: This movie is based off of real life events but there are scenes that have been created based on your imagination. What was your focus or intention in creating these scenes? Were there any surprising facts that you came across while researching for this film?
A: When I first embarked on the enterprise of this film, the impetus was from the fact that the homicide detective unit was able to catch around 30 criminals in one day. When I began my research, a witness to the work of the 2004 detectives was able to relay that the feat wasn’t under the best of circumstance, in terms of funding, support, or even staffing, but they got a van, and with all their might and wit, caught as many criminals as possible in one day. For me, though it may seem quite simple, this was compelling. It dawned on me that this is what the advanced homicide unit was all about. This is what they do in spite of, but also because of, the circumstances. I also began to think that this active element would be a good fit for a popular film. One of the scenes that came about as a direct result of research is when Wi Sung-lak (played by the actor Jin Sun-gyu), tempted to enter a private room salon with a party of 10 criminals, is caught along with his men by the homicide unit. This is just one of many scenes created directly from research.
Q: What is your favorite scene?
A: My favorite scene is when Detective Ma Suhk-Doh meets infamous gang-lord Jang Chen for the first time at Yun-gil Restaurant. The palpable tension between the off-duty Detective’s team and Jang Chen’s inner circle, the detectives’ slick formation of offense, the criminals’ unsure but quick (and messy) escape. I like this scene the most.
“The Outlaws” is one of seven films chosen to represent Korean Cinema Now ’16-’17 in this year’s 12th Annual London Korean Film Festival. “The Outlaws” is playing now in CGV Cinemas around the world. It is also being featured in several movie theatres throughout the UK.
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