Dialogue: Yoon Jong-chan


"I Am Happy," the closing-night film of this year's Pusan International Film Festival, was director Yoon Jong-chan's first venture into HD. The film, which took six weeks to complete, gave the director a new perspective on the nature of digital filmmaking after making a shift to a midbudget drama from his previous blockbuster, "Blue Swallow." The ill-fated saga set in 1920s Japan took three years and 9 billion won (more than $6 million) to complete but bombed at the boxoffice, with the local media bashing Yoon for glorifying the movie's heroine, a female pilot based on a real character who allegedly was a Japanese collaborator under the colonial regime. "Happy" -- based on "Mr. Cho Man-deuk," a short novel by Lee Chung-jun, who also wrote the original for "Secret Sunshine" -- draws a tale of devastation faced by two people who find more comfort inside a psychiatric ward than their reality outside. The budget was 1 million won and the casting went to two local celebrities -- TV actors Hyun Bin and Lee Bo-young. The Hollywood Reporter recently had an e-mail interview with Yoon.

The Hollywood Reporter: Looking at the synopsis, "Happy" reminds one of Park Chan-wook's "I'm a Cyborg, but that's OK." What was the ultimate subject of the film?
Yoon Jong-chan: It's a story that touches on an ordinary theme, that life must continue in any circumstances. So the problems faced by the film's characters, whether it's the money, illness or family relation, are typical problems you see in our surroundings. It's a short story, but I hope the film serves as a small note of comfort for people today who often make conclusion too quickly that their lives are miserable.

You finished shooting the film in six weeks.
Yoon: Normally I spend a lot of time talking to the actors about each scene. There wasn't enough time, but we got to all the scenes we had planned shooting. Everyone did their best.

THR: What were some of the requests you made to the actors?
Yoon: I just made sure that their feelings didn't come out so exaggerated. I stressed on the story's overall flow and the psychological state of the characters more than anything else.

THR: "Blue Swallow" received a lot of praise from critics, but the public dispute must have put some great distress on you. What have you got out of the experience?
Yoon: That you have push harder to get recognized.

THR: How big was the scale of "I am Happy" compared to your previous works?
Yoon: The scale is fairly small. It taught me a lot about HD film. The texture and the sense of distance of the camera's angle were a bit different from shooting in film. It requires a lot of details from the storyboard and research about lighting to get the exact texture you want.

THR: Your cast of celebrity actors is curious considering the film's dark-toned theme.
Yoon: They were very enthusiastic after reading the script, and I decided it was worth a challenge to work with young actors. Overall, they had absolute trust for the director, and they worked hard at it. I thank them for it.

THR: Did you have second thought about the film's title?
Yoon: The title came to me quite naturally shortly after reading Lee Chung-jun's novel. The producer agreed, so we decided on it without much hesitation. Of course, the title was written from an omniscient point of view. It implies irony. If you see the film, and feel that your life is better than the reality faced by these characters, that's what the title foresees.

THR: Are you nervous about the public reaction after the screening at Pusan?
Yoon: I am more grateful to Pusan that they chose the film for closing a prestigious film festival. As I always did, I'm leaving any opinion about the film up to the audiences.

THR: Lastly, are you happy?
Yoon: I work hard a day to day like others do. I'm trying to be happy.

Yoon Jong-chan
Nationality: Korean
In Pusan: "I Am Happy" (closing-night film)
Selected filmography: "Blue Swallow" (2005), "Goosebumps" (2001)