With one arthouse hit already behind him, Korea's Lee Chang-Dong found it quick and easy to finance his Directors' Fortnight entry Peppermint Candy. Tony Rayns reports on the making of the first Korean-Japanese co-production in living memory.
Four friends come together to form South Korea's East Film, which they jokingly refer to as "the support committee for the debut of director Lee Chang-Dong". Lee is a successful novelist who was asked to script two features by director Park Kwang-Su. He has now written a script that he wants to direct, and the company is created to make this possible. One of the founders is the famous stage actor Myung Kaynam, who made his screen debut in one of Park's features and now feels he wants to concentrate on films. The company has no ambitions to produce anything other than Lee's films.
Lee's first film, Green Fish, opens. Very well received, it runs for nearly two months in Seoul and draws admissions of around 300,000. Business around the country is good too; it helps that the lead actor Han Suk-Kyu is establishing himself as Korea's most popular young star. The film has its international premiere in October at the Vancouver Film Festival, where it wins a best new director award. It goes on to play in 29 further festivals and notches up some foreign sales, notably to Japan.
Lee and Myung are founding directors of UniKorea Culture & Art Investment Company, which is set up to finance script development, production and co-production of quality Korean films. UniKorea aims to invest in or co-produce five features a year when its own production arm is up and running. It co-finances two features in its first year: Lee's Peppermint Candy (Bakha Satang) and Hong Sang-Soo's The Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors.
Lee completes the script for Peppermint Candy, and East Film begins the search for funding. Film finance house Dream Venture Capital signs up very quickly on the strength of the script and the success of Green Fish. Myung Kaynam submits the script to Japan's national broadcaster NHK, which immediately agrees to invest under a plan for regional co-productions which it inaugurated in 1995. But Peppermint Candy is its first co-production with Korea - and the first Korean-Japanese co-production in living memory. (As the former, much hated colonial power, Japan was long banned from all involvement in Korean production; it is only in the last two years that a few Japanese films have been allowed into Korean distribution.) The film is budgeted at around $1.3m. About 85% of the investment comes from Korea, the rest from Japan.
Shooting begins on April 27 as soon as the money is in place, and wraps on Sept 27 (as is usual in Korea, shooting is not continuous). Lee decides at the outset not to use name actors; 90% of the roles are cast from open auditions. It becomes part of the local promotion strategy to emphasise that Peppermint Candy is a film with many new faces.
The film is shot entirely on location, mostly in the vicinity of Seoul. Some locations need dressing or minor modifications, but in the scenes which must evoke the early 1980s the props and costumes do most of the work.
The film is scheduled to open the Fourth Pusan Film Festival on Oct 14, so Lee races through post-production. Most of the picture editing has been done during the shoot, at editor Kim Hyun's own independent company; the sound mix is done at the Live Tone and Kofic studios in Seoul. The opticals are done at Imagica in Tokyo.
On the night, Peppermint Candy premieres in the festival's open-air theatre to an audience of nearly 5,000. The screening is a spectacular success; many viewers are left in tears, and most of the festival's foreign guests are blown away. But after discussions with friends and other film industry people, Lee decides to recut parts of the film - nothing drastic, just some trims and some slight restructuring.
Peppermint Candy opens in Korea on Jan 1. To date, it has been seen by just under half a million Koreans. It had its international premiere in the Directors' Fortnight at this year's Cannes Film Festival. New sales agent Cineclick will use the platform to sell the film internationally.
Prod cos: East Film (Korea), NHK (Japan). Backers: UniKorea (Korea), Dream Venture Capital (Korea). Int'l Sales: Cineclick (82 2) 577 6694. Prods: Myung Kaynam, Ueda Makoto. Co-prods: Jeon Jae-Yong, Jay Jeon. Dir/scr: Lee Chang-Dong. Main cast: Sol Kyung-Gu, Moon So-Ri, Kim Yeo-Jin.
Actor Sol Kyung-Gu
Lead actor Sol had done TV dramas and played supporting roles in a few movies before, but Peppermint Candy is his big break. It's a very challenging role as he plays the protagonist Yongho between the ages of 20 and 40, between fresh-faced innocence and venomous self-hatred. Since the film's release, Sol is much in demand for other films.