Boo Ji-young’s sophomore feature Cart is a topical tale of workers at a big-box retail store.

A graduate of the Korean Film Academy of Arts, she was a director’s assistant to Hong Sang-soo on Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors and a script supervisor on E J-yong’s Untold Scandal before she made her feature directorial debut in 2009 with Sisters On The Road. Cart premieres today in City to City: Seoul; 9ers handles sales.         

How did you come to do this film?

Myung Films sent me an early draft in 2011. One of the true stories is based on took place right in my neighborhood. A big-box discount retail chain store had fired a great number of the ajumunis [middle-aged ladies or aunties] who worked there. They occupied the store for 21 days. It was very close to home and my neighborhood friends had held a culture festival to support them.

It was a fairly well-known incident in Korea, but could you explain a bit for our international readers?

Originally they were directly employed by the store, but suddenly all these cashiers and cleaning ladies were fired because the store wanted them to work for a subcontractor, so they could pay less and not have to take responsibility for their employment. That particular branch wasn’t the only place to fire its employees in this sort of maneuver, but it was the only place that was occupied for so long.

After reading the script it was hard to refuse. I knew how long and hard those ajumunis fought. In the end, police were sent in, but they still carried on the fight for 500 days. They were ordinary people, but so brave.

How did you cast the film?

The lead was a difficult role to cast because it had to be an actress in her 40s who would be alright playing the mother of big teenage son. But Yum Jung-ah didn’t care. She was keen to play an ordinary person’s role, and well.

Kim Young-ae could have felt a burden because she had just come off of The Attorney, but she accepted readily.

And D.O. – there are many K-pop idols that can act well, but we were looking widely. He’d never had any acting training, but he showed us something different every time he read, and gave good feedback to direction.

In Korea, actors tend not to make political or social statements. With a film like this, they could get defined a certain way and it could be risky for them, but none of them cared.

What was the shoot like?

We had to rent a warehouse for three months, build half the set and CGI for the rest. We shot for two months, eating and sleeping together there, and a sort of synergy arose with the actors. They practically became the big-box store employees, and shot with no make-up. There were many tough scenes but they were so good, even when they got hit with water cannon.