Director’Minari’ “The movie class I went to medical school changed my life” [영상]

“The director returned to his hometown where he wanted to leave.”

This is the title of the New York Times (NYT) interview on the 26th of last month (local time) in an interview with director Lee Isaac Jung (Korean name Jeong Isaac) of the movie’Minari’. Here, hometown refers to both the state of Arkansas in the United States, where Jung has grown up, and Korea, which is his roots. Director Jung, who won the Foreign Language Film Award at the Golden Globe Film Awards held on the 28th, was born in Denver, Colorado in 1978, as a second-generation Korean-American.

It is a story of a Korean-American, but what would director Jung think about the film made by Americans with American capital won a Foreign Language Film Award? His mind is complicated. He told NYT, “It is difficult to say that’my place must be in the nominee for the best work award.'” NYT said, “This (Foreign Language Film Awards) controversy put him in a difficult position.”

Director Jeong Isak is hugging her daughter at the moment when the movie’Minari’ won the Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film Award on the 28th (local time). AP=Yonhap News

It is a coincidence that Jung became a film director. He entered Yale University as an aspiring writer, but he is said to have ended his dream soon. He recalled to NYT, “I thought that Yale University had barely enrolled me from Arkansas to fill the local quota quota.” “The other students are so good, but my skills were terrible.” He said he wasn’t the type to enjoy movies. “When my dormitory roommate watched a movie called’Seven Samurai’, I thought,’Why the hell do you like that movie?'” he told NYT.

Soon he decided to go to medical school, and enrolled in film classes to fill the required credits in humanities. While filming experimental videos as a weekly assignment, he gradually became interested in video production, and soon fell into the works of director Kurosawa Akira (黑澤明), director of “Seven Samurai,” and director Wang Ga-wi in “Hwayang Yeonhwa” and “Chongqing Forest.” He told NYT, “Being on the path of a movie was like a conversion in my life for me.”

A scene from the movie’Buttercup’. Photo provided by Pan Cinema.

He went on to Utah University instead of medical school and majored in film. He said, “I keep watching several movies a day,” and “It was like a monk training in movies.” However, it did not immediately stand out or succeed. He told NYT, “I tend to bloom late in everything.” This means that it is only atmospheric plastic surgery. After graduation, the first full-length feature film was taken in 2007 with his wife Valerie, a psychotherapist, visiting Rwanda, Africa.

Rwanda, whose wife had been volunteering for many years, had not yet healed the scars of interracial conflict and massacre in 1994. According to a 2008 NYT article, director Jung filmed the film in 11 days with amateur actors and staff locally. This work depicts reconciliation between ethnic groups, and the title’Munurangabo’ is the name of the character and the legendary Rwandan warrior (戰士). With this film, he emerged as a star at the Cannes Film Festival.

Director Jeong Isak and Steven Yoon of the movie’Minari’ posing together at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The two are related. AP=Yonhap News

But after that, NYT expressed that he had a relatively quiet career compared to other managers. He lived a stable life as a professor teaching films rather than a director. He taught at his alma mater, the University of Utah, in Incheon, Korea. He must have been keen to know his roots, Korea. Then, as the 30s ended, a change came. Director Jung told NYT, “As I turned 40, I decided to make a difference in my life, and I thought to do something more practical.”

The experience in Incheon was also practically helpful to the’water parsley’. Actor Yoon Yeo-jung is also said to have met at this time. Actor Yoon Yeo-jung told NYT, “Director Jung was just like my son,” and “The first day of filming all movies is going to be a mess, but I remember that Jung was very calm.”

Yoon Yeo-jeong, the actor of the movie’Buttercup’. [사진 판씨네마]

The movie’Minari’ is the crystallization of Jung’s autobiographical experience. Born in Denver and then moved to Lincoln, Arkansas at the age of two, his neighborhood was far from a big city. He told NYT, “It was so quiet that there were no traffic lights, and there were only a few hamburger shops,” he said. “To go to play, I had to drive 30 miles (about 48 km) to a nearby city.” But in such a place, growing up as a Korean, not a white man, he developed a sensitivity to diversity.

NYT evaluated’Buttercup’ as “a good light on the story of a Korean-American family, a topic that isn’t handled very well.” Bishop Jung also told NYT that “our (Korean) church in Arkansas did not have many members, but the members were divided among the members.” NYT wrote that the film penetrates not only Koreans, but also the sentiment of immigrants, who are major members of the United States. NYT said, “Many immigrants are obsessed with the image of their homeland when they left,” and said, “In this movie, the first-generation Korean parents remember the image of Korea in the 1970s.”

Is that so? Director Jung told NYT that he was also curious about Korean audience reactions. He said, “When my parents watched the movie, they said, “It’s very stupid to go to the United States for this movie’s family and suffer so much”. “But such hardship plays an important role in the identity of Korean American. I did” he emphasized.
The movie’Minari’ will be released in Korea on the 3rd.

Reporter Jeon Sujin chun.sujin@joongang.co.kr


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