INSPIRED AN ASPECT OF CONTROL IN 'RETURN TO SEOUL', SAYS DIRECTOR DAVY CHOU
At Filmmaker Magazine today, Kyle Turner interviews director Davy Chou about his new film, Return to Seoul:
Filmmaker: It’s interesting that Freddie seems to be getting away from the camera, yet is being tracked by it. I was wondering how you want to establish her relationship to the camera in the film.
Chou: It’s totally something that we built into the film, the dance between the camera and the actress. That reflects the dynamic of the character, her constant refusal to be labeled. I decided not to use [over the] shoulder camera. I thought it would be a bit too tautological for filming an agitated character. On the contrary, [we filmed] still shots on her face, but also larger shots with a lot of people. The best example is when she is first meeting her biological family at dinner; there are seven people around the table and it’s like she’s surrounded by people, but it’s only still shots. Then suddenly you can feel [the agitation] because, 20 minutes before, you got to know the fire inside of her and now you can read in her eyes. Even though she doesn’t move, she looks clearly petrified, but something is boiling in her. And I found the tension between [the] stillness of the shots and [the] politeness of the setting reflects a relationship in a traditional Korean family and the boiling fire inside her.
When she feels pressured by people, she starts to become her own filmmaker: transforming other people in the room into extra actors and secondary roles, deciding places and remapping, like at the bar in the beginning. It’s interesting, because it’s someone in the new territory. She’s remapping the restaurant, deciding which people are going to sit and everything like that. She’s not in control in a place that she doesn’t know anything about, so here’s an attempt at taking control. Interestingly, the way of taking control is to create chaos. I was very inspired by Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms and Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way for that chaos.
Another scene that’s interesting is the scene where Freddie dances and I’m on the track. I can do this camera movement, the camera can pan a bit and I myself can do the zoom. But then at the same time, I don’t control what she’s actually doing, she’s doing whatever she wants. It becomes this struggle between the two of us.
Filmmaker: Your film has a really interesting relationship to music, in addition to choreography. You have the beginning club scene where it’s on that track and you’re watching Freddie dance. Then you have the other underground clubs and singing at her birthday, which is even more pumped up and fantastical in a way, and even more chaotic. Then you have the last moment where she’s at the piano and she’s completely alone.
Chou: There is an evolution where I play with the cultural identity of the music, as well. At the beginning, you will hear a lot of old vintage Korean songs that symbolize a past Freddie can feel from the texture of the song. You can feel it comes from the ’70s, but because she doesn’t speak the language, it already embodies a contradiction of knowing it’s from the past, but also having no idea what it is. It’s your past that you don’t know. I felt that the first time I went to Cambodia and listened to old Cambodian music.
In the second part, much more of the music is as if she had emancipated herself from her past and decided in some kind of extreme, positive gesture to say, “Hey, you reject me from Korea. I assure you I can be Korean, but I’m not having any link with my family whatsoever. I killed your heritage and now I’m a Korean girl with a Korean boyfriend, a drug fiend and everything.” So the music is very contemporary German techno music, also contemporary Korean electronic music that was composed for the film and shows her state of mind.
The third part is more silence, as if she needed less music. Because music for many is some kind of refuge, for her it is some kind of place that she can jump into and find comfort in when she feels too much pressure. And that’s basically the dancing scene in the first act, when the music is suddenly put on and she dances and there are no other characters in that shot. She dances as if she was inventing her own space, time and temporality. In the last part, there is less music, as if maybe she was ready to listen.
Filmmaker: As opposed to escaping.
Chou: The music becomes not only a refuge, but also a place to express feelings and sentiments when language doesn’t allow you to do it. At the very end, as you say, I think that it is something different. She is ready to be active. This journey may be full of loneliness—being totally alone with herself—so that she can start to feel it’s time to play her own melody.