YIDFF 2011 New Asian Currents
An Interview with Mun Jeong-hyun (Director)

A Mirror that Reflects the Internal—From Gwangju to Yongsan

Q: I was deeply affected by this work, which introspectively depicts the Korean democratization movement from Gwangju to Yongsan. What was your motive in making it?

MJ: The 2009 Yongsan Incident was big, caused by conflict between groups pro- and anti-Lee Myung-bak groups over the redevelopment of central Seoul. There were already a few documentaries about the incident, so I wanted to try telling my memories of deaths close to me. The weak are still losing their lives in Korea. The competition over capital is harsh, and 25% are on or below the poverty line. The mass media don’t address the topic, so I thought I might be able to raise awareness with a documentary. It’s comfortable to pretend not to see these things, but that’s cowardice.

Q: What is your political position?

MJ: Korean documentary filmmakers tend to classify themselves as either artists or activists. I am the artist type, and I felt pain and frustration at myself for watching the incident from the sidelines. I dwelled on why people have to die, and decided to make a film answering this question and touching upon deaths I was close to. It took the form of a confession of my inner self, how I reacted to the situation. I called for the movement to endure and change society, and depicted a situation in which some of the 368 Generation of activists are content with their present lives, such as my older sister and her husband, while others still fight today, like my senior, the painter in this film, and the mother of my friend from high school, who burnt himself to death.

Q: And how do you place yourself artistically?

MJ: Art is creative work, so it requires gazing fixedly upon the world. However, art is not fulfilling its role in reality. An art space was built next to the home of President Jeon Doo-hwan, which is the same as tolerating his presence. But even so, art is free and diverse, and I will not criticize one’s commitment to art.

Q: What is your position on the Gwangju Incident?

MJ: I am from Gwangju, and the reason I became an artist was to tell its story. I still haven’t authentically participated myself, but it will be an important topic from now on. I didn’t want to criticize President Jeon Doo-hwan face-to-face, but rather to depict him as an internal enemy. Even though he is just a pretense, he has influence and I think he is a bad man. I was very inspired by Kim Tae-il’s documentary, which screened at last fall’s Busan International Film Festival and depicts the Gwangju incident through interviews. I feel a lot of diversity in the consciousness of Korean documentary makers.

Q: What do you think about the politician Jeong Doo-eon?

MJ: He is a parlimentarian of the Grand National Party, and a henchman of Lee Myung-bak. The day after the Yongsan Incident, he commented “This is a dark omen, and it looks like something is going to happen.” But he should have mourned first. I was extremely sickened by him. The song he sang on television was titled “Hope,” but all it gave me was nausea.

Q: Can you tell us about your next film?

MJ: I am painfully aware of my own immaturity in this film. From beginning to end I was  unable to face bereaved families directly, and I have not yet developed a feeling of being able to take the incident into me. I intend for my next film to also be about Yongsan, but this time I want to face it dead on. 

(Compiled by Iwahana Michiaki)

Interviewers: Iwahana Michiaki, Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Nemoto Rie / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Oishi Mone / Video: Watanabe Miki / 2011-10-08