NYAFF 2012 Interview: Yeun Sang-ho, Director of the Animated KING OF PIGS

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
The 2012 New York Asian Film Festival comes to a close this evening. And we have one more interview for you. It's with rising Korean Animator Yeun Sang-ho, the man behind King of Pigs -- a brutal look at school bullying and class in Korean Society. Our correspondent, the Lady Miz Diva was fortunate enough to sit down with Yeun last weekend for a chat. This interview is being cross-published on Diva's own website The Diva Review.

The Lady Miz Diva:  What are your thoughts about experiencing your film with a New York audience?
 
Yeun Sang-ho:  When I was making King of Pigs, I did not expect the film would be shown to a worldwide audience.  I'm really curious to see how the New York audience will react to this, because the story it quite esoteric; it's really about Korean society, so I'm actually curious to the audience's reaction.
 
LMD:  You received a lot of praise when the film screened recently in Europe.  How did you feel having King of Pigs chosen to be the first South Korean animated feature film to show at Cannes?
 
YS-h:  I was very glad.  In the Korean animation market, there is more of a commercial aspect rather than artistic.  I was very glad that it got attention from an artistic perspective, and by going to Cannes, I think the attention from the artistic perspective could inspire other Korean animation directors to persevere and keep making artistic Korean animation films.
 
LMD:  Where did the seeds of King of Pigs begin?
 
YS-h:  There was a dream that I had when I was in the army; it was about three friends, including myself, committing suicide in order to take revenge on someone.  It was quite horrifying and I wrote that in my notes.  Later, when I was working on many shorts, I was browsing for a feature idea and I found this note again.  As horrifying as it was, I wanted to make this into an allegory about social class and it turned out to be this film.
 
LMD:  Did you have any hesitation about King of Pigs' dark content or did you have any feedback about it when you were showing the film?
 
YS-h:  No, I really didn't hesitate because the first short that got my name known to audiences was called The Hell.  It's really quite dark, as well.  Because of that, I felt the audience was expecting something dark from me when I was making the feature, so I didn't really feel that pressure.  I kind of felt that I had to maintain that style in my feature.  Of course, because of that, it was hard to get investments, but now that I think about it, I think it was a really good choice to maintain such a dark style.
 
LMD:  Was that why you chose to self-finance the film?
 
YS-h:  At first, I funded myself and prepared for the feature, but in the middle of the process, I actually got a private entity company that would fund for independent films, so I actually got funding from them and got to finish the film.
 
LMD:  Do you feel that shocking or very dramatic scenes are the best way to get your message across to an audience?
 
YS-h:  At first, I did not want to bore the audience, and in order to do that in terms of atmosphere, I tried to make this film similar to a genre film like horror or action. Indeed, there's quite a mixture of genres; emotionally, especially, it relates to horror films.  I think it's because of that, although this film sends a lot of social messages, I think the audience could still enjoy the film because of the horror-related elements.
 
LMD:  Right now in the US there's a very strong movement against bullying.  People are coming to realise how damaging it really is with children killing themselves or sometimes growing up unable to cope as adults because of what they endured.  Is this the same situation in South Korea?
 
YS-h:  In Korea, it is quite a big issue and when this film came out, it really got attention because people started to realise about bullying in school.  There was another incident in Daegu, where a student killed himself because of the school bullying.  Because of all these incidents and the film, I was actually able to speak to the Secretary of the government to discuss what would be the best way to solve this problem.
 
LMD:  There's a noticeable lack of participation by the adult characters in the film.  Is that typical of the way things are in the schools in South Korea?  Is there a hierarchy of the children running the schools and the adults not really being too involved?
 
YS-h:  In Korean schools, unfortunately, there is this clear purpose starting to take place, which is, first of all, making the students have a good grade for admission to good colleges.  Secondly, the reputation for the students with a higher average of scores.  Because of such a clear purpose set in the school system, bullying is kind of overlooked.  I think that's probably why this bullying issue has grown so big now.
 
LMD:  I had to look away during the cat scene.  Do you hear that a lot from people who've seen the film?
 
YS-h:  For the main characters, I kind of wanted to portray their evil side.  I wanted to show some injustice of those characters.  I didn't just want them to be heroes.  In order to have the other two characters have some kind of admiration and fear for Chul-yi, I had to put in such a sequence; doing such an uncivilised, horrifying crime against this cat.  Later in this film, that killing sequence triggers guilt in these characters and I think guilt is one of the key elements in this film.  Therefore, the cat plays a very crucial part in this film, too.  That's probably why I actually voice-acted for the cat in this film.
 
LMD:  Did you have a Chul-yi in your life?  Was there one child who stood up against the bullies or injustices in your school?
 
YS-h:  No, there wasn't.  The bullying guys, they were so huge and you just can't take a stance against them.  In Korean schools right now, there's a really strange thing going on, because earlier in the schools, those bullies were mostly outsiders, but nowadays those bullies tend to actually be the elite.  They would have good grades and a good social standing.  It's really different now.  We would call the bullies nowadays ilgueb, and that literally means, "first class."
 
LMD:  Who influenced and inspired you to become an animator?
 
YS-h:  Movie directors I was influenced by were Clint Eastwood, Korean directors Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, the Japanese director, Kon Satoshi, and also Japanese manga artist, Minoru Furuya.
 
LMD:  Is King of Pigs completely CG animated or is there any hand-drawn element?
 
YS-h:  It's CG.  I actually used computers and digital drawing.
 
LMD:  What would you like for people to take away from King of Pigs?
 
YS-h:  It's very simple; it's desperation from the bullied people's shoes.  I think through going through this experience of watching this film, I think that things will get changed.
 
~ The Lady Miz Diva
July 7th, 2012
Around the Internet:
  • msgeek703

    I did an interview with Peter Chung once, and his parting words were, "Watch out when Korea starts creating its own animation, it will be incredible." That was in 1996, around the time of the Aeon Flux series.

    I was not prepared for the fact that the Korean live-action industry came out of the gate first with creative movies like "The Host." This was unexpected after decades of the animation industry there ramping up doing work for the US and Japan.

    King Of Pigs might be the long awaited harbinger of a creative future for animation in Korea. It's very interesting that it doesn't come from an established studio.

  • Dick

    it must be hard to be korean and not have anyone to outsource your animation to

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