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[Herald Interview] Salaryman-turned-director Kim Yong-hoon debuts big

Newcomer aspires to add color to Korean cinema scene

Director Kim Yong-hoon (Megabox Joongang Plus M)
Director Kim Yong-hoon (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

The desperate desire inside Kim Yong-hoon, when he left his stable job at an entertainment conglomerate to realize his dream of becoming a filmmaker, may have led him to his first feature-length film, “Beasts Clawing at Straws.”

A crime noir thriller with a trace of black comedy, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” tells the story of how the desire to possess a bag of cash turns ordinary people into monsters. The director caused a buzz even before the film’s release, winning the special jury award at Rotterdam.

“I had developed several other scripts before ‘Beasts Clawing at Straws,’ but they didn’t work out well. I was starting to become a little apprehensive when I walked into the original novel in the bookstore, and the title just grabbed my eyes,” Kim told The Korea Herald on Tuesday during an interview in central Seoul. “The story was just my style, and there was an authenticity to the structure.”

From then on everything seemed to click, as Kim puts it.

Adapting the original Japanese novel by Keisuke Sone, Kim made several major changes. While taking out elements unique to the Japanese culture, Kim also made the characters more ordinary so that viewers could focus on their descent into depravity. He also made adjustments to the ending. When Sone read the script, he gave it the nod.

“Sone is a fan of Korean films and when we asked to make the film, he was very welcoming. We had a good start thanks to the author’s consent,” Kim said.


“Beasts Clawing at Straws” (Megabox Joongang Plus M)
“Beasts Clawing at Straws” (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

The casting of top actors Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung and Youn Yuh-jeong added star power to Kim’s debut film.

“I first showed the script to Jeon, who was the best match for the character Yeon-hee, and she not only accepted the role but went on to persuade Youn to join,” Kim said.

In the film, Yeon-hee, a bar owner who runs away with her boyfriend Tae-young’s money, plays a key role in a story packed with unexpected twists and turns. Jung plays Tae-young, while Youn plays an old woman suffering from dementia.

“Maybe it was because everything was new to me, but I found the whole process exciting. The actors and I continuously discussed along the way and it was just a process of making the film together,” he said. “Because the actors were all veterans, I just tossed up some rough ideas about the characters and they would create their own versions, some even better than what I had had in mind.”

Kim is no stranger to the film industry. Having been with CJ E&M, one of the biggest film companies in South Korea, for some 10 years, he was familiar with building stories and communicating on a film set.

According to Kim, he hadn’t intended to work at the company for a decade.

“I used to tell my wife and my colleagues that I would quit no later than when I was 35 because I had to become a director. I think it was like a spell for myself,” Kim said. In 2015, he produced his first short film, unofficially titled “Do You Wish to Delete?” 


“Beasts Clawing at Straws” (Megabox Joongang Plus M)
“Beasts Clawing at Straws” (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

Inspired by masters of black comedy such as Alfred Hitchcock and Bong Joon-ho, Kim says his bigger goal is to bring more original and minor genres to light.

“I used to study film by breaking down director Bong’s scripts and films into small pieces. Bong once said, ‘Tension and humor explode when they come together,’ and I still go back to this quote when I work,” Kim said.

“When I share with others films that made me laugh, some find it puzzling,” the director said. “Although I may not be able to satisfy everyone, I hope that more people come to like films that may seem odd now.”

Kim also noted Bong’s historic achievement at the Oscars.

“The Oscar always felt irrelevant and unreachable to Korean cineastes and it was overwhelming to see director Bong ‘conquer’ it. I feel more opportunities are now open to staff and actors,” he said.

“Beasts Clawing at Straws” opened in local cinemas Thursday.



By Choi Ji-won  (jwc@heraldcorp.com)
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