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Women taking over movie screens

A scene from “Diva,” directed by female director Jo Seul-yeah (Megabox Joongang Plus M)
A scene from “Diva,” directed by female director Jo Seul-yeah (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

During a joint press interview held in September ahead of the release of “Diva,” actor Shin Min-ah told reporters that she was fascinated by the character of Yi-young, a woman who has a strong narrative in the movie.

“These kinds of scripts telling women’s stories are very rare,” Shin said.

“Diva,” a film about two female divers, is an example of women’s increasing influence in the South Korean movie industry, which was long dominated by men.

Not only does the film feature two female protagonists, it was also directed by a woman, Jo Seul-yeah, who also took part in writing the script. Kim Yun-mi, head of the movie’s production studio, Oal, is also a woman.

“Samjin Company English Class,” directed by Lee Jong-pil and released in October, has three female protagonists -- Ja-young (Ko Ah-sung), Jung Yoo-na (E Som) and Sim Bo-ram (Park Hye-soo). The movie has so far attracted more than 1.55 million theatergoers despite the ongoing pandemic situation. Its distributor announced Tuesday that the movie had reached the break-even point. 

A scene from “The Day I Died” starring Kim Hye-soo (right) (Warner Bros. Korea)
A scene from “The Day I Died” starring Kim Hye-soo (right) (Warner Bros. Korea)

“The Day I Died,” which was released in November, is a “triple-F-rated” movie, meaning it meets three criteria: It was written and directed by one or more female filmmakers, and it stars complex female characters who contribute significantly to the story. The film is led by three female actors -- Kim Hye-soo, Roh Jeong-eui and Lee Jeong-eun -- and it was written and directed by female director Park Ji-wan.

These changes are the result of the increasing number of women working in the local movie industry, actor Lee said during a press conference ahead of the release of “The Day I Died” in November.

“Many female directors are going through new challenges. I hope that there are more (female directors) with a voice as a member of the movie industry and not just as a female director,” Lee said.
 
(from left) Kim Hye-soo, Roh Jeong-eui, director Park Ji-wan and Lee Jeong-eun pose after a press briefing in October on “The Day I Died.” (Warner Bros. Korea)
(from left) Kim Hye-soo, Roh Jeong-eui, director Park Ji-wan and Lee Jeong-eun pose after a press briefing in October on “The Day I Died.” (Warner Bros. Korea)

During the November press conference, the director of “The Day I Died” added that the decision to have women lead the story flowed naturally from the process of telling a story about women.

“It was not like I had an initial intention to write a narrative about women. I was just looking for an interesting story that I liked and it became this way naturally,” Park said. “I wanted to create characters that are going through hardships but are hiding their difficulties. To me, it just felt natural that they were female characters.”

Veteran actor Kim expressed hope that the audience will view the characters as human beings rather than focusing on their gender.

The expansion of female influence in the local movie industry will likely continue for a while as the number of female directors making films about female characters is rising.

“We see that now is a time when more stories about women are in demand,” Kim Dong-hyun, director of the Seoul Independent Film Festival’s executive committee, said during a press conference ahead of this year’s film festival.

At the 46th Seoul Independent Film Festival, 67.5 percent of the movies that were selected to be screened are the work of female directors, an increase from around 48 percent in 2019. This year 108 films are being shown during the festival, which runs until Friday.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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