Where do I even begin in introducing Kim Ji-woon? The South Korean filmmaker has continued to churn out incredible film after incredible film after incredible film that has garnered him international attention not only for his stylized visuals but also his fearlessness in exploring different film genres to tell his stories. A TALE OF TWO SISTERS... A BITTERSWEET LIFE... THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD... I SAW THE DEVIL... DOOMSDAY BOOK... there are plenty of directors that wish they could have just one of those fantastic movies to their credit. And now Kim Ji-woon is set to make his American directorial debut in a big way... with Arnold Schwarzenegger's starring return for THE LAST STAND.
I had a chance to talk to Kim Ji-woon earlier this week through a translator, wondering how you re-establish someone like Arnold after they've been away from the big screen for so long as well as any difficulties he may have experienced in trying to bring his filmmaking approach from South Korea to the United States. I wish I would have had a bit longer to get more in-depth with him about the film and some of his past projects, which have been so well-received over the year, but translating my questions into Korean and then his answers back into English can be a bit time-consuming, so things went a bit faster than they normally would. Either way, I think you'll get a sense of his intelligence in putting together a film like this from his answers, and hopefully this isn't the last time Kim Ji-woon makes an American film. Enjoy...
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - Good to talk to you this afternoon.
Kim Ji-woon - Thank you. I’m looking forward to this interview.
The Kidd - So let’s start right off with the transformation, a little bit, of working with Arnold Schwarzenegger. How do you take an iconic action star like Arnold that’s been around and well established, but that’s been out of the out of the game for a fair amount of time, and kind of redesign him to bring forth the charisma that made him popular over all those years to begin with, but while also using his age as an asset to tell the story of this film? Because you can’t really have the Arnold of 10 to 15 years ago doing what he used to do without it being far-fetched.
Kim Ji-woon - When I decided to work on this film, there was one thing that I really wanted to tell Arnold... and obviously people were expecting THE TERMINATOR from Arnold... But the one thing that I wanted to tell Arnold is that I wanted to show him at his own age, and to portray a realistic action that is appropriate for how he is now. But then, surprisingly, Arnold mentioned this to me first. He said he wanted to act his age, and to play a character that is appropriate for him. And right then, I realized that Arnold would be perfect for THE LAST STAND, and that this film would be a successful endeavour. I didn’t want to use age as an element of humor, or a joke. Rather, I wanted to show a character that overcomes old age, fatigue, and tiredness to accomplish his responsibility, and I thought that this sort of endeavour was more meaningful for the main character.
The Kidd - Did you have any concerns about your film sensibilities and your style translating well to mainstream American audience? Because in the past you did films like THE GOOD THE BAD, THE WEIRD and I SAW THE DEVIL, which probably wouldn’t be made in America, even though film geeks and people who know cinema went out and saw it because they knew and had heard that they were good. It was a little bit different type of storytelling from South Korea to America, so did you have any worries that you’d be able to make the transition, stylistically?
Kim Ji-woon - That concern is not just for making films in the U.S, but also making films in Korea, for me. It’s almost impossible to guess how an audience will react to a certain film. When I’m inspired, or motivated, by a certain idea or element... When I put that on film, and tell a story about that through my movies, I just trust my own senses, and I trust myself. If I were to make films with how the audience would react in mind, then that film would not live up to an audience’s expectations.
The Kidd - With THE LAST STAND, the one thing that is very striking to me is that it is a very straightforward action film. In that regard it’s very old-school in that it knows exactly what it wants to do and it uses the pieces that it has in order to accomplish that. And one of the things that stands out from that is the use of practical effects, as opposed to the digital blood spray and a lot of heavy special effects and CGI that has been used to get that effect now in films. So can you talk a little bit about the decision to stay true to the practical effect of making films like this again?
Kim Ji-woon - Obviously scenes with added visual effects may have more spectacle, but scenes with practical effects reach out to the audience even more. It really stimulates their emotion, and makes their heart beat. Telling this straightforward story, I knew that the audience would react well to it. It’s also the way I prefer to work within my films. One unique aspect of the action sequences in THE LAST STAND is that I was able to infuse the actors and the characters emotion into the sequences, and this is really what differentiates THE LAST STAND from other Hollywood films.
The Kidd - You’ve mentioned spectacle, and a lot of action films go for that now, whether it’s with giant explosions or just a lot of visual stimulation, which I think substitutes for something that THE LAST STAND has, which is character development. You have a sense of who these characters are, you care for these characters, you’re driven and compelled to root for these characters. And it’s not just for Arnold. There’s this supporting ensemble that also works well. So can you talk a little bit about that as far as the casting of people like Luis Guzman and Jaimie Alexander and these secondary characters that help round out these emotions of getting into the action and caring about who’s in danger and what’s at stake?
Kim Ji-woon - What I was most satisfied with in THE LAST STAND was not just the return of Arnold as a hero, but how I was able to infuse this teamwork with the secondary characters to stop a formidable villain. I believe I was able to successfully portray the character dynamics and relationships... Which is also why we see a lot of humor in THE LAST STAND. But the humor isn’t just laugh moment where we just laugh and forget about the characters. We see a lot of the character’s emotions within these humorous moments. I felt that I was able to leave a lasting impression for these characters through these humorous scenes.
The Kidd - I know you’re set to return back to South Korea to do INRANG, but do you have any plans to return to the U.S. to do another American film?
Kim Ji-woon - I expect to finish filming JIN-ROH by the end of this year, and I’ll be back in the United States to work on post for JIN-ROH. Early next year I’ll be in further discussion regarding my next project in the U.S.
THE LAST STAND opens in theatres this Friday, January 18.
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