Director Yim Soon Rye is a pioneer in Korean filmmaking. She is a trailblazer for female auteurs, who received the NETPAC award at the 6th Pusan International Film Festival for her debut feature, "Three Friends." Yim followed with "Waikiki Brothers," a 2001 film which focused on a struggling lounge band. After a series of documentaries and feature films, she examined the real-life circumstances behind scandaled biotechnology professor Hwang Woo Suk in "The Whistle Blower." The social commentary film stars Park Hae Il, Yoon Yeon Seok and Lee Geung Young. KDramaStars spoke with Yim Soon Rye during her appearance at the New York Asian Film Festival, where she discussed her role as a female filmmaker and her decision to take on "The Whistle Blower."
KDramaStars: Your movies, starting with “Three Friends,” have analyzed the social structure of Korean society. Why did you decide to dedicate the focus of your movies on these issues?
Yim Soon Rye: I have viewed Korean society as a very violent one. After contemplating this, I realized that this could be due to the military culture and violence which is condoned or overlooked in Korean schools. That was what really influenced the theme of “Three Friends.”
KDramaStars: “Waikiki Brothers” is such a unique and beloved film. What are your thoughts on the film and the way it has continued to draw audiences towards it?
Yim Soon Rye: I feel like this has universal appeal because when we are young and innocent, we think that the world is our oyster. The characters in “Waikiki Brothers” think that they will become famous rock stars, in time. But as time passes, they start to face reality. Everyone can relate to the fact that often our reality and our dreams, don’t always match up. We all experience the widening gap between dreams and reality, that is something pretty much everyone goes through.
KDramaStars: Why did you choose to direct “The Whistleblower?”
Yim Soon Rye: The reason why I decided to direct this film was not because I wanted to approach the subject from a technical perspective of whether the stem cell research had actually been forged. What I really wanted to focus on was the issue of freedom of speech. As you may know, the Korean government has gone through two right-wing administrations, which have spanned the past eight to 10 years. During this time, freedom of speech has been threatened in all areas of society. Because of this, I really wanted to explore the role of journalists, how journalism can be vital to maintaining the truth and how it is a profession that is responsible for maintaining the integrity of society.
KDramaStars: Did you face criticism for focusing on such a controversial story?
Yim Soon Rye: The event occurred about 10 years ago, in Korea. At the time, there were a lot of supporters of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, the person who the film is based on. Because time has passed, the number of supporters declined. There were some comments about the film, but nothing that was critical.
KDramaStars: Do you think it is more difficult to direct a film that is based on a true-story like “The Whistleblower,” than directing a documentary?
Yim Soon Rye: It is harder to direct a film that is based on a true-story. In a dramatized version, you have to transcend the real-life circumstances and be inspired to create a work of art, rather than just focus on the facts.
KDramaStars: What were some of the challenges you have faced as a female director, considering Korea’s patriarchal society?
Yim Soon Rye: In Korean film culture, networking is essential for forming business relationships. This networking often centers on drinking or activities that are male-oriented. If you do not participate in these activities, there are limited opportunities. While working on set, conflicts are often resolved by male-centric activities. Those are the challenges that I face.
KDramaStars: What are your thoughts on receiving recognition at the New York Asian Film Festival, as a female director and creator of works such as “Waikiki Brothers” and “The Whistleblower?”
Yim Soon Rye: Right now, there are more Korean female producers than directors. There has been an increased effort in fostering upcoming female directors. When I debuted in 1986, I was the only female director in Korean cinema and there were few women who were working behind-the-camera. Seeing women showcased at the New York Asian Film Festival pleases me, in light of these circumstances.
The New York Asian Film Festival concludes on July 11, with a spotlight on "Coin Locker Girl."