Leading up to the release of Kill Boksoon on Netflix, Dorkaholics was invited to a roundtable interview with the film’s director Byun Sung-hyun. And although there were only a few questions, he answered them with such depth, it’s clear that he gave this film his all.
The first question was asked by freelance writer Kaitlin Stevens, who asked about the film’s themes on weakness, especially with the main character being both a killer and a mother, and the impact each part of her life has on the other.
“I know that you were creating the movie with Jeon Do-yeon’s personhood in mind as a mother and there’s a lot of themes of fairness and weakness. Her weakness as being a mother but do you think that it was more a weakness or a strength and also we know that she is the director’s weakness at the end, but it seems that she was everybody else’s weakness too, including the intern who chose to stay loyal to her,” Stevens said. “What about Bok-soon made her everybody’s weakness?”
Byun Sung-hyun’s response also highlighted how Chairman Cha Min-kyu could be viewed from some perspectives as her savior, which means he is able to strike her weaknesses as well.
“The notion of weaknesses, so Bok-soon’s weakness as a mother is the fact that she kills people, and her weakness as a killer is that she has a daughter. That was pretty simple, and the way you illustrated how Boksoon herself becomes a weakness for other characters, for Min-kyu, yes, that was very obvious. And we all want to hide our weaknesses,” Byun said. “And Min-kyu also wanted to hide the fact that Bok-soon was a weakness for him. Bok-soon and Min-kyu, they tug at each other’s weaknesses and Boksoon does it pretty openly. And I think that Min-kyu also does it in a way to Bok-soon. But on the outside, while it seems like Min-kyu is coming at Bok-soon with her weakness, I wanted to portray him as also a savior to Boksoon.”
Byun Sung-hyun identified different scenes which visually communicated this idea of Min-kyu as a savior.
“He is described as a character who can give all and take all away, and Bok-soon as a character says she doesn’t pray to a God. But towards the end of the story, you will find her looking or searching for a godly being, and while she does so, the camera pans on the dead body of Min-kyu,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “So, I tried to bring in that sort of savior metaphor for him. There was also a scene where in the whole death of one of the killer company representatives, the table is shaped in the form of a cross in order to metaphorically bring in that idea of the savior as well.”
Additionally, the intern as well as all characters in the film reflects the feelings of the film’s director towards lead actress Jeon Do-yeon.
“As for the intern, I wanted every character in Kill Boksoon to love and admire Bok-soon, and that was because that’s how I feel about the person and the actor Jeon Do-yeon herself in real life. I think that is how all of the elements came about naturally, because it started from that admiration.”
Soompi’s features editor and writer Bina Lee asked about Byun’s process for coming up with concepts in his films.
“I know that you started this script in this movie based on thinking of Jeon Do-yeon specifically, and you’ve had such an impressive list of projects such as Boolhandang (The Merciless) and Kingmaker,” Lee said. “How do you come up with the concepts of these particular films? Do you have a long list of ideas, or does it just come to you all of a sudden?”
Byun Sung-hyun was embarrassed to admit that does not plan the way most other directors say they do.
“Many directors say, and they actually have a long list of ideas for their upcoming works. I am embarrassed to admit that I’m not the planning type, and so after I’m done with a piece of work, I will wait a while and then think, OK, what next? What do I do now? Sometimes I feel like if you try too hard to think about it, it doesn’t come to me,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “My ideas tend to come to me when I am not intentionally searching for ideas. This was the first time for me where the story all started from an actor, and I feel like it’s also going to be my last time. I think going forward from my future work, I’m going to be focusing more on what kind of stories I want to tell.”
For Kill Boksoon, he really found the story by getting to know Do-yeon over many meetings, formal and informal.
“This time because of the process it was challenging in a way because there was no set story that I wanted to tell but because it was driven from ‘OK, I want to work with Jeon Do-yeon, what do we do?’ I had written the opening sequence, but after even finishing writing the opening, I had to wait for months to continue writing because I just didn’t have the story I wanted to tell,” Byun said. “But over many conversations, and meetings and grabbing drinks with Do-yeon, I got to see the discrepancy and the irony between her being a mother and the top actor in Korea. So, I was really intrigued by that, and it all started from there.”
When it became my turn, I asked about the process of adapting the script and any decisions that were made in regards to the amount of violence and action to either tone down or heighten.
“Except for the scene when Min-kyu becomes very violent with the character Sergeant Shin on the table; except for that, the rest of the film I wanted to make it very much like a comic book,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “And the reason I excluded that particular scene is because that was the climax of the conflict and an important scene in order to show the character Min-kyu’s violence that he holds within, as well as the level of affection that he has for Bok-soon. So that was an intentional decision.”
Fitting for Dorkaholics’ comic book fans, it was exciting to hear how he ventured into the realm of comic books for this film.
“I wanted to bring in a very comic book-like feel to the film, which is one of the reasons behind the opening sequence when the character Boksoon you see her beheaded,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “And if you think of how you know her status within the Korean cinema and the industry, I felt like it was a very bold and intriguing way to grab the audience because you will see this extremely famous top actor, she’s the main lead, and within just minutes of the film opening you see her beheaded. I brought it in as sort of a witty flavor, but I did realize some people thought it was over the top and violent.”
Editor-in-chief of Cinema Daily US, Nobuhiro Hosoki, asked about additional precautions following Jeon Do-Yeon being injured on set during filming and her quick return to production.
“When you’re shooting an action film, when you know issues related to safety, it’s just so unpredictable, so literally all you can do is be as cautious as possible. As for the action sequences, I did go in and curdle a little bit of the more complex or risky action sequences, but Do-yeon was actually, she was very eager, and she expressed her intention of just wanting to do everything as was originally written,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “But despite that, I decided to go ahead and sort of adjust a little bit of parts of action scenes that I felt were maybe a little too dangerous. But from the next day, since her injury, Do-yeon and I, we both said we are never doing an action film again… jokingly.”
It turns out that the film did not involve many stunt doubles, requiring changes such as dividing longer takes into shorter ones.
“Because we didn’t have a lot of stunt doubles, most of the action-packed scenes had to be done by the characters themselves because of the certain ways the scenes were made and so no matter how much preparation and training we went through, there were inevitable shortcomings,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “So rather than putting in any extra caution or additional mechanisms or anything, we just made some changes in terms of methodology of the shooting so for some of the longer it takes, we decided to divide it into shorter ones and whatnot.”
Entertainment editor of MEA WorldWide, Aayush Sharma, noted that the film is more than just revenue, it has emotion, which he then asked if it was a conscious decision to do so.
“When you hear the subject matter of pillar and mother-daughter relationships, everybody has a scenario that they can easily predict: either the daughter is kidnapped, or the daughter dies and you want to avenge her, or third, you have to fight in order to protect your daughter,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “And these three things were things that I wanted to make sure we avoided for Kill Boksoon.”
It was also worth noting that Bok-soon never fights unknown characters throughout the film.
“And in the action scenes as well, and this kind of relates to my answer to the previous question, I wanted to make sure that Bok-soon will never fight anonymous characters in the film. That Bok-soon will only fight characters that the audience has become introduced to or got to know through the story,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be a film about motherhood or about motherly love or about sacrifice that was driven by motherhood. I wanted to tell a story where the mother and daughter were individuals on their own who achieved personal growth.”
Byun Sung-hyun was also asked about the use of colors throughout different scenes and any potential meaning behind those choices.
“As for the use of colors, we did use a lot of different colors, but in particular I used a lot of contrast between red and green. Green is the color that represents how the mother wants to see her daughter. And it is the perspective of the mother that portrays how she wants her daughter to be but it’s not the daughter’s actual identity,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “In fact, as you can see in the last scene when Jae-young is wearing a red jacket, her color. The daughter’s color is actually red, exactly like Bok-soon’s color. And it’s also seen in the side dishes that Jae-young always wants to eat versus what the mother always makes her eat.”
The color choices also extended to the literal green room, which makes a rewatch well worth it if these intentional set choices weren’t fully noticed the first time viewing.
“And also, it is seen through the green room and the house plants as well. The scene where Jae-young is coming out to her mother, you will see Bok-soon leave the room filled with plants and see Jae-young within the green room filled with plants, so I tried to draw a contrast there as well,” Byun Sung-hyun said. “And in scenes when they’re changing clothes, if Bok-soon is wearing an all-red suit, you will see that Jae-young is wearing socks maybe that are a little bit red, just to show that she harbors this sense of her that is represented by the color red.”
Catch Byun Sung-hyun’s latest film Kill Boksoon on Netflix starting March 31, 2023.
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