from Korean Cinema Today Vol.23 - BIFF Special Edition (Korean Film Council / www.koreanfilm.or.kr)
Costume Director of ASSASSINATION and VETERAN
“what is always of the most importance is communication”
CHO Sang-gyeong is very busy. When she meets people, it ismostly on business. I don't blame her, because she is handling 8-9 films at the same time, all of which are either just done shooting or at the pre-production stage. So many people wanther, a major costume director who has been in this business for 13 years. It is her 14th year now.
Probably she is the one who receives the most scenarios among film staffs. She has a long lineup of films, including The Tiger,Fingersmith (W/T), Haeeohwa (W/T), Gosanja: The Great Mapof the East Land (W/T), and Secret Agent (W/T). In addition,the common feature of this summer's big players, namely, Assassination, Veteran, and Memories of the Sword is also CHO. However, this well experienced costume director still describes herself as "too young and ignorant." She majored in stage art at Korean National University of Art and made her film debut with No Blood No Tears (2001), and ever since, came without a break. But she still thinks she is a newbie. CHO even got offered to workfor the opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang Winter OlympicGames. What would be her opinion on costume, stage art and cinema? She delivered her thought in a very calm voice.
You worked in 3 tentpole movies this summer. Two of themattracted 10 million viewers each. With such performance,you just can't avoid this kind of attention.
I appreciate the attention, but attention outside filmsis not very comfortable, to be honest with you. Such attention should be handled by actors or directors when they are talking about the films. I guess Iget attention because costume is more and more considered in association with fashion and main characters. Because actors look awesome (laughs).
I guess there were a lot more to consider when working for Memories of the Sword , since it is a period film.
I was most concerned about the actors’ safety. What is the most important for stage costume is to help realize the filmic world. However, what I am concerned with when actually working with the actors is the practical aspect. Whether the costumes are comfortable enough to do the action in; whether they fit with the weather; and if the actors are too cold or hot in them. I tend to think a lot from the actors' perspective.
Period films are not a major part of your filmography. People tend to associate your name with a more modern movies.
For period films, I worked in the order of The Concubine , KUNDO: Age of the Rampant , and Memories of the Sword. And then I worked in the Royal Tailor which was released before Memories of the Sword . For Memories of the Sword , the time setting is the Goryeo Dynasty which I found interesting, but we had so little references to work by. So I had to read a lot of documents and observed Buddhist pictures and added my imagination. It was completely different from the Joseon Dynasty, heavily influenced by China, especially the Mongol Empire. A variety of cultures co-existed in Goryeo. They would even ride on horses and use falcons like accessories as in Mongolia. The costume called “cheolick” was introduced from the Mongol Empire and continued through Joseon. Hongyi (KIM Go-eun)’s costume was inspired by cheolick. Rather than focusing on what is Korean, I wanted to reflect the free atmosphere of that time and also to pursue the sentiments of the characters.
How do you express the characters' sentiments by costumes?
Just like in Shakespearean tragedy, characters have some kind of typicality. Although Yu-baek (LEE Byung-hun) does go through sufferings and hesitation, he is still an evil character, so I brought the typicality of an evil character to his costume.
I added more texture and layers to his costume, and the black and white contrast was accentuated, without much decorative details. When intensely contrasted yet balanced, the contrast effect becomes even clearer. On the contrary, JEON Doyeon‘s character had a lighter touch. I tried hard to think of what kind of senses she must have developed as a blind sword-woman, and I went for light and minimal expressions.
When the overall idea is decided, I analyze the emotions and sentiments of the characters and choose colors. What is the most important is, after all, to convince the audience.
Assassination is a period film in the setting of Japanese occupation.
I guess director CHOI Dong-hoon wanted me because I worked with Modern Boy, thinking that I was familiar with that period. But they gave a very short time for pre-production.
It was 6 months for KUNDO, 5 months for Memories of the Sword but it was only 4 months for Assassination. CHOI would whine and rush me because time was running out fast (laughs).
Gianna JUN‘s wedding dress got a lot of attention from the audience.
From the planning stage, CHOI talked about the image of a woman with a gun in a wedding dress. Not like Tarantino’s Kill Bill kind of woman character, but a lonely image of a woman.
Considering the era, it should have been a kimono. However, apart from nationality or time frame, I wanted to go for a dress that the current viewers could accept, and also that suited the action sequences. So I settled with a vintage line dress from the 1930s.
Assassination has several main characters. Tell us about each character's main costume idea.
I considered the change in the characters and status as the story goes along. For example, AHN Ok-yun (Gianna JUN) wears qipao, and also wears a sweater in Shanghai. When she was entering Gyeongseong, she wears a beret to emphasize the rebellious image of a revolutionist. HA Jung-woo is a kind of undercover, to stay hidden, not revealing his real self. So he wore a navy suit in Gyeongseong, and we received samples from China and Japan and reproduced them to fit him. Just for the samples, we spent several ten thousand dollars. LEE Jung-jae was the one who went through the most changes, since he occupied the screen from 1911 through 1945. His character made me ask myself: what would I have done if I were him? He worked very carefully on everything, including physical body features, costumes and acting.
In fact, CHOI told me that he would go black and white for the 1911 scenes. Turns out, he went for colors, which confused me somewhat (laughs). In black and white, brightness is more important than chroma. Looking back on the past, it seems that my experience in Modern Boy (2007) with the director Jung Ji-woo has been a big help.
You have mostly worked with star actors and actresses.
To be sure, they are a big help. Experienced and professional actors know how to make a good use of costumes as well.
JEON Do-yeon in Memories of the Sword and GANG Dongwon in KUNDO might have found it hard to move freely since the sleeves were very large, but they knew how to make a good use of them through movement. Costume is in a way an extension of body, and experienced stars would understand it without much explanation.
Veteran is a contemporary piece and therefore it may not have been such a hard work for you.
RYOO Seung-wan, the director himself, also wanted to shoot Veteran in a more relaxed and enjoyable way, after the fatigue from The Berlin File . It was more like a repose movie for him, if you like. For me as well, Veteran was a kind of light approach. There are those kind of movies where it's hard to understand the overall idea. Since I've done more than 50 films so far, there certainly were the films that I just did pretty much mechanically. Veteran had a clear idea already in the title. It is a genre movie, but Do-chul (HWANG Jung-min) is a detective like your neighbors in real life, an ordinary working man. He is a father trying to do all the responsibility. I talked a lot about these elements with RYOO.
Also he had a very clear idea as to how the detectives dress, to which I completely agreed and made the costumes to fit.
With Assassination and Veteran , you are the costume director of two 10-million-viewer movies screening at the same time.
Those who make movies do not actually care about the numbers, really. It is like a nice bonus which makes you throw a party and celebrate together. RYOO and CHOI are both 10-million-viewer-movie directors which are great, but they remain the same in one aspect: they still talk about movies only. There are not many directors like that, really, like PARK Chan-wook and just a few others. They are still full of passion for cinema and I get inspired too by their good spirit. They make me think they are still young men, and I get great positive stimulation as well.
It's already been 14 years since you began the film career.
I am still too young. I am only 14 years old, so to speak (laughs).
I think I am still childlike. I have not changed much from 7-8 years ago. In fact, I was going through a slump when I was making Thirst and Moss in 2008. I am sorry for the directors (laughs) but I didn't find my job interesting. I was in a routine manner working in a monotonous repetition. But then I went back to my early passion for cinema when I met JUNG Sungil’s Cafe Noir. I learned that my work was very important, and I was doing something not a lot of people could do in life. That was then that I became humble and modest.
It was similar with JANG Hun’s The Front Line . I met the refugees and escaped soldiers from North Korea and military manias. Hearing their passion for The Front Line , I truly learned a lot. With this precious lesson, I became more truthful and careful when I make the characters in the film.
There are not many small movies in your filmography.
I am always ready, as long as the scenario is good. There have been many moments that I was inspired by those small movies. When I said yes to LEE Kwang-kuk’s A Matter of Interpretation , it was because I liked what he said, which was, “no matter what, films have to get made.” It might sound naive and too idealistic, but that is what moved me to work with him.
You might as well do other works than just film costumes.
I do CFs from time to time, and I also worked for Arirang, a musical. Going through many different genres certainly helps.
Also I am asked to do the costumes for the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.
Throughout the interview, your focus has always been on the people who actually make movies.
After all, wouldn't it be thoes people that really count? Actors are important, directors are important and the people who you work with are important, because you are not working by yourself. Especially, the costumes are what the actors meet right away when they are experiencing the filmic world. I get inspired by the actors a lot. In that aspect, the directors that I work with and I consider communication the most important.
by HA Sung-tae