Cinematographer remembered at Busan int’l film festival
To honor the centennial of Korean cinema this year, the Busan International Film Festival has selected, the pioneer and legendary cinematographer Jung Il-sung to feature in the Korean Cinema Retrospective to look back on his over 60 years of work.
BUSAN — To honor the centennial of Korean cinema this year, the Busan International Film Festival has selected the pioneer and legendary cinematographer Jung Il-sung to feature in the Korean Cinema Retrospective to look back on his over 60 years of work.
It’s rare for the film festival to set aside a special section for a cinematographer, instead of directors and actors, to highlight their work.
Jung, 90, met reporters, Friday, and shared his philosophy and story behind the cinematic masterpieces he took part in, during a media conference held in Haeundae-gu, Busan.
The Japanese-born cinematographer made his debut in his late 20s with director Jo Keung-ha’s “Farewell Sorrow” (1957). Since then, he has worked with 38 directors on 138 movies, using his unique technique.
His distinctive flair for filmmaking was recognized in “Woman of Fire” (1971) directed by Kim Ki-young, which deliberately used color aesthetics and a unique angle to deliver the grotesque sentiments of the story.
Born during the Japanese colonial era, cinematographer Jung said living in the tough times of Korea, which underwent military dictatorships after the country was freed from colonial rule and the ensuing pro-democracy protests, helped him to produce masterpieces.
“After Korea gained independence (from Japan), the country was left without a government. In my college years most schools shut down,” he said, mentioning the dictatorships and Korean citizen’s fight for democracy.
“This was the time you had to live in fear, so I had to challenge myself to make films that could heal (the society).”
“Korea’s unfortunate modern history and living through a time of pain, joy, and tragedy are the driving force behind my works,” he said.
The cinematographer is wellknown for his partnership with director Im Kwon-taek. The two first met through “Divine Bow” (1979), which led to “Mandara” (1981) the first Korean film to be screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1982 in the Panorama Section. Since then, the two have worked together for over 30 years making critically-acclaimed films, including the musical “Seopyeonje” (1993) with Korea’s most famous long-take scene.
“He’s the one who got me through the time I suffered from rectal cancer,” Jung said of Im, who produced “Mandara” while Jung was recovering. “We were always on the same page when it comes to our thoughts on society, history, and the future,” Jung added as the reason for their long-lasting partnership.
“Mandara” became one of Jung’s best works as it was recognized for the use of mise-en-scene and meticulously calculated angles Jung provided through the camera.
He explained that “Mandara” was a work expressing the anger in society.
“It was time with intense censorship. Movies during that time were mostly hostess films, low-quality comedy or films that emulated Chinese ones,” he noted, saying he was extremely outraged by such practices. “So we channeled our anger by making movies. We confronted the dark era by making a dark-themed film which was Mandara.”
Though many praised him for his beautifully captured frames, he noted that he never tried to shoot scenes “beautifully.” “I put focus mainly on depicting the pain people in this country have, in order to show the audiences that history continues.”
Realism is the guiding principle of his work. But the key in depicting realism is putting a dream into it, he said.
“Some might think realism is about filming things as it is. If we do that, however, it would be nothing more than news or a record. I tried to capture dreams in realism, and this is what has gotten me this far.”
He also complimented the younger generation directors, including director Bong Joon-ho of “Parasite” and congratulated him on the meaningful winning of the Cannes’ Palme d’Or in the centennial year of Korean cinema.
But at the same time, he was critical of Korean films. “People in the film industry nowadays are fortunate to live in this era — an era where freedom of expression is guaranteed.”
“I feel that more quality films should be made — in succession — of our sentiments (those who have gone through tragic history),” he said, and warned directors against making films that imitate the work of Hollywood. Jung Il-sung’s Korean Cinema Retrospective will present seven films — “Born to kill”(1996), “Hwang Jin-ie”(1986), “Late Autumn”(1981), “Mandara”(1981), “Son of a Man”(1980), “The Last Witness”(1980) “Woman of Fire”(1971).
The films will be screened through Oct. 12.
Cinematographer Jung Il-sung speaks during a press conference for this year’s Korean Cinema Retrospective at the Busan International Film Festival in Haeundae-gu, Busan, Friday. Seven films of his work will be screened throughout the festival.