Putting a finger on horror films

Published on 18 October 2018

Director Yeon Sang-ho’s films tap on the fear and insignificance individuals feel when they are up against the interests of a collective. (Stills from The Fake (2013), courtesy of mm2 Entertainment)

By Goh Su Fang

If you’re reading this, chances are, you’ve been bitten by the zombie flick bug, survived Train to Busan (2016), and are hungry to find out why the South Korean horror film could break global box offices.

Yes, the movie’s premise, a zombie apocalypse, is unsettling. But what gets under your skin is how cleverly director Yeon Sang-ho paints the moral dilemmas which society and individuals face, as a story that tugs at heartstrings.

He says: “A consistent theme in my works is the fear individuals feel when they belong to a large society that is indifferent to them.

“An individual can feel very weak and insignificant, especially when up against the interests of a society or a group.”

Indeed, the concept of morality runs through Yeon’s films. They explore the myriad consequences of human action (or inaction), and the characters flesh out the complexity of human nature – the internal struggles one faces between feelings such as selfishness, greed and love.

Yeon’s films explore morality through human action and their consequences, as well as the complexity of human nature.

The moral tension in Yeon’s films plays out, for example, in his award-winning animated thriller, The Fake (2013). In it, a minister schemes to defraud his flock, and only a violent ex-convict is able to see through the clergyman’s lies.

The film will be shown at the horror film festival, Scream Asia Film Festival, which runs from 19 to 28 October. Yeon will attend the screening, and lead a separate masterclass.

Although he has made it big, the 40-year-old director is able to empathise with poor, struggling filmmakers. His own journey in filmmaking, which started when he was 19, has not always been smooth-sailing.

“There was a period when I doubted if I had talent as a movie director,” Yeon says. But he knew he “had to keep going.” And in hindsight, he is glad he did.

Yeon’s journey in film-making was not always smooth-sailing and he had doubts about his talent.

“Only after having gone through pain is the artist able to write good scenarios and make masterpieces,” he says.

He remembers those early days, when he was starting out in short films, by the cup noodle meals he had at convenience stores, and he hasn’t tired of them yet. “Even now, I love to eat cup noodles very much,” he says. But he especially seeks out this experience when he travels to countries in Asia.

He says: “I can taste the country’s own unique flavour through the cup noodles, and experience the distinct atmosphere of the store. But it also brings back memories and familiar emotions, of the times when I made short animation films.”

So, don’t be surprised if you catch the famed director slurping cup noodles in a convenience store, on his maiden visit to Singapore.

The interview with Yeon Sang-ho was translated by DongChan Lee.

 

Details about the Scream Asia Film Festival here.

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