Star-studded cast on what it’s like working on film-within-a-film ‘Cobweb’
South Korean actor Song Kang-ho, the star of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning dark comedy “Parasite” and now Kim Jee-woon’s ’70s-set film-within-a film “Cobweb,” said it all when asked at a press conference last week why he thought viewers should watch his latest movie on the big screen.
“There are so many OTT [over-the-top] dramas out there,” he said at the global press con for “Cobweb.” “We now have such a wide array of channels through which you can be exposed to a lot of different content, especially after the pandemic.
“However, nothing quite captures the act of going to the theater and buying a ticket to enjoy a movie than the act itself. Nothing else can provide that extra boost of cinematic energy. Through ‘Cobweb,’ I hope viewers will be able to rekindle that moviegoing spirit—and I am confident that, through this film, they definitely will.”
Distributed by TBA Studios in the Philippines, “Cobweb,” which opens in theaters on Wednesday next week, follows ’70s director Kim Yeo (Song Kang-ho) who believes that an alternate ending to his finished-but-as-yet-unreleased film would turn it into a masterpiece.
While Yeo says that the finished product will “show humanity’s irrational nature,” the filmmaker is also eager to prove that his critically acclaimed debut film years ago was no fluke, especially after a series of artistic setbacks and cinematic turkeys. As he asserts, “Criticism is only an act of revenge by those who can’t make art!” Ouch.
Amid state censorship, budget constraints and a chaotic, drama-ridden set, Yeo is convinced that the film will salvage his dwindling reputation. So, he convinces the production’s finance officer Shin Mido (Jeon Yeo-been of “Vincenzo”) to help him reunite the crew and key members of his quirky cast.
His actors include playboy lead actor Kang Hose (Oh Jung-se of “When the Camellia Blooms,” “It’s Okay to Not be Okay,” “The Revenant”), veteran actress Lee Minmi (Im Soo-jung of “A Tale of Two Sisters”) and rising star Han Yurim (Krystal Jung of the K-pop group f/x)—who don’t quite understand why they have to reshoot.
At the press con, director Kim Jee-woon explained how the movie—which explores themes that tackle film censorship, film criticism and creative conflict, among other things—came about.
He said, “Through the global pandemic, everything came to a halt—and the cinema industry was no exception. Suddenly, everyone involved, including the creators, directors and actors, had a lot of time to rethink about what cinema really means to them.
“I thought about when I first fell in love with cinema, so it actually served as a time for me to reignite and reflect on my passion for it. I’m sure all filmmakers have gone through experiences where they were met with obstacles and had to break through them. I wanted it to be sort of an encouragement to move further, not just for me, but for everyone involved in cinema all over the world.
“So, if I’m asked what ‘Cobweb’ is about, I’d say it’s a delightful tale with a touch of black comedy that tells the story of this one man who breaks through all that turmoil and conflict.”
Asked why he set his story in the 1970s, the writer-director explained at length why he thought it’s a great time to tell this particular story.
“Having been born in the ’70s, I have a very strong nostalgia for everything that happened in that period,” he mused. “When you look at the history of Korean cinema, we went through the first renaissance in the 1960s, then another in the ’70s. We had state censorship and some forced productions of proestablishment movies. So, K cinema really went through some dark times.
“If you look at the numbers, we used to produce about 220 films per year, but that number dropped drastically in the ’70s to about only 100 per year. As for the per-capita average amount that would go see a movie, the number dropped from six to eight, to two to three. That’s actually similar to what Korean cinema is currently going through after the pandemic.
“I got to thinking, ‘How did our filmmakers succeed in bringing about a second renaissance?’ So, through ‘Cobweb,’ I wanted to translate that bold spirit that allowed our filmmakers to hurdle those difficulties. These days, we often say in Korea that what’s important is the undying spirit, and I wanted to show that through director Kim Yeo’s character.”
Excerpts from the Q&A:
Kang-ho, it’s your first time to play a film director. What were the main areas of focus in your performance? Do you see yourself in the director’s chair any time soon?
Kang-ho: It’s not as important to focus as much on the profession of being a film director, but rather, I myself put more emphasis and thought into carrying out that energy of wanting to push forth until the end, particularly in a confined space with so many different characters, who have a collective goal: To finish the film.
As for the second question, I believe directing is beyond my personal capabilities. So no, I don’t have plans to sit in the director’s chair. What I have on my plate as an actor is enough. Acting is already tough as it is.
Soo-jung, you really transformed yourself into a role unlike anything you’ve done in the past. What were your thoughts about your character?
Soo-jung: After reading the script, I said, “I have to play this role!” My character is described as a veteran actress of the ’70s. It was a new challenge for me because it was my first time to play an actor within a film. Director Kim specifically wanted us to channel the unique tone of K cinema actors back in the ’70s, so I watched a lot of old and classic Korean films from that era.
I’ve always wanted to work with director Kim again after we did “A Tale of Two Sisters” 20 years ago. Back when I was shooting “Two Sisters,” it was much like how Krystal portrays the role of the rising star now. But this time, I’m the veteran actor. I feel like a lot has changed in two decades, and I’ve accumulated so many meaningful experiences from my career. I feel very grateful and lucky.
Much like what we see in the movie, any film set is typically filled with confusion and chaos. But for you, what was the actual “Cobweb” set like?
Jung-se: This isn’t only true for the film “Cobweb,” but for whatever project I take on. I always choose the road less taken—I tend to pick the more difficult route. I like doing new things. So I think this was also true for director Kim Jee-woon and [fictional] director Kim Yeo—they like new challenges. And one of the biggest challenges was taken by both directors when they cast me as the top male star of the ’70s! I certainly feel like that took a lot of courage for doing so (laughs).
Can you recall any behind-the-scenes anecdote for us?
Jung-se: “Cobweb” is a film within a film. One time, we were very much concentrated on what was going on set, so much so that when the character, director Kim Yeo, yelled, “Cut! That’s a wrap,” some members of the crew got confused and thought that the actual scene was over! So, they started moving the lighting and camera equipment (laughs)!
Yeo-been, did you have references for your strong-willed character? And in what ways are you similar and different from her?
Yeo-been: When I go to film sets these days, I see more and more female directors or creators. So every time I meet them, I feel a sense of unity, deep respect and admiration for everybody who went before me and paved the way for all of us. So I wanted to make sure that I conveyed that attitude and passion well onscreen.
Mido tends to be tough, and the way she expresses herself might come off as intense, but I feel like I was able to capture her essence. As for our similarities, I relate to the way she goes for what she’s passionate about. She makes no excuses for it. That’s something that I share with her in my heart.
As for our differences, while I try to deliver my thoughts in the most accurate way possible, I try to soften them a little bit. But that’s not the case with Mido—she has no filter. She’s like an explosive rocket!
Krystal, you have an impressive acting career on top of your music career. Which would you say is more challenging—being an actor or musician?
Krystal: I get asked this question all the time. I used to answer that acting was more of a challenge for me. But as I pondered on it, I realized I couldn’t choose one over the other.
As a singer, I was in the girl band f(x), and we would usually do three-minute live performances. But I didn’t allow myself to make mistakes. So, whenever I did, I’d feel like I let my teammates down—which was always hard for me to deal with.
As an actor, I could go on and on about the challenges that comes with it. But I think memorizing lines is tough because, even after I’ve memorized my lines, when I go on set and get nervous, my mind would go blank sometimes. So yeah, I can’t choose whether being a singer or actor is more challenging.
How does it feel to direct this talented ensemble playing such complex characters?
Jee-woon: I’ve seen quite a number of Hollywood ensemble comedies that were very well-made. Some recent examples would be Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”
I’ve always wanted to do something like those in Korea, where I could bring together all the masters of acting and create this explosive chemistry within a perfect ensemble. And I believe I was able to do that through “Cobweb.”