Korea’s Ryoo Seung-wan Interview: Reinventing the Cop Movie

Ryoo Seung-wan has been a pillar of the South Korean movie trade for over 20 years, revered there for his eager social remark and thrilling motion. However Europe’s nice movie festivals have feted him conspicuously lower than a few of his extra internationally well-known friends. The Cannes Movie Pageant not too long ago took a step towards correcting that report in 2024. 

Ryoo, 50, made his first and solely journey to Cannes again in 2005 with the gritty boxing drama Crying Fist, co-starring his brother, Ryoo Seung-bum, as we speak a serious star, and Korean cinema icon Choi Min-sik, then using excessive because of his iconic position in Park Chan-wook’s Outdated Boy (2003). 

Crying Fist was very properly obtained, however since we have been within the Administrators’ Fortnight part of the pageant, it wasn’t screened in Cannes’ Grand Lumière Theater,” Ryoo recollects. “Again then, I used to be a lot youthful and all the things simply felt recent, enjoyable and thrilling. However I keep in mind seeing the Lumière and pondering to myself, ‘I’d like to display a movie there in the future.’” 

That day has lastly arrived. 

“I didn’t suppose it will take me 19 years to do it,” Ryoo says with fun, including, “I used to be beginning to suppose perhaps they wouldn’t display one other one in all my movies in Cannes till after I died.” 

On Might 20, Cannes premiered Ryoo’s 14th function, I, The Executioner, aka Veteran 2, on the Lumière’s large display as a part of the pageant’s Midnight Screenings part, which is devoted to particularly completed style cinema. The movie (also referred to as I, Executioner), which obtained unanimously robust critiques from Cannes’ critics, is a sequel to Ryoo’s 2015 smash hit police motion film Veteran, which earned $92 million at Korea’s field workplace and stays the nation’s fifth-highest-grossing film of all time. Within the 9 years between the 2 installments, Ryoo has made three different profitable movies, together with the political thriller Escape From Mogadishu, South Korea’s official submission to the Oscars in 2021. 

The primary Veteran starred main man Hwang Jung-min as an infectiously tough and tumble police detective tasked with taking down a corrupt and sadistic third-generation tycoon (performed by an unforgettable Yoo Ah-in), whose household’s wealth makes him seemingly untouchable in Korean society. The film balanced humor and breathtaking motion with a searing critique of corruption and inequality in Korea, which have been then live-wire social points within the nation. 

The sequel reunites Hwang with the remainder of the primary film’s wildly entertaining ensemble forged of cops — Oh Dal-su, Jang Yoon-ju and others — as they try to trace down a suspected serial killer. As rumors concerning the killer’s identification proliferate on social media, plunging the entire nation right into a state of chaos, the hero detective and his staff are compelled to query their strategies and assumptions. 

Forward of the I, The Executioner’s Cannes premiere, THR linked with Ryoo for his first interview concerning the movie to debate his bold imaginative and prescient for the sequel — a film that deconstructs the standard ethical logic of an motion flick whereas nonetheless delivering all the style’s thrills. The movie is due in theaters within the second half of 2024 courtesy of CJ Leisure.

The unique Veteran was an enormous hit when it was launched again in 2015. There was some press protection round that point suggesting you have been eager to make a sequel fairly shortly. Nevertheless it ended up taking 9 years. What was the journey? 

Nicely, to begin with, once I made the primary Veteran, I didn’t anticipate how profitable it will be. My actual intent was to create fairly a humble movie. I simply made the movie I wished to make — a style movie devoted to my very own fashion that would present some pleasure and escape for the Korean viewers. However, coincidentally, some social controversies emerged that overlapped with the happenings of the movie, and so it turned an enormous box-office phenomenon. To start with, I used to be fairly proud of the keenness the movie was receiving however ultimately, I turned fairly scared by it. I didn’t have a narrative in thoughts for a sequel, however I actually fell in love with the characters. If my purpose was to proceed the field workplace success, it will have been a lot better to create a sequel instantly. I assumed that if I created a sequel instantly, it will truly be taking a step again and being complacent with the success that I used to be having fun with. You possibly can’t see them on digital camera proper now, however I’ve two producers sitting proper subsequent to me right here and so they each simply sighed closely once I stated that (Laughs).

So, why did it take me 9 years? The thought that dominated me was that I needed to create a greater movie than the primary one. And after the success of the primary Veteran, quite a lot of movies and TV collection got here out in Korea in the identical style and likewise noticed success. So I didn’t actually really feel the necessity to replicate what I had performed, however it took me a very long time to determine it out one other strategy. I wished to create one thing totally different, one thing that’s new and deeper than the primary movie — a movie that may actually go away a long-lasting impression on the viewers. And, , I feel I discovered my manner.

The primary Veteran mixed the buddy cop motion film with a somewhat daring critique of inequality and the callousness of the tremendous wealthy. How did you provide you with the brand new themes of the sequel? This one struck me as much more advanced.

The unique Veteran was the primary film I’ve made that the youthful viewers in Korea actually cherished and sought out. However once I look again on that movie, the way in which that it approaches good and evil — and the way the protagonist actualized justice — was fairly totally different from how society truly works. Issues simply aren’t that easy. That clear distinction between good and evil doesn’t essentially exist in our precise society. So it was type of like a sports activities match, the place it’s very clear who you might be rooting for. Clearly, that may make for an important movie that exhilarates the viewers. However the precise points the movie was coping with are troublesome and extra advanced than that. Greater than anything, I’m an motion filmmaker who desires to create style movies {that a} mass viewers can get pleasure from, however I felt like I used to be permitting folks to eat sophisticated points for the sake of pleasure, and the query of whether or not that was the appropriate strategy actually bothered me. 

For many motion movies, you might have a protagonist and an antagonist and they should face off. However this time, I made a decision to change it up a bit bit. Normally, motion movies are a few sense of justice that the protagonist is pursuing, which the viewers is made to crave. However this time, I assumed, “What if the movie is definitely about two totally different definitions of justice that conflict?” It may nonetheless be an motion movie that the viewers can get pleasure from with their senses and their our bodies, however it may additionally stimulate them intellectually. I wished to pose a query with an motion movie that the mass viewers can get pleasure from. After all greater than anything, my first purpose was simply to create a way more enjoyable movie.

An entertaining motion movie that additionally deconstructs the standard logic of the motion movie — that’s a really bold problem to set for your self. With that in thoughts, I’d love to listen to about the way you created this movie’s villain. A part of the enjoyable of the unique Veteran was how purely despicable the villain was. However this new villain is a somewhat unusual character. You appear to have left his motives intentionally opaque and his entire persona could be very peculiar. What are you able to share about your intentions right here? 

So, you simply talked about the phrase ‘villain’ to check with the antagonist, however I didn’t consider him as a villain on this movie.

The way in which that this movie treats evil makes it extra horrendous as a result of we don’t present a transparent Axis of Evil. We don’t present a transparent definition of what precisely the evil on this movie is. It’s actually about this rumor that one way or the other simply begins to proliferate— and we don’t know the place it began or who began it. In the long run, your complete world believes the rumor to be true, which in the end drives folks to their deaths. I feel that is nearer to the character of evil because it at the moment exists in society — that is the air that the movie is making an attempt to encapsulate. And the so-called antagonist of this movie, somewhat than pondering of him because the villain, I simply considered him as a person with totally different convictions. The rationale I left him fairly ambiguous is that I wished the viewers to go house and go loopy questioning about why he did what he did. The calculation behind that, , is that the viewers will need to go see the film once more the following day.

Man, I’ve to say, as you have been saying all that, I used to be pondering to myself, I’ve to see this film once more. So it actually labored on me. 

(Laughs) That’s good to listen to. 

Jung Hae-in as rookie cop Park Solar-woo in ‘The Veteran 2’


So, turning to the protagonist … You made him fairly a bit extra sophisticated within the sequel. Within the first movie, he’s the archetypal scruffy veteran cop, a bit tough across the edges however a complete hero. On this one, he’s received much more happening. He’s not a really attentive father and husband, which is palpably affecting the folks near him. He makes guarantees that he forgets to maintain — generally issues which are very consequential to the story. So, he’s very human this time, in no way a superhero.

All the things that you just simply talked about is strictly what I meant for that important character on this sequel, so I’m very blissful to listen to that you just received all that. I met the good Hong Kong filmmaker Johnny To at a movie pageant as soon as and I requested him, “What do I must do to make movies which are as enjoyable and attention-grabbing because the movies you make?” And he gave me such a transparent reply. He stated, “your protagonist simply has to make errors.” That was the very best reply — higher than something I ever discovered from a e book about filmmaking. 

One of many keys to creating this sequel for me was that I wanted to make the primary character extra conflicted. It was actually essential to convey this man realizing that his convictions and his sense of justice — and the violent actions he carries out based mostly on these judgments — generally finally ends up hurting folks, and never solely others but additionally himself. This journey of realization was essential for this movie. In that sense, you may say that essentially the most highly effective villain of the movie is the hero detective himself. The phrases and actions that he’s carried out find yourself being mirrored again to him, and in the long run, when he’s combating the antagonist, you may say that in a way he’s combating himself. 

I used to be particularly struck by the story thread involving the protagonist’s son. As a result of it’s fairly clear that the son is in some actual hassle. He’s struggling emotionally and he’s hanging out with some very dangerous youngsters — and the protagonist merely isn’t all that engaged with him. Even by the tip, in a really life like manner, you get the sensation that everybody is simply getting on with their lives.

So, truly the storyline relating to the son partially displays my very own expertise. There was a interval when my youngsters have been struggling, and , I wasn’t actually sympathetic to what they have been going by. I used to be at all times telling them, you’re being weak and you could simply suck it up. And , I’m a movie director, however I’d see different dads capturing house movies of their youngsters and presenting them for expertise reveals and stuff. However I didn’t do something like that, though what I do is make movies. Fortunately, my youngsters grew up so properly on their very own. So, there have been these errors that I made with my youngsters and thru this movie I wished to apologize to them. And I assumed that quite a lot of dads in all probability have made comparable errors and will relate to this. I feel a real grownup is somebody who actually is aware of how you can apologize for his or her errors, so I wished this character to embody that.

Within the first Veteran, as a result of the villain is so despicable, there are occasions whenever you need the film, as a viewer, to turn into one thing extra like a vigilante revenge story. Nevertheless it doesn’t try this. The characters work by the police and authorized system to convey him to justice. That struck me as a considerably optimistic ending, as a result of it means that even the mega-rich are usually not above the legislation. The sequel, nonetheless, left me with a a lot much less clear feeling about how you can really feel about society and our current second. Nothing is so simply resolved. Do you suppose it lands on a extra pessimistic notice? 

I don’t suppose this movie is extra optimistic or extra pessimistic than the primary movie. If you concentrate on the primary movie, the detective succeeds in arresting the antagonist, however we don’t see what the result can be when he goes to trial — and keep in mind, he’s very rich. However you make a exact level that the primary movie shouldn’t be actually about people. It offers extra with society and the system. With the sequel, I actually tried to focus extra on the person than the mass constructions of society. In that sense, I’ll point out the epilogue. After all the things is resolved, the detective comes house and finds the youngsters of the Vietnamese lady his spouse has been serving to sleeping in their very own house. Fairly than relating grand social points, I wished to emphasise the dedication that people present. Irrespective of how hopeless a society could appear, if at the least one particular person is totally awake then I feel the seeds of hope are already there. Fairly than politicians who make grand statements about saving humanity, I discover extra hope in on a regular basis individuals who quietly dwell out their lives, exhibiting care to their household, pals and colleagues.

What was it like getting this ensemble forged again collectively once more for the sequel? Was it as enjoyable because it looks as if it should have been? 

After we introduced all the forged collectively once more on set, it undoubtedly didn’t really feel like 9 years had handed. It felt like we had simply completed capturing the primary movie final week. We truly talked about how all the emotion and sense of camaraderie that we have been feeling was in all probability one thing that the viewers was going to have the ability to really feel as properly. After all, there have been moments once I felt like, wow, 9 years is a fairly very long time. We’ve all gotten older. After 11pm, for instance, all the actors would simply begin forgetting their traces.

I used to be struck by what you stated about Johnny To, as a result of watching your movies jogs my memory a lot of the greats of Hong Kong cinema — that combination of irrepressible bodily leisure and incisive psychological and social interrogation.

After all, I owe a lot to all of the greats I grew up watching. Hong Kong had so masterpieces within the crime and cop genres that got here out within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties. I may record two dozen movies for you proper now. I used to be additionally massively influenced by the unimaginable Hong Kong stunt gamers from the 80s. They really mastered that artwork and it’s one thing I really feel movie historical past ought to pay extra consideration to. However though I dwell my life fully drenched in cinema, on the similar time, my physique is totally alive within the current second. I strive to not steer too removed from this actuality — this sense of being a physique occupying a spot on earth proper now. Once I come to work, or once I’m on my manner house, I at all times attempt to stroll by the again alleys. As a lot as I’m in love with the heroes of the movies that I like, I attempt to keep near observing actual folks. I’ve tried to strike a steadiness between the lifetime of a filmmaker and an on a regular basis particular person dwelling a traditional life. I selected to find my workplace in a fairly humble neighborhood [of Seoul] due to that. 

So, it’s in all probability a bit quickly for this query, however would you prefer to make a 3rd Veteran movie if given the possibility?

I’m truly already in talks with the actors. A 3rd one will occur. I have already got a spin-off story. I’d prefer to broaden this universe and I really feel like there are lots of extra tales that I can inform. After all, there’s an important precondition for all that although. If Veteran 2 flops, none of this may occur. If you wish to see a 3rd one, please give this movie your assist!