Alix Manolas interviews director Sang-il Lee

First year BA (Hons) Film, TV & Digital Media Production student, Alix Manolas, was invited to Warner Bros. for an exclusive screening of Sang-Il Lee’s Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ called Yurusarezaru Mono. She was given the opportunity to interview the director for the Cineworld blog which is seen by approximately 120k people a month.

You can see Alix’s Cineworld blog post on the webiste or read her review of the film and full interview with director Sang-Il Lee here:

What’s To Forgive in Sang-il Lee’s ‘Unforgiven’?

When it comes to remaking old classics, how much of your own spin can you add without taking away from the original? When it comes to Sang-il Lee’s Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 award-winning Western ‘Unforgiven’, he got the mix absolutely right.

Although some scenes were almost identical to the original, even down to the line, Lee managed to add in some of his own flair. One would think that there is a monumental difference between Meiji-period Japan and Wyoming, but there are notable similarities in these two different cultural settings; from the vast landscapes to the clear divide between hero and villain, as well as the typical Western stand-offs which, in Lee’s version, used both guns and swords.

The occasional douse of humour that Lee threw in was an enjoyable addition, however the cinematography is what really stole the show. Absolutely gorgeous visuals and sweeping camera shots filled the screen, with contrast to boot! A notable scene of stark red blood dripping onto crisp white snow leaves an unforgettable impression. I was intrigued as to how Lee would translate a Western into Japanese cinema, but the transition was seamless.

In my interview, I wanted to find out more about the man behind the big screen in terms of him as a director and his upbringing into the film industry.

What was the first film you ever saw, and what, if any, effect did it have on you?

One that sticks out in my mind from my childhood is E.T by Steven Spielberg. It made me cry! I was in fourth or fifth grade of elementary school at the time.

Were you artistic as a child, or were the arts something that you stumbled upon later in life?

Although I did like drawing pictures and painting, I wasn’t that into it. I wasn’t head-over-heels with it at the time; I more liked playing outside. But when I got to high school or university, I was more into reading novels, which is when that sort of thing became more apart of my life.

Was there a defining moment that made you want to get into filmmaking?

When I was a university student, I got to do a part-time job on location with filming, so I suppose that was the moment for me. I was always asleep! I was a runner, at the bottom of the ladder. I was almost like a slave.

Were your family and friends supportive of your decision to pursue filmmaking?

In Japan, there is a culture that says that upon graduating from university, you are supposed to get a job. You know, that sort of general pressure that we have, but that is the correct way to do it. When I graduated from university, I said to my parents that I would like to go to film school to learn how to make films, and then my father told me to get out of the house.

Do they support you now, now that you’ve become successful?

Rather than being supported by my parents, they started telling me what they think of my movies and giving their opinion. Very annoying!

What is your process of brainstorming movie ideas?

I don’t have a set process that I follow, because it’s not something that comes to mind suddenly. Therefore I have to do something quite studious like reading books, or watching other movies or maybe trying to be aware of what’s going on in the world. By doing so, sometimes what I’m interested in matches what’s going on in all of these things. Therefore, it’s almost like a car accident; sometimes it happens and creates that chemistry. So I wouldn’t say there is a set procedure that I follow, but that is how I do it.

I suppose what’s important is that if you look at what’s going on in the world, you have to question it, you have to have a sense of discomfort and ask ‘is this really true?’ or ‘is there something funny going on?’. That’s sort of the mentality of being able to question, and that sense of discomfort is very important, that moment in which you feel it.

Does the story narrative always come first and then you look for a location to shoot, or has a particular location itself inspired the narrative?

Up until now, the former was the case for me. So in other words we have the story and the characters, and then look for the location that is suitable.

Where do you get your passion and inspiration from to keep on making films?

The passion comes from reviewing my own movies, and talking about some negative things within them and maybe something that makes me angry from what I have done in the past. Or maybe looking at some other film-makers work, and being jealous about how well they did. That sort of thing would lead to the passion to want to make more films.

So wanting to better yourself constantly?

To put it in a nicer way, I suppose that’s the case. But I think a human being has greed and there is no limit to such greed.

What was your first break into the industry, and how did it come about?

After being kicked out by my father, I attended film school. And for a graduation project, I created a movie that won an award in the category ‘Up and Coming Filmmakers’. I suppose that was a break for me.

I noticed in a previous interview of yours with Stephen Cremin of Film Business Asia that you stated the theme of ‘Unforgiven’ is what attracted you to create the remake. Why was the theme so attractive for you?

I think it’s all about the fact that the violence is inexplicable, that is what really drew me.

As time progresses, is there anything in your remake that you would change. If so, what would those changes be, and why?

Maybe the title.

What would you change it to?

I want to change it to something so that no one notices it’s a remake!

As a student who has seen your film, and knowing of others who are also interested, what does it mean to you to have younger generations interested in watching your films?

When I first saw the original movie I was nineteen years old, and I couldn’t understand it or really appreciate how great the movie was. I just thought it was a very depressing movie. But at the same time I felt something very deep within it, but I didn’t know what it was. So I would like to encourage younger generations to see the movie, which they may not necessarily understand now, but in 10 or 20 years time, there will be a point in which they come to understand and appreciate it. So for something that they can’t quite understand now, maybe they should be encouraging themselves to see more and more of these films. This is the greed that we were talking about earlier!

How do you perceive the film industry in Japan and Asia? Do you think there is a bright future?

I guess the situation is quite similar to the one in Britain, but the kind of movie that draws the box office are either for a very senior age group and targeting what they call the ‘silver group’, or targeting a very young generation. So, I think that’s a similar situation in Japan. And I think I’d particularly like my movie to be seen by younger generations. But among the younger generation, they tend to prefer something that is easy and something easy to understand in terms of the emotion and getting the answer straight away when they’re watching the film. So they’re hesitant to watch the kind of movie that they may not get straight away. That is my concern.

But this is the kind of movie that makes you want to understand, almost like homework for yourself. That is the basis of me wanting to remake this movie after 20 years, because a movie like that will stay with you more.

Do you have any advice for young aspiring filmmakers?

I’d like to encourage them to have energy and passion, so that older generations would like to crush them.

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