Fast Forward Friday with Minji Kang

Minji Kang Director JPGFor this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning South Korean born American film director Minji Kang, who is based in Los Angeles. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a focus on Film Art and Aesthetics. She continued her artistic development at Columbia University, where she received her MFA in Film Directing. While attending Columbia, she dedicated herself to the craft of writing and to understanding what it means to create. She is a recipient of the SAIC Enrichment scholarship as well as the Columbia TOMS scholarship. For more information about Minji go to www.minjikang.com

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently in the process of completing a feature screenplay, Illicit, with my co-writer Luke Spears, with whom I studied in Columbia University’s MFA film program. I believe that in order to start a career as a director, the genuine story and one’s own vision must come first before directing anyone else’s story. Illicit scrutinizes the complexities and terrors of adolescence and growing up in an allegorical fictional world.

The film is about Jake, a struggling musician who has recently moved into a gated apartment complex – and Mona, a young blind resident.  Jake and Mona’s worlds literally collide and Jake feels compelled to help Mona escape her dark restrictive environment, which is governed by her intimidating brother.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

I have been a fan of fairy tales ever since I was a child. Although works of fiction, fairy tales often tell powerful life lessons and warn us that the world is not all filled with brightness. I want to tell an emotionally provoking, socially important stories with images and characters that have symbolic meaning in our own lives. C.S. Lewis said, “Someday you’ll be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Using cinema as the finest tool to create the modern fairy tale, it is my desire to put all my thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams in new, provocative fantastic stories.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Before coming to Los Angeles, I was an international student for about 15 years.  I have some very dear mentors – or Guardian Angels as I call them – who have helped me to find my voice as an artist and filmmaker.  Their priceless words of wisdom always seem to come to me in a moment of need.

Plus, here are the film directors I admire: Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Stanley Kubrick.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Learning music from a young age always helped me trust my own instinct and follow what I truly feel rather than think logically and try to construct a story in a cerebral way. Classical music is a mysterious puzzle of pieces filled with unknown configurations that sparks my curiosity.

When I hear music it provokes images and when I watch a film or scene, I can hear the music that would accompany it.  Both music and vision create an emotion that feeds the other. Whatever we create, be it music, film or even poetry, we open a conversation with others and society.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

My latest film, The Loyalist, will be widely released via online platform later this month and the film is currently available on Hulu (NBCUniversal short fest channel).

The Loyalist is about a father and daughter who, because of their North Korean nationality, do not have the choices that most of us do in more democratic societies. The film opens on a North Korean General picking up his daughter at her Swiss boarding school for a spontaneous weekend getaway. Following up on reports of her contact with Western diplomats, the General sets out to test his daughter’s loyalty to her Motherland and bring her home. The General finds his deep paternal love for his daughter ultimately defeated by his blind loyalty to the totalitarian regime that formed him. He realizes his mistake too late.

The story also depicts a tormented young woman who stands with one foot in the East and the other in the Western world. As I visually constructed this fictional drama, I wanted the camera, as our silent witness, to ask us why these characters live the way they do and to prompt us to wonder what we would do if we were in their shoes. Though we all wished this story had a happy ending, the tragic ending of this short film was carefully decided: it reflects the continuous tragic reality of the Korean peninsula, which, despite deep family ties, remains painfully divided by irreconcilable ideologies.

The opening sequence clip can be seen:

http://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi3084498457?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

One minute hunting scene can be seen: http://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi1593750041?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_2

Q:  What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

Every morning at dawn, I sit down and meditate on my project and write down the ideas that come to me.  This very process brings some exciting revelations.  This excitement and what I live for – and the knowledge that I will one day share these revelations with the world through the completed film.  Filmmaking is indeed a long process where you create a secret that you must keep for months or years, then eventually you get to tell it to the world.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I’d very much like to own a hotel, designed with eco-friendly materials, perhaps in a deep forest or by the waterfall or by the ocean.  I have had the great fortune to travel a lot and have been most productive, inspired and happy when I have stayed in that sort of environment.  I’d like to give others the same experience.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Of course, like most people, the biggest obstacle is myself!  They say Koreans are the Italians of the East – we are very passionate!  Sometimes, that passion leads to frustration. I can be my worst enemy at times.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Every day I try to keep up with my violin practice and try to take a long walk in the sun. Whenever I can, I also try to go to museums and theaters. I also enjoy conversing with other creative minds, such as filmmakers, artists, musicians and writers.  They often will provokes new thoughts, and differing points of view – I like that.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

The abstract modern artist Wassily Kandinsky comes to mind.  Especially his painting entitled Circles in a Circle (1923). I feel this piece really conveys a profound spirituality and human emotion.  I often look at Kandinsky’s work while listening to JS Bach’s Variations Goldberg. Together they create a perfect wordless prayer.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

There are two European directors who have greatly inspired me: Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski. I’m fascinated by these filmmaker’s persistent desire to find the meaning of life as they explore the human condition through time, death and eternity.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

It’s a difficult question.  Perhaps the hidden themes I thread through my films. No matter how different my films may seem, in truth they secretly ask the same questions.

Q:  If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Stubborn!  So stubborn!

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I enjoy karaoke all night long with my dear friends.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Like most artists, the surrounding world often discourages a career in the arts.  It took me a while to be confident about my path.  I would assure myself that becoming an artist will be the best decision I would ever make and to follow it passionately.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

By the ocean.  When I first came to America, I spent four years at a boarding school by the sea. It was the ocean nurtured and healed my loneliness and sunshine that kindled my passion.  

Q: What is your idea of success?

True success for me is ability to make a peace with myself and be happy on the path to wherever I may travel to.  I feel that when I was younger I missed out on many precious moments of life, so I no longer want to rush to a destination – wherever or whatever that may be.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being content in oneself, having the mind filled with inner peace and having the good fortune to make my films.

Q: Final Thoughts?

For the past 17 years I have had the good fortune to have traveled and lived in various places in the world. Now, everywhere feels like home but nowhere feels like home. “Home” is a constant endless search for me – often I see myself trying to find it through or in my works, if that makes any sense.  This experience of Asian, European and American cultures has given me the desire to help tell multicultural stories and share the dichotomy in their philosophies so that each may understand the other.  I also like to tell stories about the power of courage and the importance of standing up for what one believes in.  

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