Lee Chang-Geun, newcomer on the Korean movie stage, presented his first feature, “Romang” at the 21st Far East Film Festival. Asian Movie Pulse got to sit down with him for an interesting chat.

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The movie discusses a pretty specific and sad topic, which is quite challenging, especially for a first movie. What made you decide to work on that topic?

Initially, I wanted to make a film about family. Then, I thought about dementia as a topic, because Korea now has an aging population, so it’s a situation that will more likely happen to a lot of people. And I thought that this could also be a universal concept, not only in Korea but worldwide. I was interested to see how the family would deal with this social issue. That is what made me decide to make a film and to tell that story.

Family is at the center of the movie. In “Romang”, the older generation is still very traditional in their understanding of family (wanting to be a good wife and wanting to earn money to take care of your family). Then you have the next generation that is less traditional, for example they don’t look after their parents as much as it could be expected. Was the idea to reflect on a social transition in the understanding of family?

On the one hand, the father and mother generation are the happiest when they are together and they are happy to have each other. On the other hand, the younger generation is more likely to be independent. Even though they really want to live together with their parents, it is practically very hard for them. My film reflects on both phenomena. In the movie, the old couple wants to live together with their son, but practically, it is better to go to a nursing home. And I wanted to reflect on these issues.

What does the title of the movie, “Romang,” mean to you?

What I wanted to say with the title is that the movie talks about romance. The old couple’s relationship on screen shows the romance they are living at the present time, but it also speaks about their untold feelings, the emotions they have but haven’t said yet. In that sense, the movie is also linked to regrets, redemption, and even confessions they never made. Romance is not just the love between them at the moment, but also throughout their entire lives, what they experienced living together.

On another note, “Romang” also sounds a bit like dementia in Korean, so it’s almost a word play.

The movie shows an attempted suicide of the grandmother. Depression and suicide amongst older generation is a social issue that is not often being discussed. How did you decide to include this scene in the movie?

It’s a fact that if the wife dies, there is a tendency from the husband to follow soon after. Which is what I wanted to show in the movie. If the grandma died, the husband would have followed soon after.

What would you say to people having a parent suffering from dementia?

This film doesn’t give a solution to tell you how to treat people with dementia, but the idea is to give some thoughts and ask, as a family, how to do it. It’s trying to understand people living with dementia. That is why I started this film. Practically, even though the main characters love each other, it is really hard to live together, and I wanted to reflect that phenomenon. What I also wanted to show is that everyone has regrets. What I wanted to say with that movie was that we should cherish our lives, and try to reduce regrets as much as possible.

On a more practical side, how long did you work on the script? Did you make a lot of research on it?

It took me two years to complete the scenario, including six months of research. I tried to find as many sources as possible. Personally, my aunt on the maternal side suffers from dementia, it has been 20 years. She thinks she is 72 when she is actually 92, so I also got inspired from my personal life.

How did you get the producers and actors on board?

The topic is very serious so it added to the difficulty to get funds. But the production company was very determined to support me and they never gave up on me.

Regarding the actors, they were on board pretty easily, as they found the topic very interesting. They prepared thoroughly for the role, both with me and independently. We discussed the characters during the whole process. They also did their own make-up and hair-styles by themselves. They were very dedicated and passionate.

How was the shooting?

The experience on set was actually really nice. It’s a low-budget film so everything was tight: schedule, budget. We also shot during the hottest summer Korea had known in 110 years. But in spite of those challenges, the crew was very encouraging. They were very passionate and kept on showing that they were okay. Lee Soon-Jae (NB: the actor playing Nam-Bong, the main male character) got injured while shooting. Everyone was worried and concerned. But despite his injury, he said it wasn’t a big deal and he kept going. He was really a role-model for the team.

What is your next project?

My next project will focus on the father-son relationship. I don’t have any genres in mind yet. I am also working on a script talking about stem cells and mutation, and focusing on the human side to it.