Seoul-based and born director Shim Hye-jung is a unique voice in the world of cinema: she is a woman in a male-dominated industry; an independent filmmaker in a largely commercial circuit; and not to mention, a late bloomer as well. Her hurdles only empower her, however. With her first feature “A Bedsore,” Shim only capitalizes on marginalized identities. At the international premiere courtesy to the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF), Shim’s film articulates the subtle concerns of groups rarely represented in Korean cinema: illegal migrants and the elderly.
“In my shorts, the protagonists were all women,” Shim confesses during her group interview in London. She holds herself with confidence, carefully picking her words as she maintains her unfaltering gaze. “Even though the protagonist of [“A Bedsore”] is [an older man,] Kang Jang-sik, I’m interested in minor characters – characters who live on the margins – like the elderly, women, and migrant workers. I’m inspired by survivors: people who work hard to live a fulfilling life. I want to portray their strength. ”
Shim too seems to embody this, with a resounding voice and aura of self-assuredness. Her voice seems to reflect a sort of sadness too; a mature outlook after her own share of hardship. “In Korean society, we do not really talk about immigrant workers. Care-giving is such an intimate job; they are so deeply embedded within the home, and within society as well… [The marginalized] are not a sensational phenomenon. They’re a part of our daily lives.”
Her inspiration comes from a place not too far from home: the home itself. “There’s less social mobility nowadays,” she reflects. “People get stuck in one place, like a bedsore. When writing the script, I wanted to show this – to write about the relationships with others, their relationship with society.” She chuckles. “It was simultaneous – I wanted to make a story about the elderly and familial relationships, so a bedsore seemed to me to be a suitable symbol.”
When asked about her own status as a part of a minority, she doesn’t skip a beat. “I can’t speak for the entirety of the industry [since this is my first feature],” she begins. “But based on my own experiences and conversations with other independent filmmakers, Korean society doesn’t appreciate diversity as much as it should.” She gestures to own self. “There’s a lot of emphasis on age. Those who are old and have illustrious careers do quite well; their lives are celebrated. However, those [like myself] who have not started their careers when they were younger have a hard time.” She ponders again, and then states pensively, “It’s a score-based culture that leaves little room for other voices.”
Though Shim admits that theatrical release and assessed numbers are one gauge of film-making, she stresses that commercial value is not her priority. Instead, she is more bent on exposure: “I do think that meeting audiences is crucial. It’s easier to screen a feature film [than a short] in theaters. I think about this quite often – where I can show my films, and how I can show them as well.”
Beyond “A Bedsore,” Shim has started working on a new feature. She and her team has just bought the rights to adapt female author Ha Seong-nan’s “Flowers of Mold” – a collection of short stories that revolve around the eerily abnormal of city-dwellers’ day-to-day lives. For more information about Shim, you can catch a LKFF exclusive interview of her here.