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[Herald Interview] Lee Chun-hee: Mutant movie shows hardships of being ordinary

Actor says ‘Collective Invention’ is opportunity to reexamine social boundaries of normalcy

“Collective Invention” is a movie about a fish man -- or more accurately, a man who turns half-fish after an experimental drug wreaks havoc on his body. 

Inspired by the eponymous painting by Belgian painter Rene Magritte and directed by Kwon Oh-kwang, who became the first Korean screenwriter to win the short film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 with “Safe,” the film is just as bizarre as it sounds.

“When I was first handed the script, they told me, ‘It’s a story about a fish man.’ And I thought, ‘What is this movie? Who wrote this thing?’” Lee Chun-hee, who plays the hapless reporter Sang-won in the film, said at an interview at a Seoul restaurant. The movie is narrated by Sang-won, who follows Park Gu (Lee Kwang-soo) around and tries to record his story.

Lee Chun-hee (Management Soop)
Lee Chun-hee (Management Soop)

“I expected it to be about this fish man causing chaos, but it wasn’t. It was surprising,” he said. 

Despite the film’s strange premise, Lee said that it was less about the adventure and more about the ways in which society turns us all into mutants.

“Gu and Sang-won were both normal people. They’re both repressed, and can never really express their anger. The film shows how the two of them mutate in different ways.” 

Lee’s character Sang-won is the typical underdog depicted in today’s Korean films -- young, college-educated but from a second-rate university, with no connections to help him find a job. He is employed as a reporter by a broadcaster on a trial basis while the journalists are on strike.

“Sang-won’s situation is important, but it’s true that he’s a scab that betrays the reporters who are on strike,” he said, saying this is how society turned Sang-won into a “social mutant.” Similarly, throughout the film all of the characters surrounding Gu begin to use his fame and notoriety for their own gains, making them mutants. 

“In the end, I felt like the message of the film was that Gu was the only one who wasn’t a mutant,” he said.

“I hope the movie will be thought of as a youthful movie, a movie that is able to discuss today’s society through the character of a weird fish man.”

“Collective Invention” opened on Oct. 22.

By Won Ho-jung (