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Director Yoon thriving in dream job

Debut film ‘Heartbeat’ draws more than 1 million

Film director Yoon Jae-geun has done a lot in the last 10 years.

He studied art, made TV commercials for ramen and department stores, traveled across Europe, learned how to make films overseas, wrote movie scripts, and never gave up on becoming what he is today.

“I watched ‘Star Wars’ when I was in fifth grade,” the 44-year-old director told The Korea Herald.

“Ever since, I’ve always wanted to make something like that.”

He has finally done it ― and successfully at that.

Both written and directed by Yoon, his debut film “Heartbeat” had attracted more than 1 million viewers by Monday. Just over two weeks after its release on Jan. 5, it was the first film this year to draw that many viewers.

Starring Kim Yoon-jin and Park Hae-il, “Heartbeat” tells the story of two people from different social classes fighting over one pounding heart ― to save what matters to them the most.
Director Yoon Jae-geun says his debut film, “Heartbeat,” is not simply a tearjerker. (Lee Sang-sub/ The Korea Herald)
Director Yoon Jae-geun says his debut film, “Heartbeat,” is not simply a tearjerker. (Lee Sang-sub/ The Korea Herald)

The film’s major conflict begins as Yeon-hee (Kim Yoon-jin), a well-off single mother whose daughter is suffering from a fatal heart disease, finds a brain-dead female patient at the hospital.

As the only way to save her daughter’s life is with a heart transplant, she offers Hui-do (Park Hae-il), the woman’s unemployed gangster son, a large sum of money to give up his mother’s life for her child. As her daughter’s condition worsens, Yeon-hee becomes increasingly irrational, losing her moral judgment and sensitivity to others’ needs.

Such an extreme setting, Yoon said, reflects his bitter experiences of the last 10 years. He portrays the “selfish desires” he saw clashing against one another in his movie characters.

“I’ve heard so many people saying, ‘you won’t be able to succeed by being nice,’ and that one has to win against someone in order to be happy,” Yoon said. “I wanted to see if that was true or not.”

Yoon, who majored in industrial design at Hanyang University, worked as a TV commercial director for about five years after graduating.

“I really hated the job and there was nothing rewarding about it,” said Yoon.

“I quit after working for about five years because I thought I wouldn’t be able to make the films that I wanted to make if I stayed in that field.”

So Yoon took off to Europe and traveled for more than a year. Then he moved to Vancouver, Canada, where he studied film at Vancouver Film School. He returned to Seoul a year later.

Yoon first broke into the film industry as an assistant screenwriter for 2001 film “The Present,” a tragic romance starring actress Lee Young-ae.

Since then, he has written scripts for various films, including “Springtime” (2004) and “Hello Schoolgirl” (2008).

Though he did not particularly enjoy any of his previous jobs, Yoon said all his past experiences help in film-making.

“I learned what it is like to be in the filming scene while making TV commercials. As a screenwriter I learned to be more receptive to other people’s opinions.”

And art school graduate Yoon put a lot of effort into the characters costumes in “Heartbeat.”

“I thought ‘Heartbeat’ was more of a character-based film rather than a visual one,” Yoon said.

“So I tried not to make the piece too aesthetically stimulating. As a result, the only element in the film where I could use my artistic ability was the character’s clothes.”

In the movie, Kim Yoon-jin wears subtle toned expensive-looking outfits, while Park Hae-il appears in colorful sporty clothes. “The color contrast was to symbolize their class differences,” he said.

Yoon said he does not what his film to be simply considered as a tearjerker with a happy ending. “I want the movie to trigger debates and talks,” he said.

“There are a lot of cultural and social problems (between classes) that I’ve embedded in this movie. I feel like these elements are not being recognized as the basic plot of the movie is too dramatic.”

He has put many thoughts into his characters, especially in ways to symbolize the social classes they belong to.

“I made Yeon-hee into a Christian woman who owns and manages an English language kindergarten,” he said.

“It was a conscious decision. I think there are a few key words that explain a certain class of people: English education, church, Gangnam, etc.”

Being a newly-debuted director, Yoon confessed he is not used to receiving reviews.

“When I’m making a movie, I just do whatever I want,” he said. “But once it’s out there after being released, the third party gets involved and sometimes gets critical of my work. That’s the hardest part. I do get sensitive and I get hurt.”

Yoon said he would like to make his next film a visually oriented piece.

“I’ve studied art and it is in my DNA,” he said. “I want my next piece to be extremely cinematic and visually pleasing, rather than character-driven like ‘Heartbeat.’”

So what is it like being what he’s always wanted to be?

“Sometimes it’s even better than I’d thought it would be, while it can be also disappointing at times,” he said.

“But of course I like it. I’ve always, always liked films.”

By Claire Lee (