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[New on the Scene] Director Kim Tae-joon proves that hard work does pay off

By Kim Da-sol

Published : April 10, 2023 - 16:58

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Director Kim Tae-joon (Netflix) Director Kim Tae-joon (Netflix)

Director Kim Tae-joon had dreamed of becoming a filmmaker since when he was in high school. After graduating from university in a non film-related major, he went straight into the film industry, working on shooting locations without any pay.

The 39-year-old filmmaker’s debut film, “Unlocked,” a mystery thriller based on Higa Akira's award-winning Japanese novel of the same title, tells the story of Na-mi (Chun Woo-hee) and how her life is threatened by Jun-young (Yim Si-wan) after she loses her smartphone containing all of her personal information.

Immediately after its release on Netflix on Feb. 17, the film topped the movie chart in 18 countries and ranked No. 2 on the global movie chart on Netflix.

“It honestly does not feel real. I really didn’t know this would happen, but at the same time, I appreciate the entire audience because my goal has been to reach as many people as possible through my work,” director Kim told The Korea Herald on Feb. 23.

“Because I have kept myself isolated for many years to concentrate on filmmaking, I have received so many phone calls from my friends. I’m sure that they also felt relieved (to see my film gaining popularity),” he added.

His debut film had to be a thriller for several reasons. An executive director at the production firm he knows introduced Kim to licensed Japanese content. More importantly, perhaps his favorite film, “Memento,” (2000) inspired him to make this film.

“I had a chance to make a thriller movie years ago featuring actor Cho Yeo-jeong, but the project got canceled due to investment issues. Just a week before shooting, the whole project went back to square one. I felt like I had lost the whole world,” Kim said.

“Unlocked” (Netflix) “Unlocked” (Netflix)

Based on his personal preference for a thriller movie as well as the support of people around him, he was confident in his ability to create suspense in “Unlocked” without showing grotesque scenes or using too much blood.

“Since there is an original, I thought that I would keep the overall plot. But since it’s storytelling on the screen, not in a book, I felt that I needed a different approach. So I did some localization,” he said, adding that he spent nearly two years rewriting the screenplay.

“I just had one thing on my mind. Because I’m a rookie director with zero experience, all I need is to put in all my effort,” he said, adding that he came up with the idea of a detailed storyboard.

During the press conference of “Unlocked,” actor Kim Hee-won who stars as a detective in “Unlocked” told reporters that he had “never seen this thick a book of storyboard scenes.” Almost all the scenes in the film were drawn by professionals who created the storyboard based on what director Kim had written or said.

Making his directorial debut with the world’s largest streaming service was significant, director Kim said.

“I’m so glad that I can show my work to many different viewers around the world via Netflix. It was also my wish to work with Netflix, so it means a lot to me.”

“My goal, as a person who has just started, is to create work that is better than the previous one. I plan to work on a non-thriller movie so I want to keep moving on,” Kim said, adding that he wishes to work with a variety of veteran actors such as Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Byeong-heon and Yeom Ae-ran, who recently starred in Netflix series “The Glory.”

The following article is the second in a series that introduces Korea’s new and emerging actors and directors. -- Ed.