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[New on the scene] ‘Dolphin’ director Bae Du-ri’s work has roots in her own experiences

By Kim Da-sol

Published : March 12, 2024 - 15:07

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Director Bae Du-ri (Mano Entertainment) Director Bae Du-ri (Mano Entertainment)

Director Bae Du-ri came up with the original idea for her feature debut film “Dolphin” back in 2018.

The movie centers on Na-young (Kwon Yu-ri), a 35-year-old woman in a seaside town whose only joy is caring for her mother and younger brother. After a troubled childhood, she is now settled into a calmer life, working as a journalist at a local newspaper. When her mother decides to sell the house and her brother insists on moving to Seoul, Na-young, struggling to accept these changes, discovers solace at a bowling alley.

Both written and directed by Bae as a school project at the Korean Academy of Film Arts, the film will be released in local theaters on Wednesday. The movie premiered at last year's Jeonju International Film Festival.

“I procrastinated with this storyline for so long. Then, as I became more interested in my hobby, bowling, I decided to incorporate that element ... and the pure joy of bowling into the plot,” Bae told The Korea Herald in an interview in Seoul on March 7.

The title of the movie does not refer to the aquatic mammal. It is a bowling term used when a ball veers off the lane into the gutter but bounces off and back into place at the very end -- just like a dolphin jumping out of the sea -- and knocks down the bowling pins. These are not counted as points, however.

“It’s not an official word. I have experienced the same situation and a person next to me told me that it’s called a ‘dolphin.’ That moment inspired me to write a woman’s story that includes an unexpected little miracle, just like a ‘dolphin,’” Bae said.

“Dolphin” (Mano Ent.) “Dolphin” (Mano Ent.)

For Bae, the coming-of-age film is about personal growth, but also about topics that people often avoid discussing -- a blended family, outsiders living in small towns and the diminishing population of young adults in rural areas.

“I’ve always wanted to tell a story based on what’s inside me. This setting (in a small seaside town) gave me many things to think about, especially because as a person who is afraid of change, just like Na-young, the story was based on my personal experience,” Bae said.

“But (when I started) bowling, just like Na-young did, I was able to overcome hardships and difficult moments,” she added.

Right after graduating from school, Bae spent nine years experiencing the “outside world.” Now, that time has become something indispensable for Bae.

“I wrote stories, worked at a company, traveled abroad and became interested in the outside world. The more I ventured into a new environment, the more I could openly think about my work and also get a lot of motivation and inspiration (as a filmmaker),” Bae said.

“Because ‘Dolphin’ is my debut work, it contains many of my feelings and personal experiences. For my upcoming projects, it may be a bit different, but I’m sure that those works will continue to have roots in my emotions and what’s inside me at that moment,” she added.

The following article is the 16th in a series that introduces Korea’s new and emerging actors and directors. -- Ed.