Interview: Director Park Heung-sik of ‘Love, Lies’ at Closing Night Film of Asian Pop-Up Cinema

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CHICAGO – The Fourth Season of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema series comes to a rousing conclusion with the Closing Night film – “Love, Lies” – from South Korean director Park Heung-Sik. The screening will take place on Wednesday, May 3rd, 1017, at the AMC River East Theatre in downtown Chicago. Director Park Heung-sik will attend the screening, and participate in a Q&A afterwards. For complete details and to purchase tickets, click here.

“Love, Lies” is set in 1940s Korea, at the end of the Japanese occupation of the country. Two women live in a “gwonbeon,” which is a Korean institution that trains girls in the arts as “kisaeng,” geisha-like performers for the ruling class – and in the case of Jun So-Yul (Han Hyo-joo) and Seo Yeon-hee (Chun Woo-hee), they are singers. In training, they were immersed in traditional old country Korean songs, but a new pop music movement is emerging, led by composer Kim Yoon-woo (Yoo Yeon-seok), and Seo Yeon-hee has a natural voice for the latest craze. Although Kim Yoon-woo has promised himself in marriage to Jun So-yul, the charm of Seo Yeon’s singing is too much for him to stay faithful. The jealousy and need for revenge that this situation causes will affect all their lives.

Park Heung-sik Directs a Scene in ‘Love, Lies’
Photo credit:

The Asian Pop-Up Cinema series – founded by Chicago film program veteran Sophia Wong Boccio – is a revolving showcase of diverse Asian films, with China, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Tibet and Vietnam all represented in the 2017 Spring Season, in films with English subtitles. Screenings occur at the AMC River East 21 in downtown Chicago, the Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette, Illinois, and various locations (including free screenings). The series will return for its Fifth Season in the Fall of 2017.

Director Park Heung-sik is a veteran South Korean director, and “Love, Lies” is his sixth feature film. spoke to the filmmaker – through an interpreter – on the eve of the Asian Pop-up Cinema screening, and what seems like a romance film is actually about the passion for music. What is the origin of the film. Was the script written and presented to you, or did you help to develop it?

Park Heung-sik: There was a production company that produced the script, and thought it would work for my style of directing. Since all my previous films were written by me, I did meet with the screenwriter of this film and rewrote certain parts of it. This is a historic drama with roots in the 19th Century royal Korea. What fascinated you about the kisaeng training?

Heung-sik: It was about the transition, at the time the film is set during the 1940s, from the traditional Korean music that the girls first learned to the new sound in pop music. The kisaeng training is where music producers found these pop stars, because they were already trained. Why was it ideal to set a romance within that situation?

Heung-sik: The composer and singer dynamic is often one where the two can fall in love, and the love triangle that comes out of that creates a lot of the drama in the film. Jealousy is the powerful emotion that drives the story. It is in both the love triangle and the women’s rivalry in singing – which is the main jealousy – that fuels the competition between the two. More than just the love triangle, it is the talent that the two main woman characters possess that motivates the jealousy. This is essentially a story of two women. What do you think you understand about women better now that you have done this film?

Heung-sik: I was given this script from the production company because of my reputation for women-focused stories in my previous films, and the outlook I’ve given the woman characters in those stories. I respect and admire women because of my mother, who influenced me through her life and morality. One of my films, ‘My Mother the Mermaid,’ is dedicated to all the mothers of the world. The music was very important to this story, and you were very precise in recreating it. What was most fun about reliving that era of performance and song?

Heung-sik: Probably the most fun I had was listening to that era of music. It was over 70 years ago, but this was the origins of Korean pop music. It had a diverse range, from jazz to pop, and that’s what interested me the most. The singer that the two rivals admire in the film [Kim Ok-hyang] was real, so popular that her daughters formed a group called ‘The Kim Sisters.’ The mix of new-to-original songs of the time was 50/50, and the final song – ‘Love, Lies’ – was actually a traditional song modernized for the film. Since this was the first script you ever filmed that wasn’t primarily written by you, was it easier or more difficult to work with material from another source?

Director Park Heung-sik of ‘Love, Lies’
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Heung-sik: Mainly the difference was the romance… my focus was on the rivalry in the music, and I probably would have not had the love triangle. I was interested in the Mozart versus the Mozart, two very talented singers in two different styles of music. Of course, they don’t realize this talent until it’s lost to them, and only then do they appreciate it. But also in order to sell a film in Korea, it needed the romance and the love triangle. It can be argued that from 1897 to the present day, that Korea has gone through some of the most bitter transitions of any country in the world. What do you think lies inside the culture of a Korean citizen that helped to create this chaos?

Heung-sik: The main characters are born within the occupation of Japan, and that mix during those 40 years essentially stripped the culture of Korea from the country. And this caused a confusion for them, with So-yul not finding a sense of herself until the end. The overall culture didn’t know where they stood because of the Japanese occupation and other cultural influences, and it wasn’t until the two modern Koreas emerged that a new cultural identity took place. What do the South Korean people feel for the North Korean people? What do you think separates the two peoples the most, and what do you think brings them together?

Heung-sik: The feeling between the two countries is generational. People over 60 years old in South Korea still carry the hatred that lingers from the war, they just don’t want any relationship with North Korea. Younger than that, people in their 40s on down, believe we should become one country again, because we are the same nationality and we speak the same language. It’s only right that we become one country again, and that’s what I hope for… we need to come together to share our history and culture, and then what can be created can be extended for both countries and cultures.

The Closing Night film presentation for Season Four of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema series is “Love, Lies,” screening on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017 (7pm), at AMC River East 21, 322 East Illinois Street, Chicago. Director Park Heung-sik will make an appearance on behalf of the film. For more general information on the Asian Pop-Up Cinema series click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

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© 2017 Patrick McDonald,

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