(Photo : Megabox Plus M ) "Wonderful Nightmare" captures the struggles of professional women, as they attempt to balance their careers with homemaking. Uhm Jung Hwa is Yeon Woo, a successful attorney, who mistakenly dies due to a clerical error in heaven. In an effort to fix the mistake, she is given an opportunity to live as a housewife, for one month. Song Seung Heon portrays her newfound husband, whom she struggles to connect with, as a lifelong bachelorette. KDramaStars sat down with director Kang Hyo Jin to discuss the on-screen chemistry of the popular Hallyu stars and his affinity for creating movies with strong female protagonists, during the New York Korean Film Festival.
(Photo : ) KDramaStars: The film incorporates a strong cast of comedic stars with brilliant child actors. What was the casting process for Wonderful Nightmare?
Kang Hyo Jin: With the casting process, Uhm Jung Hwa was the first actor to come on board, for a role. When we first made the offer she declined it. I went for a rewrite after she saw the rewritten screenplay, she accepted the role. As for the child actors, we went through an audition process to find the right cast members. Even then, we continued to struggle with finding the right actor to portray the factor. I approached Song Seung Heon and he accepted the role, which surprised me, at first.
KDramaStars: How did Uhm Jung Hwa and Song Seung Heon create their on-screen rapport? What was it like to work with two stars who are extremely well known within their own right- Uhm as a pop vocalist and actress, Song as Hallyu star for his K-Drama roles?
Kang Hyo Jin: Not just the rapport between them, but because we had child actors with them, I think that also helped build a natural rapport. Midway through filming the romantic scenes, because there was physical contact, that also helped them embody their characters, in a more natural way.
Theres an anecdote about the on-set filming. There was a kissing scene that was going to be a no-cut scene in the film. In the beginning of filming, Uhm Jung Hwa and Song Seung Heon were both concerned that they would not be able to film the scene because they were so awkward. In the end, they were very natural about [romantic scenes] and it wasnt awkward, at all.
Song Seung Heon and Uhm Jung Hwa had no mutual friends. It was their first time meeting and their first project, together. Its kind of weird, because both of their careers span a period of 20 years, but in that time, they had never met each other, through work. They were both really surprised about that.
KDramaStars: Your previous works like Punch Lady and Twilight Gangsters feature strong female protagonists, which is rare within Korean cinema. Do you feel that you are drawn to stories about powerful women? If so, why?
Kang Hyo Jin: I would say that youre right, in that Im interested in strong female characters, especially those who grow stronger through experience, whether it is through struggles or hardships. I know that there is the notion that women need to be protected, but I really like stories that talk about how women develop and grow, through these experiences. But the main reason why Im interested in these types of characters is due to my mother. She was a very strong woman, but at the same time, she was a very warm-hearted person. She passed away, but at the same time, she has been the main influence, in myself, to be drawn to these characters.
I also feel the reason I became a filmmaker is because of my mother. She was an absolute movie buff or cinephile. She was a huge fan of classic Hollywood films with stars like Caroll Baker. Even growing up, I would have these films around me, all the time. I owe my desire to become a filmmaker, to my mother.
KDramaStars: The Korea Times compared Wonderful Nightmare to Miracle in Cell No. 7, in that the film begins as a comedy, but ends on a sad, emotional note. What are your thoughts on the progression of the film and why is there a juxtaposition between the emotionality?
Kang Hyo Jin: I didnt write the original screenplay. I received it and then rewrote parts of it. The main reason I was drawn to the original screenplay was because there was a limited amount of time Jung Uhm Hwas character would spend with this family. I felt like that point would be a good factor in drawing a type of natural, heartfelt warmth, to add a touching element to the story. I guess it is a little similar to Miracle in Cell No. 7, in the structure.
KDramaStars: The film also offers a critique on gender dynamics and the accomplishments of empowered women through Yeon Woo, a character who is forced to endure the trials and tribulations of homemaking, when she was previously accustomed to her independent lifestyle as a lawyer. What was the feedback from the cast members and domestic audiences?
Kang Hyo Jin: Im not sure if youre aware of this, but I was one of the original creators of the film, My Wife is a Gangster. I feel that people unintentionally view me as a director of films that are female driven or female oriented. But it is very hard to gain investors with women in the leading role. When I was working on this project with Jung Uhm Hwa, we talked a lot about making the film into a good project, because the fate of Korean cinema and whether women would have lead roles, depends on how movies like this perform. If it flops or did not do well, to gain more support for women in film. We focused on making this into a good film.
In terms of audience feedback, we invited female journalists and female audiences to view the first screening of the film. At the time, there was some criticism from women that the message of the film was that they needed to get married in order to be happy. As we did a wider release throughout Korea, I think the views of audiences changed. They accepted the film as having a message of unconditional love through family bonds, rather than a commentary that women were meant to fill a specific role.
KDramaStars: What are your thoughts about the inclusion of Wonderful Nightmare in the New York Korean Film Festival? Can you share details about your next project?
Kang Hyo Jin:Its an honor to be invited to the New York Korean Film Festival. Its actually the first international film festival to invite my film, Wonderful Nightmare. Its also my first time in New York, so Im so excited to see my film screen in such a wonderful theater and museum. My next project is likely to be a thriller/action film with another leading female character. Its a pretty edgy and dangerous film. Im in the process of writing and also talking to the investors about the project.