Director's Intention

Director’s Intention (2021)

Director’s Intention, transcript of introduction to a screening at the London Korean Film Festival 2022

“Your name goes on top of the ending credit, but it doesn’t mean it’s all yours. All the others care about the movie as much as you do.” This is what, some way into Kim Min-geun’s feature Director’s Intention, the Busan-based location manager Sun-hwa (Han Sun-hwa) will tell Do-young (Lee Wan), a writer/director who has briefly returned from Seoul to be shown potential locations for his latest film. Importantly Do-young is also Sun-hwa’s ex-boyfriend as, some years ago, he left to pursue his filmmaking career in Seoul, and she stayed in Busan rather than follow him.

Sun-hwa’s words to Do-young are programmatic. For not only is this a metacinematic film about films and filmmaking, and about the real places and real feelings which feed into an audiovisual work of fiction, but it is also highlighting the crucial rôle played by those members of a film’s crew who are typically marginalised or overlooked when it comes to discussing and appraising the finished product, but who all contribute in ways that make the film their own as well as the director’s. 

Kim Cho-hee’s Lucky Chan-sil (2019) focused on an indie producer – indeed there are a lot of films about producers. The Coen brothersBarton Fink (1991), Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear (2020) and David Fincher’s Mank (2020) focused on screenwriters – and again, there are quite a lot of films about screenwriters. Jordan Peele’s Nope (2022) prominently featured not just a cinematographer and his work, but also, somewhat more obscurely, a family of animal wranglers. Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981), Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and Ann Oren’s Piaffe (2022) focused on foley artists and sound engineers. Director’s Intention zooms in on the work of a location scout, and I think it might be the only film to do so, apart from Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s 36 (2012). 

“Do you know how important location is in the movie?”, Sun-hwa asks. As she takes Do-young and his small crew to different sites in Busan that she believes will match the director’s intentions for his film’s many moods, location will indeed come to the fore – not only the locations that she is recommending for Do-young’s production, and to which he, at least at first, seems indifferent, but also the places through which director and location manager travel together as they slowly open up about their resentments and regrets, and the love that, maybe just maybe, persists between them, triggered by all their old haunts. This is, for both of them, a difficult trip down memory lane, in which they are reassessing their relationship, both professional and personal, even as the film that Do-young is making appears to be a partly autobiographical dramatisation of lost love and so mirrors the very film that we are watching. 

Adding to all this reflexivity is the old repertoire theatre where, many years ago, Sun-hwa and Do-young watched a film together on their first date. We see the establishment, operating if near empty, in flashbacks, but now the theatre has closed and been demolished, and is, not unlike their relationship, in ruins – even if the building site that has replaced it holds out promise that cinema and its lovers may not quite be dead yet, but may just be under reconstruction. 

So as you might expect, place plays an important part in Director’s Intention. For the film itself showcases precisely the sort of locations that Sun-hwa makes it her work to scout: beautiful, non-touristic sites that might normally be overlooked, but that are evocatively invested with accumulated associations and emotions. The pretty autumnal colours here convey a mood of melancholy, but in this sophisticated second-chance romance, no matter whether these two characters will or will not get back together in the end, their brief professional collaboration, and the bittersweet mixture of ruefulness and hope that it conjures, are built to be immortalised on film.

strap: Kim Min-geun’s post-romantic metacinematic making-of movie follows a location scout and her ex-boyfriend director down memory lane

Writer/director Do-young (Lee Wan) and location scout Sun-hwa (Han Sun-hwa)

My programme note: Busan-based location scout Sun-hwa (Han Sun-hwa) believes that a location should be invested with feelings to express the director’s intention – which gets personal when she has to work at the last minute with director Do-young (Lee Wan), the ex-boyfriend who some time ago left town (and her) to work in Seoul, and is now back for a trip down memory lane, and possibly to rekindle old love. Sung-hwa has a repertoire of resonant locations that she thinks will suit Do-young’s film, but is there still a place for her in his heart?

Like Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s 36 (2012), Kim Min-geun’s sophisticated second-chance romance foregrounds the contribution of a location scout’s work to a film. Agreeably self-reflexive and unusually understated in its melodrama, this locates nostalgia, situation and memory at the centre of cinema, and inevitably comes with a strong sense of place.

© Anton Bitel