“Azooma” is a term which denotes a married woman in the Korean language. Other than its dictionary definition, the term is loaded with disdain for a mature woman who is seen as “past her prime.”
Despite many positive aspects, Korea remains a harsh environment for many of its female members, especially those who re married or/and over the age of 30. One film that seeks to point out this obvious prejudice while celebrating the raw strength of motherhood is “Azooma” directed by producer-turned-director Lee Ji-seung.
The film has been garnering a great level of attention both in Korea and overseas, especially after its domestic release on April 18. TenAsia English met with the director and the lead of “Azooma.”
Q. You’ve won Best Actress at the 17th Busan International Film Festival [BIFF] and the 2013 Irvine International Film Festival. Your film “Azooma” also won Best Feature Film at the 2012 Costa Rica International Film Festival, the 2012 Nevada International Film Festival and the 2013 Beloit International Film Festival amongst others. How do you feel?
Jang: I’ve enjoyed some luxuries which I never enjoyed before thanks to “Azooma.” I like the awards because they cheer me up but I don’t really think about them too much.
Q. So, how did you feel when you received the trophy at the Busan International Film Festival last year? (laugh)
Jang: I was so happy. The role was a sudden proposal from director Lee Ji-seung. He said, “Young-nam, it’s like this. Let’s do this!” There are so many low-budget films but this is my first low-budget feature. I’ve always wanted to star in an independent film but it had never worked out before. And then director Lee offered “Azooma” to me and I thought this was the right time.
3. Tell us why you decided to do “Azooma.”
Jang: It sounds funny but I didn’t read the script in great detail. I just decided to do it the moment when Lee called me. If someone says, “you are the only one for this role,” that encourages an actor very much. It may not a big deal and it could be just something everyone says but it gives you confidence and courage. So that was what encouraged me the most. Also, I had never done a lead role before and I thought this role was the one where I can lead the story to the last minute. So, I answered the moment I received the call saying, “okay, I accept. I want it so much.” I got the call on the set of “A Werewolf Boy,” in the wood in Jang-heung, Jeollanam-do. I remember how I was crouching down when I answered the phone and how felt. It was lik a fire started in my heart.
4. So what was it like actually working with director Lee J-seung? (laugh)
Jang: To tell you the truth, I was busy doing my work to notice what he was doing. (laugh) Lee is undoubtedly gentle when he works with his actors. Although time was ticking, he made sure we weren’t behind schedule and everything went smoothly.
I wasn’t exhausted during the shoot, which is so amazing. I ran, fought and got beaten yet I was never exhausted. Sometimes we shot 15 to 20 scenes a day but we were okay. We met in the morning and kept shooting 20 scenes until midnight.
5. How was that possible? What inspired you to take in such hectic a schedule?
Jang: I think a spirit was helping the film. The outdoor location seemed like it was made especially for our film. It’s a place surrounded by barricades and areas are taped off, no one really lives there. It’s an empty site after all the dwellers moved out. It was like a special gift from a spirit helping us. I think that spirit eventually helped me win the trophy. Not sure if you are going to believe this, but it was my first lead role so I had nerves as if I was giving birth to my first child. It was painful but the thrill never made me tired. Sometimes you do almost nothing on a shoot but feel so worn out and can’t wait to go home. But I never got tired on the shoot for “Azooma”.
6. You portrayed a mother both in “A Werewolf Boy” and “Azooma.”
Jang: The mother in “A Werewolf Boy” a very ordinary and typical mother. She’s warm and humane. There is no big incident there but she just takes in a stranger and helps him. I wondered if I’m someone with such a big heart. The mother in “Azooma” was tough but the mother “A Werewolf Boy” didn’t have much to portray, no emotional explosions or an infernal situation, but everything flows on for her. It’s not an easy role to do unless yo have some real-life mother experience. For me, it has been only been a short time since my wedding and I don’t have a child. That was the biggest gap between that character and me. I think it was more difficult than the mother in “Azooma.”
7. Have you ever thought that it would have been easier to portray the mother in “Azooma” if you had a child?
Jang: No, it would have been harder if I had a child of my own. I don’t even want to imagine this kind of stuff happening to my child. If so, I would have rejected the offer of the role. When building a character, sometimes I bring in my real-life experience but other times I combine my imagination with other people’s experience to portray a world I haven’t experienced. It is only ‘if I were her,’ For example, if my character does something weird in a drama, it’s hard to accept it. It’s hard to memorize lines for the characters I don’t want to portray.
Reporter: Nemo Kim