Reel Asian Interview: Oh In Chun (Mourning Grave)

Director Oh In Chun at Luckee restaurant after the interview
Director Oh In Chun at Luckee restaurant after the interview

We were lucky to sit down with Oh In Chun (오인천), director of the Korean film, Mourning Grave (소녀괴담), before the screening of his film at the 18th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Mourning Grave is a sweet romantic horror with just enough scares and twists to keep you on your toes – read our review of it here.

But since we wanted to know – and we know you do as well – more about the filmmaker and his first film, we asked director Oh In Chun a few questions. Here’s what he had to say.

The Interview (translated)

How did you start as a film director and what made you get into filmmaking?

From an early age I used to love watching films and it became natural to consider filmmaking as an occupation. After high school, I used to work jobs that were completely different from filmmaking. Then, back in 2007, I decided to pursue filmmaking at the Korea National University of Art. I graduated in 2011 with a filmmaking degree. But it all started with a love of films as a kid.

You’ve made some shorts before but Mourning Grave is your first feature film, what were some of the challenges or difficulties you faced?

With short films, it’s primarily driven by the director and what he wants to make out of it. But with feature films, there are a lot of stakeholders that are involved in the production – producers, the director, investors, and marketers. You have to get all of those agendas aligned versus with the short film, you can basically do what you want as the director.

What is your favourite part of the film? Did you have a favourite scene, character, line, or moment during filming?

What I enjoyed the most was seeing the scenes that I dreamed of come alive, that’s when I got the most kick out of making the film. And when I found that beautiful, delicate balance between the horror and the romance and humour; that’s when I got a lot of satisfaction because it’s not as easy to balance them and incorporate them together in the film.

Why you choose to make a romantic horror film as your first feature film?

I realized that the traditional horror films haven’t been as popular with the audience, they hadn’t found that click with them. I wanted to find a film that could reach out to a greater audience with the romance and other elements that were incorporated. That’s how I came to choose that kind of hybrid genre.

And to follow that up – do you see Mourning Grave as more of a romantic drama, more of a horror, or a balance of both genres?

The movie is a romantic drama with the horror elements added to it. I guess that would be how to describe the genre of the film.

That’s actually how I described it to my friends, my female friends, to get them to come see it.

Oh, thank you. You actually got the message of my film correctly, exactly what I wanted to show with my film.

Back in Korea, there was a hit and miss with the marketing strategy because when the poster was first created, the ‘Mask’ ghost was on it and they approached it as a really scary film. But that was a miss because that wasn’t what I intended, it was more what you were thinking, a melodrama romance with hints of horror. I’m glad that you were able to catch that because marketing didn’t at the beginning.

What happened, unfortunately, when audiences saw the posters with the ‘Mask’ ghost they were thinking of more of the Japanese style of scary horror films and when they came and watched, they were disappointed because it’s not that style or genre of Mourning Grave.

The Q&A session after the screening of Mourning Grave at Reel Asian
The Q&A session after the screening of Mourning Grave at Reel Asian

That actually answers my next question – what were you trying to portray in Mourning Grave? But compared to traditional horror films, Mourning Grave is very character-driven because of the romance element to it. How did you want the audience to react to In Su and Sae hee (in the good ghost persona)?

With a film, there’s a finite amount of time to develop the characters.  At the beginning when In Su first saw Sae Hee, he was a little scared because she was a ghost and he kind of shied away from her. But In Su and Sae Hee became good friends again because of one of the reasons In Su returned to his hometown. He wanted to go back and see A Young and see how her parents were doing with what happened. I portrayed them becoming closer through how they shared their sorrow at seeing A Young’s parents again. Sae Hee was there every step of the way, seeing him overcoming his guilt at not coming forward early enough when he spotted the bad guy as a child. Sharing those sentiments together, those feelings and hard times, going through it together, that’s how they developed their bond together and how I developed their characters.

In the final scene of Mourning Grave, it kind of leaves it open to a sequel. Are you planning one?

No. I didn’t have that in mind.

What I wanted to foreshadow wasn’t that a second film was coming but that In Su was still afraid of ghosts. And also, even though what happened with the other killings and the ‘Mask’ ghost was wrapped up, it wasn’t the end. Years later when he went back, the school bullying was still happening and that’s where the final ghost came from, that it hadn’t stopped.

People often say that music is a universal language. Do you think film also has that power? Do you think international audiences will react the same way that audiences in Korea did to your film?

Like music, films are something that people can react to in a similar way, regardless of the language they speak. And also, mass bullying in schools is a big social problem in Korea, maybe not so much here or elsewhere but the other aspects of it – seeing a problem and not doing anything about it – are universal. If you see a problem and even if you’re not the one causing it but you shy away from it and don’t do anything about to fix it, that happens everywhere, whether it’s mass bullying or something else in society. So people anywhere, in whatever culture or language you are operating in, people should be able to relate to it. If we look away from ugly truths, it could lead to bigger problems. That sort of message should resonate with people of different cultures and languages.

Even though the medium that the messages get tossed around in might be different, the message itself should come through and not get lost in translation.

Image courtesy of Reel Asian
Image courtesy of Reel Asian

We asked our readers for questions and picked two to ask. Here they are:

How much of the work, percentage-wise, is done in production/filming as opposed to post-production/editing?

50/50. Post-production and all the editing work that goes in, music for example, sometimes helps to create or set a different tone so you are almost making a film by editing. Shooting is one way of filming and editing adds that extra flavour that the movie requires so it’s sort of an even balance.

One of the important things of post-production work is that for example with music, you can sort of balance out different elements of the film – romance, horror and humour. Different elements can be mixed together with music. It can be a little confusing with all the different genres but when you put the right music in the post-production stage, it ties all the different elements together in the way I intended. That’s why it’s so important to do good post-production work.

And I also want to add that the music director in Mourning Grave is Canadian.

Who is your favorite filmmaker and why?

David Cronenberg, George A. Romaro (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead), Brian De Palma (Scarface, Carrie), Sam Raimi (Evil Dead series) and other horror and action directors. Also Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and Rob Zombie (from the band White Zombie, director of Halloween II, House of 1000 Corpses).

I’m really honoured to be in Canada with my film because one of my favourite directors, David Cronenberg is Canadian. Also George A. Romaro sent an autograph that said “stay scared” through a friend and it had a big impression on me.

And our last question…

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m reviewing a lot of projects that have been suggested to me. The one that I’m looking at seriously is a slasher film, like Friday the 13th. Really bloody.

There’s a high probability that I’ll start working on one of this type of genre films, I’m just working on getting the schedules in order.

Do you have a website or social media account so fans can stay up-to-date on your films?

Only Facebook, not Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest. Unfortunately, my website in only in Korean.

Huge thanks to director Oh In Chun for taking the time to sit down with us and answering all of our questions. Thanks also to SJ for her great translations. Any mistakes in the interview are mine.

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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