Recently I met up with filmmaker Eui Yong Zong to talk about his filmmaking and his new short, SUN which screened at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Reel Asian) earlier this month as a part of their Hungry Heart showcase. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
[Editor’s note: I actually know Eui Yong so the interview was a little less formal than most and more fun because of that.]
Hi there, can you pretend we don’t know each other for a moment and introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Eui Yong Zong and I’m a filmmaker based in Toronto. I’m currently finishing my MFA degree at York University, I’m almost done.
Can you tell us a little about the short film you have screening at Reel Asian?
It originally came from a school project; it was just a part of a short narrative fiction class. The premise of the whole, I just needed to make a film in a short period of time. I always had a story in mind about this person who was living at the mercy of an owner, a person who might be an illegal immigrant or you don’t really know the story behind the main character’s life but it could be an illegal immigrant who’s just trying to make a living and is staying at this hair shop. Yeah, that’s kind of the genesis of the story.
The idea just came from when I was at the hair salon, the one that I used to go to and they always had this assistant who didn’t seem to know how to speak English and just felt really socially awkward to me and I just had a feeling that the owner might be helping her out with her life. But she didn’t seem to be in that profession to learn but just to be there, just to help her out. SUN just came from my real life observation, it just happened.
Why did you decide to become a filmmaker, what drew you to filmmaking?
I always had an interest from my childhood but I never really thought of becoming one. When I was in university, I studied something totally different, I studied Middle Eastern Politics and I was actually studying and working, I was doing an exchange program in the Middle East and I stumbled upon a documentary job, like a contract job for three months. Then I kind of fell for it, I really liked the job I had and after I came back I didn’t do filmmaking full-time, I had a regular job after graduation but I always had filmmaking gigs on a part-time basis. So I had a little gig here and there, got some experience and I made a short film which played at Reel Asian. It kind of helped my confidence little by little and then I decided to go back to school for it. So yeah, I didn’t really have a full story behind it but I kind of stumbled upon an opportunity and kept working at it.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen a few of your other shorts and you’ve made mostly documentaries. SUN is a fictional short. It’s your first full fictional story isn’t it?
You saw my last short, the one I made about refugees.
That was kind of a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, I guess that was my first attempt but it still had a lot of documentary influences and documentary aspects. In that sense I did get a little taste of fiction filmmaking but this is my first straight-forward fiction storytelling.
Were there any challenges in making a fictional short over a documentary?
Both are challenging in its own way, it’s like a different muscle almost, both have their own obstacles and challenges. For me, because in my previous works I based my narrative and storytelling on real life events and real life characters, finding the characters and ideas were hard but once I had them, the emotions were already there in the characters. So as long as I navigated their stories, the emotional aspect, the emotional drama part of the narrative was already there and given so it wasn’t that hard.
But for this short, I had to kind of construct the drama so I think that was tricky and hard, the hardest part for me.
Your shorts have won several awards and have been screened at various film festivals. How has that shaped your filmmaking?
It didn’t affect my filmmaking particularly, I don’t think that part of my journey affected my filmmaking but even after I got into this, there were a lot of times I kind of questioned my decision. But every time I won an award, I wouldn’t say it’s a confirmation but it’s a nice encouragement. So I think, in that sense, it did help me pursue my next project. But in terms of the actual filmmaking process, I don’t think it’s played a big role so far. It’s always good for my motivation though.
Let’s talk a little more about SUN, your short which is screening at Reel Asian So when I watched SUN, it seemed like such a sad film and while the main character doesn’t say much, her body language and expressions spoke for her. How did you cast the film?
The main character, Sun, I actually casted her through a casting agency. Initially it was a little bit tricky because there aren’t many Korean speaking or Asian, she didn’t need to speak Korean really, but Asian-Canadian actors. I actually wanted the main character to be a little bit older than she is in the film but it was slightly tricky but luckily I found Annie, that’s her name, through the casting agency. I was really lucky to find her because she was natural, she only had two or three roles prior to this so she didn’t have extensive training in acting but she was very natural. She has this presence in her that I really liked. That’s how I found her.
The hair washing scene was very intimate, more so than one might expect from something so common. What were you trying to portray in that scene?
Like you just mentioned, it could be a very trivial, everyday moment that for a lot of people means nothing. Especially for the man and the people around her, it’s just a very normal activity, it’s not a very significant moment for anyone. But I think knowing, given the situation and the revelation that took place prior to that moment, I think for Sun, it was a very sad and important moment because it’s the last moment she can spend time with a man that she’s secretly in love with. Knowing that this is the last time that she can have that interaction with him, I think that just adds to the heaviness.
That’s kind of what I was trying to portray.
As a romantic, I often want films about love to have a happy ending but SUN is more open-ended. What did you want the audience to take away from the film?
I guess I didn’t really have a very clear message that I wanted the audience to have but I guess for me, a lot of things can happen in people’s lives. For Sun, her life was not in a perfect shape, in that situation but she has to keep moving on, there’s nothing she can do about it. I think the last scene kind of signifies that she has to keep on going. The last scene is where she just kind of starts sweeping and going back to her chores. There is nothing we can really do about it in that situation but to keep on going so I think that was what I wanted to say.
Finally, what are you working on now?
I am working on a project that I can’t really talk about yet but maybe in three or four years I can share it.
Thanks so much for your time.
No worries, thank you.
Eui Yong’s short, SUN, was an interesting glimpse into a day in the life of one woman and one that I found intriguing; sad yet engaging at the same time. On a personal note, it was interesting interviewing a filmmaker I know. It was both easier and a little odd. I was also slightly startled while I was watching the short film as it turns out that I know one of the actors in the short, and I was like ‘hey, that’s….’ which was a first for me. If you get the chance, don’t forget to check out SUN!