It takes a brave director to cast six of South Korea’s most famous actresses and ask them to star in the same movie. Their ages may range from their 20s to 60s but for women who have never had to share a spotlight; it’s a battlefield from the start. Director E J-Yong (Untold Scandal) directs the all-star cast of Yoon Yeo-jeong (Worlds Within), Lee Mi-sook (Untold Scandal), Kim Min-hee ( Asako In Ruby Shoes) , Ko Hyeon-jeong (Queen Seon-deok), Choi Ji-Woo (Winter Sonata), and Kim Ok-bin (Thirst) in a mockumentary about the celebrity and humanity of actresses.
E J-Yong started his career with the critically acclaimed short film, Homo Videocus in 1990. His feature film debut An Affair, not only served to be his breakthrough film but also reintroduced actress Lee Mi-sook to the Korean audience. She would go on to star in two more of his films including his masterpiece, Untold Scandal, and Actresses.
By the end of film which screened at the New York Asian Film Festival, I had more questions than answers. Fortunately, I was able to interview the director and we talked about the constraints of celebrity, his true opinion about working with actresses and actors and whether that catfight was real.
The biggest question on everyone’s minds is how much of the film was reality and how much of it was fiction.
To be honest, this was shot last June. [The movie takes place on Christmas Eve 2008.] I really cannot say how much is fiction or is real. I will say though, that all of the actresses and Vogue staffers played themselves with the exception of a few people.
Were the six actresses in the movie the ones you had in mind from the very beginning of the process of casting?
I actually contacted every top actress in South Korea and eventually we got down to about 15. Most actresses were afraid of acting with other actresses. Jeon Do-Yeon even said, “Do I have to act with only actresses?” The last person to come aboard was Choi Ji-Woo. However, if it were not the final cast that I worked with, I think it would have been very difficult to have finished this movie.
How did you come up with the idea of making a movie about actresses playing themselves?
I was having a drink with Yoon Yeo-jeong and Ko Hyeon-jeong and we talked about the idea for the movie. After seeing these actresses in private and their personal lives, I thought it was a waste to not show this to the world. It was too good for just me to watch. These women are different from other actresses and all have very strong characters.
Did you come into this with a script?
The characters were decided in my mind and after I developed the plot and storyline, I would throw the women a topic and they would improvise. For example, the party and the scene in make-up room were topics I gave to them and they took it from there. It’s not that we actually sat down and wrote a script together but from my ideas, they would inject their own personal stories and opinions to create the film.
The movie looks like it took one night but how long did it really take to make?
It took 12 days or almost 2 weeks and we had about 4 cameras rolling. In the end, we had about 40,000 still pictures and 23 hours of footage.
Were there any scenes that you wanted to include but weren’t able to?
The scenes were all inspired by real events and the topics were never made up. We didn’t censor anyone and because of that, scenes where the actresses talked about known people could not be used.
Was the rivalry between Choi Ji-Woo and Ko Hyeon-jeong real or fake?
Do you really want to know the truth? They had never met before and had no reason to fight. I actually chose them for the rivalry because they were similar in age and height.
Did anyone have a hard time of deciding to come onto the project?
Choi Ji-Woo seemed to have the hardest time and was the last to come aboard. Fans and audience have a very strong image of her as a romantic drama actress. The audience was surprised because they had never seen her private image and she had never revealed that side of herself.
On the other hand, Ko Hyeon-jeong thought of this as a film which it is and was very willing. She understood that this was strictly film.
Most of the conversations revolved around age, skin and weight, why is that?
In real life, this was a topic because it’s a hard thing to deal with. Age is a very hard topic for actresses because it is detrimental to their careers and I think this is something that happens not just in Korea but also in the U.S.
How many of the actresses have you worked with before?
Lee Mi-sook, I worked with in the Affair and Untold Scandal. I’ve also worked with Kim Min-hee in Asako In Ruby Shoes. However, the rest I have never met or worked with before this film.
Do you personally like working with actors and actresses?
It’s actually a kind of hell. I have worked with many actresses with notorious reputations. The difference is that the actresses in this movie were a pleasure to work with.
Some actors have actually asked me why I didn’t make a movie with just actors but I never even considered it. I don’t think it would be any different or simpler. Actors are just as jealous as actresses and we normally think of actresses as being bitchier but they’re the same.
Did the actresses have a say in the final cut and what scenes could be used or couldn’t be for image control?
Actually, they were really drinking in the party scene so when we were editing six months later, they couldn’t remember anything they had said. The premiere was the first time they saw the movie. I cared more about the actresses’ opinions of the film rather than the audience and thankfully, they were all satisfied. Just a week ago, we had the movie’s one year anniversary party.
I’d like to give a really big thank you to Goran Topalovic and Grady for setting up the interview and to the New York Asian Film Festival for screening this movie in the first place!