Released earlier this year to strong box office both at home and abroad, “A Taxi Driver” shines a spotlight on South Korean history with poignant and entertaining results. Now, director Jang Hoon hopes to make some history of his own. The film is now an official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, an award for which South Korea has never been nominated. And for Jang Hoon, it will be his second chance at bat. As we await this year’s nominations, I caught up with the promising filmmaker for a chat about the making of the film and his Oscar hopes. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Shane Slater: How did you come across this taxi driver’s story?
Jang Hoon: The production company saw the awards speech of the German journalist Mr. Hinzpeter in 2003. They got the idea from watching that speech. It took a while and the first draft of the screenplay was completed in 2015. Then they sent the draft to me and I read the script and decided to join the team.
SS: How did you choose the right actor for this role?
JH: Song Kang-ho was the first person that occurred to me when I read the script. I couldn’t think of anyone else.
SS: There seems that there was a great atmosphere of denial surrounding the events depicted. What is the public’s perception of it today?
JH: Those who actually had to live through this tragedy of the Gwangju Uprising, they knew about it of course. And their contemporaries learned about it through many testimonies, including the reporter and his documentary. Of course, there are younger generations who didn’t know about it and I guess the film helped these younger generations to understand what really happened in Gwangju.
SS: The Gwangju Uprising happened when you were very young. Did your understanding of the events change during the process of making the film?
JH: Yes, I was young at the time. The first time I heard about the Gwangju Uprising was when I was in college. I knew a little bit, not too much. So while preparing for the film I had to do a lot of research and I got to know the details really well.
SS: You’ve made a number of genre films before and some of those elements are included here. Were those action scenes like the car chase based on real life?
JH: The car chase didn’t happen, but it was a known fact that taxi drivers in Gwangju helped out the citizens a lot and made a lot of sacrifices themselves. It’s a symbolic expression of their sacrifice and their help. To be honest with you, that scene was really hard. I felt a lot of pressure. It’s the most cinematic scene.
SS: Do you find it easier to direct true stories, or do you prefer fictional ones?
JH: That’s a difficult question. Both have easy and difficult parts. I understand that when you create something based on a piece of history, I don’t have complete liberty. Certain facts must be there. So what’s hard about making a film based on a true story, is that I have to keep those facts in mind but I also have to create a movie that will appeal to audiences effectively. So while I was working on “A Taxi Driver” I deeply felt that my next project should be completely fiction.
SS: This is such an important part of South Korean history and the film is also representing the country at the Oscars. Is there added pressure?
JH: Yes, I feel added pressure. If I was chosen as an Oscar contender with a completely fictional story, I would feel less pressure. But this is based on a true story, so yes, there is extra pressure.
SS: South Korea has never been nominated before. Is there excitement from the public for this film to finally make it?
JH: I was in the race with my previous movie “The Front Line” in 2011. This is my second time as a contender and yes, I feel the expectations are higher this time. But of course, I’m telling you from my own experience.