Blue’s introduction to the interview:
After finishing Giant this week, I had originally planned on writing a short review on it. But after reading this interview with Yoo In Shik, the director of Giant, I realized how simplistically I had viewed this entire drama.
I started watching Giant under the assumption that it was a story about revenge. But as Jo Pilyeon’s power became stronger, his wealth greater, and his age older, I started feeling frustrated about what purpose would be served when the Lee siblings eventually succeeded in getting their revenge. Even if Jo Pilyeon falls from his “glory” in his old age, he would have lived most of his life already having enjoyed power and wealth attained through his evil deeds. Or perhaps the message was on justice and how by Jo Pilyeon eventually getting his just deserts, good shall always prevail against evil. But then, wouldn’t the Lee siblings have lost too much along the way, and if so, has justice truly been served?
Reading this interview, however, I started wondering whether a better way to approach Giant is to stop trying to categorize it as a rags-to-riches story, a revenge story, or a story about good against evil. Instead, to see it simply as a story about people who lived at a time of much corruption and how they dealt with it. Good did not always win against evil, justice was not always served, and in fact, evil did prevail on for decades. But is the distinction between good and evil always that clear?
I found this interview with Director Yoo In Shik pretty enlightening. Hope you enjoy!
Director Yoo In Shik: “Is what Gangmo achieved truly victory?”
Published Dec. 9, 2010 // From 10asia.co.kr
Written by Lee Seung Han
Photography by Chae Ki Won
Edited by Lee Ji Hye
Translated by Blue1004
10asia: The long 60 episodes are all over. How do you feel right now?
Yoo In Shik PD: Because it was the longest and the most difficult project I’ve ever worked on, as the drama went on, even I struggled to fully comprehend it. Now that it’s ended, I feel like all my emotions are flowing out like the ebb tide. In other words, it feels bittersweet.
How did Giant first come about?
I had been preparing for a sageuk drama with writers Jang Young Chul and Jung Kyung Soon (translator’s note: the writers of Giant are a married couple) for a long time, but due to the circumstances, it was put on hold. When we were preparing for the sageuk, we had thought that if we did a period drama, it would be nice to do a story about the development of Gangnam. That became Giant.
Although it was a completely different drama, initially there were some who thought that this was a drama to defend or justify the development of Gangnam.
When we first decided on the Gangnam’s development as the subject matter of our story, we thought that we wouldn’t be able to properly tell the story if we avoided the topics of the construction industry or the political atmosphere at that time. If there was anything we felt burdened by, it was more so because of concerns of potential resistance by those depicted negatively by the drama. That’s why the initial response was unexpected. And unfortunately, it was not an appropriate time then to explain that it was a misunderstanding. (laughs)
How did you wish to portray the constructors and the politicians of those days?
We didn’t have any noble intention of being some whistleblowers. Because it’s a story that everyone already knows about. (laughs) As opposed to thoughts on how we would portray chaebols and politicians, we wanted to portray a time of huge change. At a time when the development boom seemed limitless, we thought about how far a person with ambitions would go. The reason why we initially included a disclaimer that the people, the events, and the places in the drama were fictional was so that the viewers wouldn’t limit the story to a specific person or events, but to watch it comprehensively as a period in our country’s history when there was a huge development boom.
Although said to be a fictional character, the speech style and the physical appearance of Jo Pilyeon’s character as played by Jung Bo Suk reminded many people of our former president. Did you feel burdened by it at all?
When he first appeared on the set wearing the military uniform and sunglasses, I did get that impression. But what could we do when that seemed like the kind of uniform that Jo Pilyeon would have worn? There wasn’t any big burden. The kinds of corruption in our drama are not those that might be open for debates, but those that common sense dictates should never happen. Even if anyone felt a pang of guilty conscience after watching this, we figured they wouldn’t be open to criticizing us for portraying it in that manner. (laughs) The production never experienced any “external pressure.”
Power was frequently depicted in a negative manner. In particular, Jo Pilyeon used his power to exert violence. If anyone displeased him, he killed them or dragged them somewhere.
Jo Pilyeon’s character somehow became the ultimate evil, but even more important than who is the real-life Jo Pilyeon is the point that people of those days probably did live with fear in their heart that they could get killed or dragged away if they displeased someone. Otherwise, it would have been unnecessary to create Jo Pilyeon’s character. Because of this, for Gangmo to go up against such a strong opponent meant that it was not only a personal revenge, but it had societal significance as well.
Giant was not only a story of Gangmo’s story, but also that of Jo Pilyeon’s story. Was there a reason you depicted Jo Pilyeon as the ultimate evil?
Because we were able to illustrate how evil spreads from Jo Pilyeon. Doesn’t evil usually run rampant through some sort of negotiation? “I’ll do something for you, so you sell your soul.” Just like how people in everyday life adhere to the give-and-take philosophy. The way Jo Pilyeon wins over people to his side is very gentleman-like and rational. (laughs) He produces what the other side needs when making an offer. In the first episode, Jo Pilyeon makes an offer to Hwang Taesub. The reason why Hwang Taesub is guilty even though he didn’t kill Gangmo’s father is because he accepted the offer.
It seems like it’s the first time for Jung Bo Suk to play a role of such a complete villain.
He has a great deal of ambition when it comes to acting, and when we offered him the role of a villain, he jumped with joy. (laughs) He asked me if I had a villain in mind to serve as a role model, and I suggested the Nazi officer in the movie, Inglourious Basterds. Someone who seems to have a clean outer shell, but who has a crack inside. He got it just right. If you observe him closely, his voice, his speech, and even the way he walks constantly changed throughout the sixty episodes. It was truly an amazing performance.
Not only Jung Bo Suk, but many of the other male actors showed a new side of them. How were the male actors casted?
This was a project that required a fair deal of highly stylized acting. As opposed to miniscule details, power to command a scene was needed. Fireworks needed to go off at their mere gazes, so trained actors who could handle close-ups very well were needed. We started with the veteran actors who did the drama, Dae Jo Young, with our writers. Casting the leads was all very difficult, but casting the role of Minwoo was particularly hard. Because he’s the son of the devil (laughs), but he must disagree with his father’s ways and show the dilemmas of the new generation. I’ve watched Joo Sang Wook since Queen Seon Deok. He has very chiseled features and a handsome face like someone who would appear in graphic novels. He also has great voice control. He far exceeded our expectations.
With the exception of Jo Pilyeon, all the other male characters feel conflicted between good and evil. Were there any specific requests you had for the actors?
Gangmo was the most difficult. Gangmo is a character who goes up against his society with utmost determination. I asked Lee Bum Soo to act out a character who’s good, but not naive. He has to read the opponents’ moves, counterattack, and come out even stronger than them. Gangmo restrains and controls himself, but he’s not someone who does good deeds because he’s weak-natured and inflexible. That’s why Gangmo’s temper exploded occasionally. (laughs) But this also means that for the lead actor, he has fewer opportunities to blow steam and this can be frustrating for the actor. Lee Bum Soo did so well. This was the first time for Lee Bum Soo to do such a long drama, so he worried about it a great deal as well. He couldn’t do many takes and study them to decide what was best, as he would have done when filming a movie.
Is there a reason why you depicted good and evil to overlap in the world?
Because that’s closer to reality. How convenient would it be if good and evil were made clear? But since that’s not the case, that period was such a turbulent time.
Minwoo seems like the representative case. Even though he loves Miju (Hwang Jung Eum), he’s cold-blooded when it comes to his interests. Did you wish to show the possibility of reconciliation of the next generation through Minwoo and Miju?
Instead of having decided on a solution, we wanted to show the process of solving a dilemma that’s so great that it’s impossible to be resolved. Of course, we started with the the conclusion that Miju would choose Minwoo and that she would have no choice but to do so. Gangmo and Jo Pilyeon also started what they did in order to seek happiness. After being passed a promotion for not being a blue blood, Jo Pilyeon dreams of making it to the top. But as this becomes a battle of life or death for him, winning itself becomes his desire. And he eventually forgets what his initial goal was. Gangmo’s office in the last episode is probably at the top floor of the tallest building in Seoul as he had dreamed. But he no longer has a family to live with because he lost them all in the fight. That’s why I thought we needed to show the process of realizing and choosing what is the most important thing through Miju and Minwoo.
Now that I think about it, women (or mothers) are the cause of reconciliation. Jungyeon (Park Jin Hee), Kyungok (Kim Seo Hyung), and Miju opened the possibility of reconciliation between the men.
Because the women of those days couldn’t actively partake in society unlike today, they were able to look in while keeping a distance from the battlefield. We still tried hard to show the female characters as not merely embracing the flaws of the men and healing them, but I feel regretful that we were not able to show it more deeply.
However, the women of Giant, compared to other women in period dramas, are portrayed as intelligent in their work and assertive in nature.
The money-lending industry that became Jungyeon’s stage had infinite number of stories as well, but we were not able to cover it much comparatively. As shown in War of Money, money lending was a huge part of the gross national product back in those days. Although we showed the fights and the conflicts between money lenders, we were not able to show as much as we would have liked. I was sorry to Park Jin Hee, but although she didn’t have many scenes, I felt grateful that she delivered such an impressionable performance.
There were some criticisms that Gangmo’s success relied too heavily on luck, or that the boiler war dragged on for too long. How was it to pace yourself in a 60-episode drama, while still maintaining mass appeal?
The one thing that we can’t forget when dealing with the construction industry of that time was construction projects in foreign countries. We had done a lot of research on this topic. If we turned our focus to that area, we could have done a great story. Unfortunately, we were unable to because of production cost. So the alternative story was to do it on boilers. Pacing is a difficult issue. The battle between the money lenders was going on, events were unfolding in the political sphere, and the love story had to progress. There was a point at which all of them happened at once. We were looking for the best timing, and even when I think about it, there are things that I feel discontent about.
What kind of effect did the rising in ratings have on you?
The ratings first reached 20% in the scene when Gangmo pulled Lee Han Wi’s beard. (laughs) That’s how unpredictable viewer ratings can be. Some viewers kept pleading to increase the number of Wooju’s (Minwoo and Miju) scenes. Others said they switched the channel whenever the couple came on-screen. We observed and fretted over viewers’ responses, but in the end, we had no choice but to just keep to what we thought was right.
What do you think about the period depicted in Giant?
Giant starts around the time of the collapse of Wow Apartment building in 1970, and ends with the collapse of Sampoong Department Store. Things became faster and better, but the point remains the same. It was a period of development when other things were put first before people’s happiness. I believe we must question whether we could find happiness like that.
The businessman who survived that period was Gangmo. Do you have a positive outlook on the present time?
After the collapse of Sampoong Department Store, a safety prognosis was made on the major buildings across the country and the research showed that only 2% of the buildings were constructed conscientiously. But reversely, that means those 2% constructed their buildings conscientiously despite what was the conventional practice. I thought that 2% might be Gangmo. When we requested assistance from the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice to do research on the industry, they told us that we wouldn’t be able to find such a conscientious businessman. Thus, Gangmo is not modeled after any specific person. I just want to believe that 2% exists somewhere out there.
Can someone like Gangmo really come out victorious over Jo Pilyeon?
If you ask me whether our world is one in which such a person can come out victorious, I’d like to answer it is. This is a slightly different story, but as opposed to asking whether what Gangmo achieved was victory or hope, I think it’s more important that we keep from having an indifferent attitude in believing that it doesn’t matter whether what he achieved was victory or hope. Because that would be the most dangerous thing. I wish people would wonder about whether what Gangmo achieved was truly victory.
In the last episode, Gangmo looks like he’s about to cry as he reminisces about the past when the three siblings were happy as they embraced each other. Did Gangmo finally become happy?
Ah, that was such a great expression. Hoping that Gangmo would be happy, we returned Joonmo back to Gangmo. (laughs) There were many different versions of Joonmo’s return. We thought about having a Korean-American chef who doesn’t speak any Korean to serve food to Gangmo and stare at him during an anniversary event of Hangang Construction Company. We thought of having Gangmo and Joonmo taking a new family photo together. Whatever the version, Gangmo probably wanted to start anew and if so, don’t you think he would work on building his happiness a little more maturely, deeply, and cautiously than before?
Via 10 Asia