‘Because I Hate Korea’ Director + Cast INTERVIEW: The Team explains what this film is really about

Because I Hate Korea Director + Cast Interview: The Team Explains What this Film is Really About

Because I Hate Korea Team talks about claiming the opening spot at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) and their hopes for viewers in any country.

Right now, the rest of the world loves Korea, making Because I Hate Korea a daring choice as the festival’s opening film. With the Korean wave in full force, why focus on this contentious concept? Rather than hating on Korea, this film is about seeking happiness.

“There are some people who can’t believe their ears,” says Festival Director Nam Dong-chul.  He refers to the ‘K-wave’ that’s actively creating a fantasy about an idealized Korea, filled with misconceptions. “…such as that we all have an extremely high standard of living.” He asserts, “You have to see both light and dark to see the real Korea.”

It’s bold to celebrate the film industry with a movie poking at a less wonderful Korea. But as we dig deeper, it’s less about a place and more about feeling restless, stuck and disillusioned. Because I Hate Korea film Director Jang Kun-jae notes the appeal to the current generation of youth, “You can call it ‘Because I Hate [insert here]’ and fill in any country.” Marking the film out as ‘everyman’ or at the very least, anyone who’s ever felt out of step.

Jang continues, “I wanted to create a movie that captures the exhaustion felt in Korean society from different perspectives. I personally wonder if young Koreans are given a fair opportunity to pursue their dreams on a solid foundation and felt the urge to ask these kinds of questions through the story.”

Jang raves about the original novel of the same name, having written the script as a global pandemic got in the way. With this several year gap from book to movie, things were already changing in Korea. Yet even so, the concept still resonates.

The story centers on Gye-na, a young woman with a nice life.  A university grad, she has a decent job and a nice boyfriend. Yet she’s feeling the ennui hard – enough to push her to consider leaving the country, cramming all her dissatisfaction into the idea that the problem is Korea itself. There’s a determined hope that somewhere else is happier. With this simple/not simple thought in mind, she abandons her job, boyfriend and family, setting off for the warmer climes of New Zealand. Warmer is happier, right?

Because I Hate Korea team:  Producer Youn Hee-young, actors Joo Jong-hyuk and Kim Woo-kyum and Director Jang Kun-jae.  Image provided by Busan International Film Festival.

Gye-na is played by Go Ah-sung, who’s not able to join the festival for health reasons. But Joo Jong-hyuk who plays fellow expat Jae-in and Kim Woo-kyum who plays boyfriend, Ji-myung, chime in with enthusiasm.

“When I was young, I went to New Zealand to study and lived there for six years as a student. Reading this book reminded me of old friends and living abroad,” Joo says. “When I first read the script, the story really hit me and I wanted to play Jae-in.”

Director Jang points out that on a personal level, Joo mirrored his character, challenging himself to return to Korea from New Zealand. Joo continues, “Seeing my NZ friends again between shoots – I felt something. Now I’m treading my own path too – I love living in Korea.”

Kim too feels passionate about his somewhat less daring character. “Ji-myung has a clear goal and seems very solid so I was curious, wanting to challenge myself to portray him.” Watching it for the first time at the festival screening, he believes the topic is valuable. “How can we achieve happiness? How we can strive daily? I hope that’s a take-away for viewers.”

Both actors talk about their experience working with their more established co-star, Go. Says Joo, “She made me very comfortable, giving me freedom. We didn’t follow rules but just had fun.” Kim chimes in, “I’ve seen her work and thought it would be amazing to collaborate with her. She was very easy to work with, always listening my ideas.”

Clearly a collaborative process and adding to the natural feel, there’s a particularly fun scene with Jae-in and Gye-na publicly drinking wine straight from a foil bag. Joo tells us that sadly it was grape juice, but that this scene was lifted straight from his own experience, removing the bag from boxed wine to fit it into his backpack. “We didn’t think much about blocking or camera movement, just chatted and drank as our characters would.” Additionally, the people milling about in the background, rather than extras, were locals just doing their thing.

It was Go who created her character’s style, making her colorful and relatable. Director Jang shares, “I gave her the script and she immediately called me. Then she waited for us through the pandemic. Once we connected, I wanted to know how to transform Gye-na through Go. She’s a great actor and her thoughts on creative process gave us a lot of ideas. It was an opportunity to see new aspects of the character.”

It’s worth noting Gye-na’s goal isn’t to immigrate but to broaden her horizons and see what’s out there. Director Jang talks about his own broadening perspective and the big question for Korea. “I didn’t make this film to judge Korea but because I wanted to represent a society filled with different sentiments but all striving toward the possibility of becoming happy. Why are so many young people struggling here? Are we really listening to their voices?”

“Over the years working on the film, I aged,” he says, “and started asking myself different questions. When I read the book, I was in the center of the issue but now I wonder, are we making an environment for young people to pursue their dreams?  It’s a universal sentiment – there could be a sequel about hating another place, a different story with different reasons but connecting back to that feeling of discontent.”

Apart from the film itself, the cast expresses excitement at being part of the 28th annual Busan International Film Festival. Says Joo, “It’s a dream come true – I’m sitting here quite overwhelmed. I feel upset that Go Ah-sung isn’t able to be here too. We really wanted to show this film to everyone [together].”

Kim notes with a laugh, “When I came out of the Army I was so envious of actors who came to festivals. I thought, I’d be really happy to see my enormous face on screen.” He adds, “I texted Go Ah-sung after the film – she was amazing, wasn’t she?” 

Because I Hate Korea resonates with the idea of seeking happiness without claiming to have found the solution. Instead, it gives license to those reaching outside the box to grab it. In the words of every K-drama ever, ‘fighting!’


Check out our film review of Because I Hate Korea. To read more stories from the Busan International Film Festival, click here. For more TRG interviews, click here

Leave a comment