Minji Kang is a South Korean-born, US-based filmmaker. She received her BFA in Film Art and Aesthetics from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University in New York. Her notable films from this period include The Loyalist, The Unpardonable Night, Like Sugar, Her Smile, Actually, Adieu My Love, and Requiem for Herstory. Her work has been consistently screened and awarded internationally.
On her childhood:
I was a very curious child—sometimes my curiosity was too much for a little girl. I still vividly remember those young days. Looking back, my childhood was filled with enthusiasm for learning: reading fairy tales and folklore tales, ardently watching animations, learning to play the violin and piano, and studying colors and shapes. Perhaps my days then were busier thannowadays. I was introduced to music and art at a young age, around four and half years old. I was born into a transitional, conservative household, where three generations breathed together under the same ceiling. As girls, mastering art and music was always encouraged. If my sister and I were boys, though, I think the story would have been a little different.
When I was a little girl, my favorite film was a Mexican children's telenovela called Carrusel, created by TELEVISA in 1989, and yes, of course, it was dubbed in Korean! It depicts everyday life in a Mexican elementary school. Perhaps from then on, I've always wanted to study abroad. As a grown-up, Ingmar Bergman's film Fanny and Alexander makes me nostalgic.
On Korean and European filmmakers who inspire her:
It's actually a very difficult questions to answer. I found Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring and the work of experimental video artist Nam June Paik very inspirational and eye-opening. Their works felt vital and vibrant.
But to be honest, there are two European directors who have inspired me greatly with their unique cinematic styles and their constant quest to search for and within the human condition and human connections in their films: Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieślowski.
In my early 20s, while I was studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I spent a large amount of time looking into their works and studying Carl Jung's psychology. Interestingly, the more I learned about the Jungian concept of the Collective Unconscious and his interpretation of the human psyche, the more I discovered and felt connected to their work. In particular, I was drawn to their interpretations of time, death, and eternity, most notably in Kieślowski’s films, The Double Life of Veronique, the Three Colours trilogy, and No End, and Bergman’s films, Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, and The Silence.
On the making of her second feature film, Illicit:
I'm currently finishing up the final draft with my co-writer, Luke Spears, with whom I studied in Columbia University’s MFA film program. But Illicit will actually be my second feature. While I was studying at SAIC, I made an experimental feature, Actually, Adieu My Love, starring Lindsay Burdge, whom you can see in many independent films nowadays.
We shot Actually, Adieu My Love exactly 10 years ago, winter 2006, and finished it in 2007. We shot for 59 days over five months, both in Savannah, GA and Chicago, IL. Still to this day, I think that experience was the greatest directing mentor to me—I learned so much while making that film. Actually, Adieu My Love also taught me that I need to strengthen the art and craft of the storytelling, and that was when I decide to go to graduate school to study film directing and writing (at Columbia University). It was there, while I concentrated in film directing, that I wrote four feature scripts, including the feature version of The Loyalist and my next feature, Illicit. One of my screenwriting mentors advised me to learn writing by writing; the more I get better at it, the more my artistry as a director will strengthen. I believed him and he was absolutely right. Now I'm ready to direct my next feature in 10 years.
On what she hopes audiences will take away from Illicit:
Illicit scrutinizes the complexities and terrors of adolescence and growing up in an allegorical, fictional world. The story centers on the character of Mona, a blind, yet free-spirited young woman, who dares for the freedom to act upon her dreams and elude her seemingly idyllic, yet darkly oppressive, household. I want to offer the audience both the fearful and the comforting. By the end of the film, I want them to feel the cinematic catharsis for Mona and the emotional resonance in her shoes.
On the making of her thesis film, The Loyalist:
I started writing a feature version of The Loyalist in my second year at Columbia. It was when I was about to complete a story about a quantum physicist and his journey into parallel universes but I felt somehow aloof and disconnected from the world of the story. So I decide to write something closer to me personally, and by accident, I came across an old essay that I wrote at Tabor Academy for the all-school meeting speech. It was about my impression after visiting the Berlin Wall; I expressed that one day, my country would be unified, just like Germany. I wanted write something closer to my origin, but in the most dramatic setting in order to achieve a story about a woman who’s tormented because she has one foot in the East and another in the West. I also wanted this to be a family story, so that it could illuminate a universal theme. Then, by the time it was time to make a thesis film, I wanted to make a short film version of the feature. The genre of the film was modified, because the feature is a spy-thriller but in short version—I wanted it to be a character-driven, dramatic piece to study the characters’ interior struggles.
On how she incorporates a multi-cultural influence into her work:
This past decade has shown me an interesting pattern in my works. They've been transformed in the same way that I grow as a person, as I travel through time. I don't particularly try to merge [European and Korean cultures]—I think without trying, those elements and my fingerprints are visible both subtly and strongly in my works. In my opinion, culture is something one must feel and experience, and it takes time to really understand the roots of it. Having been born and lived in Korea for 15 years, and having lived in the West for seventeen years, while constantly traveling from one city to another, by now I don't even know where I belong. Everywhere feels like home, but also nowhere does. ★