Jae Won Jung

Jae Won Jung is a film director and screenwriter based in New York and Seoul, Korea. She received her Bachelor of Laws from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea and majors in painting, photography and film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in Chicago, Illinois. She also holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York. After receiving her degree in Korea, she moved to New York to continue developing her unique visual style and begin an artistic career, exploring the emotional and philosophical tensions of screenwriting, experimental filmmaking, and fine art photography. Her years of experience and diverse career background have deeply influenced her films, which are associated with the philosophy of space and time, existentialism and psychology. Recently, as a multi-artist, she continues to communicate with audiences through various exhibitions such as photography, painting, and video installation work. She also has been writing the feature film script that explores the inner self of humans based on philosophical and psychological elements.

Your film takes part in our festival. What is your project about?

Hi! My name is Jae Won Jung, and I am the screenwriter and director of the film Shadow. It is an honor to be able to interview with the Prague International Film Awards Team.
To briefly introduce the film Shadow it begins with an aspiring documentary filmmaker Jae-ha who receives an unexpected and incomprehensible offer. The request bespeaks him to secretly chase and film a strange woman's daily life for three days regarding the return that he will receive a huge amount of money. Jae-ha accepts the offer, and the film starts as he begins filming the stage actress, Sun-Woo. In my film, varied theatrical elements were included and implied.


You hold a Bachelor of Laws from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea and study regarding concentration in photography and film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. This is truly an impressive background. How do you believe your previous studies in law and fine arts influenced your approach to filmmaking?
I received my Bachelor of Laws degree from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. I fell in love with documentary photography after seeing a Magnum photography exhibition during my college years. The poster photo for <Shadow> and all photos in Jae-ha's room in <Shadow> were taken by me. Throughout my college years, my passion for photography and film were stronger than anyone else's.

From a young age, I took thousands of pictures with a camera without anyone telling me to, and listened to a wide variety of music. I am confident about myself that I have done more than anyone else for doing that. So, after graduating from Yonsei University, I developed my senses by studying phenomenological photography and film at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is famous for its photography and film. I think I learned how to express myself through various media by learning not only photography and film, but also various media such as painting, installation, and sound, without being tied to my major.

So, I think my background made me experimental when filming <Shadow> without being bound by the typical format of shooting a film, such as trying to incorporate theatrical elements into the film or focusing on mise-en-scène.

You are a multidisciplinary artist engaging in various forms such as photography, painting, and sculpture, video installation work, in addition to film directing and screenwriting. Do you believe these diverse aspects converge when you're shooting a film?
As I mentioned in the question above, I think film is a comprehensive art. I developed my sensibility by studying phenomenological and philosophical photography, film, and abstract painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I think I learned how to express myself through various media by learning diverse media such as painting, installation, and sound as well as photography and film, without being limited by my major.

And it influenced my directing of film <Shadow> without being bound by the typical format of film shooting, such as incorporating theatrical elements into the film or focusing on mise-en-scène.

And I shot the film as the Director of Photography for the film <Shadow>. So, I can say that I was greatly influenced by what I studied in the fields of painting, photography, film, sculpture, and video installation. The composition and colors certainly seem to be greatly influenced by painting. 

I tried to make the film <Shadow> as much an extension of my painting and photography work as possible. I was inspired by the big idea of filming from painting, and also I received advice from my professor, respectful painter Tsibi Geva, about the composition and placement in large-scale painting work, energy distribution, and working with the same proportions as film screen, etc. And those perspective was also applied to film work.

I had a solo exhibition at a gallery in the New York Lower East Side. The title of the individual exhibition was "<Light: Cut to Black>". In general film terminology, "(cut to black)" is usually used to create an abrupt transition, or sometimes to stop a scene. Since it is not a "fade" or "dissolve," but rather a sudden transition to black. I brought these ideas, etc. to the painting. Painters Gary Stephan and Professor James Sienna, who were teaching me at that time, created the titles for the paintings by taking my background in film into consideration.

And I shot the film as the Director of Photography for the film <Shadow>. So, I can say that I was greatly influenced by what I studied in the fields of painting, photography, film, sculpture, and video installation. The composition and colors certainly seem to be greatly influenced by painting.In particular, I was greatly inspired by the paintings from my favorite painter, Edward Hopper, in terms of colors that determine the perspective and atmosphere in the film. I believe that my studies and experiences in various fields of art have helped me establish a larger direction and insight for my films and my own unique visual language. So, I think that when I shoot the film as a multidisciplinary artist, my experience in these different artistic fields comes together.

Gus Van Sant, Wim Wenders, David Lynch, Peter Greenaway, Wong Kar-wai, and Alfred Hitchcock are all known as film directors who majored in art. And just by looking at the films of these directors, it seems that their diverse experiences in art are combined into one when directing and shooting films. 

What motivated you to become a film director?
First of all, as a person who believes that film is a comprehensive art, I don't think that there is only one reason why I make films. So, I think the numerous experiences I have had since childhood have helped me greatly in making movies. It feels like each and every process what I had gone through has come together to form a good thing that has brought me to this point.

Looking back, I think the idea of wanting to make a movie came very naturally. First of all, from my parents, I could have the opportunity to live in Munich, Germany when I was child. At that time, my parents were able to learn and experience various cultures by traveling to various cities in Europe. I believe that these experiences as a child had a different influence on developing a deep artistic desire within me.

My parents always made an environment for me to listen to classical music every morning since I was child. And my parents and I naturally started talking about music, and the conversation seemed to naturally connect to literature, history, and culture. I think I learned so many things from my parents. And I think the advice, humor, and sensible conversations my mom gives me on a regular basis have helped me take another leap forward. These conversations become the inspiration for the day and the material or ideas for writing. It's like a chef at the market constantly researching and looking for ingredients to make good dishes.

Not only my parents tried to teach me that what I saw as a child was not everything, and that rather than defining the essence of something, but also my parents inspired me to create my own world and develop my own perspective by myself. Of course, this is not the way my parents intended for me to become a film director. (Laughs) So, my parents' educational style really helped me see things without prejudice and think differently while studying in various fields, and had a great influence on me building my own philosophy in my own way and my own language.

Due to that influence, I think I am able to express things in life that may be a little abstract, but approach the essential things a little differently than others. I think I could naturally become a film director as I grew up by learning the process of expressing various artistic desires in this environment. And my mother always supported and praised me for creating good work that contained my sincerity, and also told me that one day, people would recognize my sincerity through my works. When I heard that, I was so moved that I cried. My mother's sincere support was always a great motivation in helping me get back on my feet whenever I was going through a really difficult time. Everything that allowed me to start my film career was possible thanks to the love of my parents who always believed in me.

And I also strongly believe that the decisive factors that led me to direct and write a movie were the characters and special events I met in the time and space of New York. The circumstances and atmosphere of New York inspired me to pursue the seriousness of film directing and writing. I think going to New York was incredibly the biggest turning point in my life. There were many difficult moments after I decided to make movies, but I never gave up on my dream. Thankfully, people around me encouraged me for no reason, telling me that one day you would become a film director and make good films. I persevered really hard to keep my dream, and everything in New York helped me to grow up so that I could make movies. I think it all started naturally. The various fields I have experienced since childhood have made me who I am today.



You wrote the script for the film <Shadow> as screenwriter. What was that process like?
Normally, as a writer, I continue to write short novels. And based on that short novel, I started working on scripts for my plays and films. "Where we were," which appears in the play that Sun-Woo is practicing in <Shadow>, is also one of my short novels and scripts. I was given a new direction and a major turning point in writing the script for <Shadow> from Alex Dinelaris(https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5409486/?ref_=ext_shr_lnk), the screenwriter who won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for the film Birdman.

Alex Dinelaris was my professor in screenwriting and also offered me an epiphany which allowed me to develop Shadow. Through his guidance, I was able to implement Shadow's ideas and design the big picture of the film. Shadow has a lot of theatrical elements. I tried the idea of putting "Where we were" as a play in Shadow.

And while maintaining the style of the thriller genre, I tried to incorporate poetic and philosophical theatrical elements into Shadow. I completed the first draft in New York. But around that time, I was going through a bit of a slump due to health issues, so I stopped writing for a while. But people around me always encouraged me not to give up. Thanks to a strong recommendation from a friend who had seen the first draft of Shadow, I started writing again to complete Shadow. There were some changes of the location in the script and addition of detailed lines, it was finally completed in Korea.

You are also the director of this film. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get inspiration from music I enjoy or unexpected events in life. I believe that writers and film directors must express their lived experiences in their own words. In that respect, I think my authentic experiences are the most important source of inspiration for me.  Also, when I write, I look for and listen to music that allows me to feel and remember the moments I experienced. Then, those moments come back to life, and then I start to get inspired which often leads me to write detailed lines or scenes.

The biggest inspiration I got to make the film <Shadow> was came from Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor by Gustav Mahler's. To me, this music seems to maintain a distance between certain emotions without crossing the line between each other. And within the second theme melody of this music, "Funf Lieder nach Gedichten von Friedrich Ruckert," the sentence which is "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" also gave a motif for the film.

Mahler's music explores death, life after death, salvation, existence, and sadness, that is, the polar opposites of life and death. That part is the same as trying to explore the meaning of existence through the protagonist Sun-Woo's monologue about life and death in the film <Shadow>. So, the film <Shadow> was really influenced and inspired by Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor.



In Shadow, you were working as a screenwriter, director, and cinematographer,  as a cinematographer, what methods did you choose for the filming and visual aspects of the film Shadow?
I previously studied phenomenological, philosophical photography and film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I believe that my background had a great influence on the filming of the <Shadow>. I tried as much as possible to make <Shadow> an extension of my photography work, and tried to naturally connect it with theatrical elements in order to combine classic camera shooting techniques and aesthetic narrative camera work.

And usually when I write a script, I tend to be very specific about time and space, camera techniques, composition, and character movements for each scene. I also attempted to convey various meanings as an extension of the painting work, and tried to naturally connect with theatrical elements to combine classic camera shooting techniques and aesthetic narrative camera work. And usually, when writing a script, I tend to write down time, space, camera technique, composition, character movement, etc. for each scene in very specific detail. Specific lines may be modified or added, but in some ways, I think I'm trying to pursue extreme perfection in expressing the content or scene from the beginning.

As I was writing the film <Shadow> Script, I already had specific scenes in my mind to make a film, and I wrote them all in the script. Therefore, I tend to be very specific during the writing process about what kind of scene will appear. So I think I prefer filming it myself more than anything else.

Which film, directors, and what else inspired you the most to get the ideas while preparing for your film?
 'Birdman' by Alejandro González Iñárritu, 'The Handmaiden' by Chan-wook Park, 'M' by Fritz Lang, 'Paris, Texas' by Wim Wenders, 'Blue Velvet' by David Lynch, 'Persona' by Ingmar Bergman While watching the above films, I think I received encouragement and stimulation while writing the script, directing, and making the film <Shadow>. I was really inspired by the female protagonist (Seo Rae) of "Decision to Leave" by Park Chan-wook, which I recently watched. I think I really learned a lot from watching the distance between emotions and compassion for the characters, and director Park Chan-wook's mise-en-scène. I also thought that the female protagonist, Seo Rae, had some similarities to Sun-Woo from the film <Shadow>. I thought it would be good for the audience to feel a sense of mystery and danger in the gap/distance of empathy where they can appropriately feel sad for Sun-Woo, even if it is not desperate. However, actually I'm influenced more by music, real-life experiences, and other artistic fields mentioned above than by films. In particular, I was greatly inspired and motivated by Edward Hopper's painting that I saw at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York for the composition, the colors, and the perspective from which Jae-ha secretly takes pictures of Sun-Woo in the film <Shadow>. The sad and tragic ending was greatly influenced by "The Seagull" Play by Anton Chekhov and "The Raven" Poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

What was the message you wanted to deliver through this film?

I tried and endeavored to ponder about the significant meaning of life and death through Sun-Woo's monologue. Sun-Woo metaphorically expresses the duality of human psychology through inseparable light and shadow. In the end, I aspired to reflect the human finitude, where shadows disappear along with the vanishing light.

And I intended to metaphorize the psychology of the audience watching the film through the subject matter of Jae-ha's voyeuristic gaze in the film <Shadow>. I think that the camera angles and movements in the space divided into inside and outside of the camera give the audience a feeling of participation. So, I think that by combining classical camera shooting techniques and aesthetic narrative camera work while integrating theatrical elements, the audience will be able to enjoy the thrill of a unique voyeuristic perspective.
How do the nuances of art and design play an important role in the storytelling of "Where, We Were," a play featured in the film Shadow?
"Where, We Were," a play from the movie Shadow, plays an important role in storytelling as a nuance of art in Shadow and is one of the mise-en-scène elements that adds depth to the movie.
The play "Where, We Were" that appears in the film is actually a play and film script I completed in New York. I got to film Shadow first, and I believe that one day I will direct "Where, We Were" as a feature film. I wanted to show only a portion of the script for "Where, We Were" in advance, and I thought it would best express the emotions of Sun Woo, a theater actress in the film. So, based on the script of <Where, We Were>, I started a new conversation about memory, existence, separation, and death. Therefore, the play "Where, We Were" in the film plays an important role in the film's storytelling. In order to focus more on Sun Woo's emotions and flow,  I had to choose a monodrama format to give more specificity to the dialogue in the play.
How did you work on those with the cast, to achieve such excellence in the performances? 
 "Where we were", a short play in the film was originally created as a play script, so I thought the actors should have a good understanding of the play's plot. Since the lines are abstract and hard to digest, I had to constantly communicate with the actress to share ideas on character analysis, speech, voice and composition for the play within the film. I believe that our collaboration definitely helped her to comprehend and execute the role better. As we communicated and learned about comprehend and execute the role better. As we communicated and learned about each other, we simultaneously built trust and a complete understanding of Sun Woo in both the play and the film, even without explicitly mentioning the character. Park Se-In did a phenomenal job without any mistakes on the set and I was so proud to have found her. I enjoyed every moment of working with her. Thanks to our strong relationship, scenes from the play in the film <Shadow> and Sun-Woo's character came out just as I had envisioned.
What are you up to, and what is your plan from now on?
These days I am a multidisciplinary working on painting, installation, and photography. I have a plan for a solo exhibition at a museum in Korea this summer.
I can't really predict what I will be like in the future. However, I will continue to work hard as an artist and write as a writer just like now.
And I would like to direct a feature film based in Korea and the United States using a script I wrote. And I think I will definitely write and film a romance thriller related film in particular.

Just as I have learned a lot from really good mentors, I want to teach students based on my diverse experience and many things they do not know or have never experienced.