Lee Chang Dong: A Peek Inside The Filmmaking Genius, Yoo Ah In’s Biggest Challenge

He is highly respected in Korean film industry as a director and as a person. His movies might not do well at the box office, but actors, who work with him, would break the molds that they had before and release new sides to them. He’s the best director for actors who want to be truly actors, not just stars.


Right now, a lot of people are excited with director Lee Chang Dong’s comeback through the upcoming movie “Burning”, an adaptation of Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning”. And the true-blue movie buffs approved of his choice of the casts, especially of Yoo Ah In. They can’t wait to see another masterpiece made by Lee Chang Dong.

For most of us, international fans, who are not familiar with this director yet or has never watched his films yet (I suggest you watch one now!), you may wonder what’s so special about Lee Chang Dong (besides collecting awards from Cannes and Venice), what makes him difference from other K-directors, and why many Korean film lovers and critics -not only local but also international- are waiting for his comeback.

Thankfully for us, Yoo Ah In’s Korean fans in Daum Cafe posted the excerpts of director Lee Chang Dong’s facts, anecdotes and interviews including the trivia from Korean Wikipedia. We chose to translate the most interesting parts: why he doesn’t give directions to his actors, why he doesn’t yell “OK/bravo” to his actors after they finish filming their scenes, and why he chose Jeon Do Yeon as the lead actress in “Secret Sunshine”. This man is truly a legend! 



Several anecdotes of Lee Chang Dong (casting, shooting method, etc.):

► In the mid 80’s, he lost his young son in a traffic accident. The circumstances and feelings of that time were portrayed, in a very touching way, in his short story “It was Only Dust”. In “Secret Sunshine”, the dreadful/gruesome production of sorrow because of the child’s loss doesn’t seem to be random.

► He is highly respected in Chungmuro as a director and as a person (he is touted as the biggest/best Korean film director).

► It is well known that he greets the extras with 90 degree bows, and when filming is over, director Lee Chang Dong helps the staff by carrying the lighting equipment. Even when he’s invited to an award ceremony that’s not prestigious or famous, he doesn’t attend just to make an appearance or show his face [he doesn’t just get his award and leave]. He actually remains quietly in his seat till the ceremony ends.

► Although it’s difficult for his works to gain commercial success, he has close relationships with commercially successful movie directors. Since his debut, Lee Chang Dong has been assisting the director Kang Woo Suk and having a very strong relationship with him. When Kang Woo Suk was asked to explain his reasoning for investing in Lee Chang Dong’s movies, he answered with one line, “I really like this man”.




How Lee Chang Dong is with actors at the filming location:

He would shout “cut” abruptly and order the actors, in his own eccentric way, to do the scene again without telling the actors what to do, and without giving them directions on how to do the scenes accurately. Because of his hard-to-satisfy personality, actors who look at this situation with non-stopping self-reproach are prone to have a mental breakdown at the filming site.

However, once his movies are released, they receive favorable critique without exceptions. His movies might not do well at the box office, but actors, who work with him, would break the molds that they had before and release new sides to them. He’s the best director for actors who want to be truly actors, not just stars. In addition, by appearing in his films, actors sweep the best leading actor/actress awards at film festivals in that year.

For this reason, he’s a director with whom top stars would wish to work. Top actors often reveal in their interviews that they would love to appear in his movies. It’s rumored that an actor has once confirmed his appearance in one of Lee’s movies, but the production of the film got postponed. Rumor has it that this actor has remained waiting for director Lee Chang Dong’s movie for a few years.

Although he avoids doing commentary for the DVDs of his own movies, Lee Chang Dong prides himself on his casting abilities. He has the reputation of choosing the most suitable people for the roles. But his movie auditions are famous for being hard. He even chooses the extras, who just pass by in the movie, very meticulously.

In his auditions, he first looks for feelings rather than just acting. In the case of “Secret Sunshine”, in order to choose Song Mi Rim, who appeared as the kidnapper’s daughter, he traveled and held auditions all around the country. He chose her after almost giving up on finding the girl to play that role. 

They say that Lee chose the school students through the recommendation of a teacher at a middle school in Gyeongnam, Yangsan. One student didn’t want to come out for the audition. And a few recommended students have passed the audition. The reason for them passing the audition is that he asked them to act that they were crying. Those whose noses got red quickly were selected.



Director Ryu Seung Wan has said that by appearing as an actor [cameo] in Lee Chang Dong’s movie (“Oasis”), he learned from him the secret to extracting great acting from actors. The secret is: “he keeps on filming till he feels pleased (with the results)”.

Actors who worked with Lee have hated him during the filming period, except for Yoon Jeong Hee, the lead in “Poetry”. [Although Yun Jung Hee is a big senior actress, she has a very bright (cheerful) personality. She said that she accepted that energy of Lee Chang-Dong].

However, actors who worked previously with him, including Moon So Ri, have visited him on set and brought support food trucks along with them [they had a good relationship with him afterwards]. But those same actors were bewildered to see him slapping his own knee [slapping his own knee in glee, because the actors have delivered a satisfying performance] and yelling “OK” to the actors. [Note: the previous actors felt baffled to see him chanting “OK” to the actors of his new movies. That’s because they are used to never hear him utter any comment to his actors after the filming is done].

Lee Chang Dong explained why he doesn’t comment with “well-done/bravo” to his actors. He said that he wanted them to express their own unique and natural feelings without any interference from him. He feared that by praising them and saying “bravo” they would repeat the same techniques that he praised. And he wanted the actors to be unique and not repetitive in their performance. He said that the first time he screamed “OK” was in “Poetry”, because he was working then with the senior actress Yoon Jeong Hee. So he screamed “OK” loudly for her on purpose. He did that out of respect to her.

He also explained why he keeps on filming till he gets a good result, without giving his actors any sort of directions. He said that directing his actors on how to perform a scene will make them think about it. It would make them calculating. And he feels that once acting becomes calculating, it becomes a mere literal interpretation of the lines, and nothing more.



About casting Jeon Do Yeon for “Secret Sunshine”:

“The reason why I chose her is because, as a director, and as a person who likes movies, I liked this actress Jeon Do Yeon. I didn’t think, ‘is this person right for my movie or not?’. The reason was mainly because I’ve always liked her, and I wanted to work with her”.

He then added, “If we are going to talk in regards to the movie, the role seems more about being reasonable and accurate rather than having a maternal instinct. I don’t know Jeon Do Yeon personally, and although when you look at her, she seems like a determined strong woman, but in my opinion, she actually gives the feeling of a tender-hearted/fragile woman. I don’t think that we have actresses who have the dichotomy of looking strong and fragile/weak at the same time as much as Jeon Do Yeon does. So I thought that she will fit so well as the main character of the movie”.


Our thoughts:

Lee Chang Dong is indeed something else. He deals with his movies as if they were paintings. Reading about his unconventional techniques at directing the actors, he’s so amazing! No wonder actors shine so frikkin’ differently in his movies! And judging by his answers on Jeon Do Yeon, that he only casts people he truly admires, so obviously he likes Yoo Ah In quite a lot. I’m so happy for that.

Now, finally Yoo Ah In is working with a director who is sensitive, deep, intricate, yet very delicate and real, just like himself. Finally he’s working with a dude who is about art, a dude who “gets it”. Yoo Ah In on his own is pure genius, and changes his acting and colors like a crazy chameleon. He gives every tiny feeling its perfect nuanced interpretation. Lee Chang Dong and Yoo Ah In –this combination will create a magic together that will be an art piece of epic proportions.

For sure, Lee Chang Dong and “Burning” will be a big challenge to Yoo Ah In. It will be so different from everything he has experienced, but we trust our boy can do it!


Translated & notes by The Sassy Translator of Yoo Ah In International Fans Community

© Yoo Ah In International Fans Community
※ Any copying, republication or redistribution of YOO AH IN SIKSEEKLAND’s content is expressly prohibited without prior consent of YOO AH IN SIKSEEKLAND. Copyright infringement is subject to criminal and civil penalties.


Source: DC [1],[2],[3]

7 Responses to “Lee Chang Dong: A Peek Inside The Filmmaking Genius, Yoo Ah In’s Biggest Challenge”
  1. Yasuyo says:

    As you recommended, I’ve watched ‘Peppermint Candy’, ‘Oasis’, ‘Secret Sunshine’ and ‘Poetry’. Through these works, his points of view of humanbeing are deep, keen and cynical but heartbreaking. I cannot wait to watch such a masterpiece called an art piece with the combination of the legendary director with our Master Sik!!!

  2. BB says:

    Burning is going to be an art film, not a commercial one, with limited audience, but Yoo Ah In will have so much valuable experience and the privilege of working with a legend at such young age. This is his real beginning of journey to become a legend too.

  3. hukumi says:

    Cant wait to see this movie! 🙂

  4. Caitrine says:

    Actors who work with him will have to leave their comfort zone, but it’s worth doing. Wishing all the best for YAI and “Burning”.

  5. Pina says:

    it will be interesting for these two strong personalities to work together in a film as challenging as “Burning”, giving he nuances of the story line; best wishes to both of them and looking forward to the release of another masterpiece; be well dear YAI-Sik

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