Interview With Director Lee Kwangyoung On ‘Call It Love’
Director Lee Kwang-Young shares his thoughts about the K-drama Call It Love and its characters.
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Disney’s new Korean romantic drama series Call It Love stars Kim Young-kwang and Lee Sung-kyoung.
The story tells about a woman, Shim Woo-joo (Lee Sung-kyung), whose unfaithful father dies and left his mistress in charge of the family home. As a result, Shim was kicked out of her family home and plans to take revenge. However, she falls in love with the mistress’s son, Han Dong-jin (Kim Young-kwang).
In this interview, director Lee Kwang-Young shares his thoughts about the show and its characters.
1. Call It Love is your first foray into an OTT series. How does it make you feel as your work is showcased to a global audience through Disney+ Hotstar?
It definitely has a different ring to it, compared to conventional channels. Since so many people have poured their hearts and souls into this work, I just hope that viewers would enjoy and love the show. I’m quite nervously waiting for the episodes myself every week.
2. What do you think sets Call It Love apart from other romance shows?
Call It Love focuses not only on loving and being loved, but also how one’s life changes by such love. And love in this show doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic. It could be love between friends, family or any sort of bond. While a bond can sometimes weigh down on you, it also helps you withstand hardships in life. I wanted to talk about these kinds of bonds and worked on this show hoping that the characters in the show would take a step forward in their life thanks to this emotion called love.
3. I’ve seen in one of your interviews where you said the colour of Call It Love is like that of a “ruby orange glow of the sky at sunset”. What were some of the things that you really stressed in portraying while directing this series?
When I got the script, I really fell in love with the lines the scriptwriter wrote. They are trying to look all tough but the warmth just oozes out from the lines. I wanted to make sure I direct the show in a way that such lines, when conveyed through the lips of the actors, would bring to the viewers that ambience I felt in the script. That’s why I had a lot of discussions with the writer on the meaning of and the emotions in each and every line – I tried my best to create an environment in which actors could express those emotions without any barriers.
In terms of the visuals, I wanted to add some vacancies and idle spaces in the cuts to show the loneliness that underlies all of the characters. I employed framing many times to show how the characters persistently live on with their daily lives. While so, I attempted, quite boldly, to add a drop of warmth by using a ruby red and orange-ish colour palette which would represent both a feeling of desolation at sunset and a hint of hope at daybreak. The director of photography worked so hard to make this work.
I’m sure there are things I could’ve done better, but I was able to try out many things because and only because I had a wonderful script and an amazing cast. I am very thankful.
4. Woojoo binge eats to fill the empty spot in her heart. Woojoo’s siblings eat breakfast with Jun. Jun and Heasung are lunch buddies. Dongjin and Woojoo eat at a noodle place. We see eating scenes in every episode. Is there a particular reason for such scenes?
I think it all always boils down to our stories of eating and living on. In the show, Woojoo stuffs even more food into her mouth when it’s been a long day for her. Dongjin also grabs something to eat even on those days that make it difficult for him to swallow anything; all because he needs to live on. I thought this point was tangent to the message of our show, of showing the persistent lives of people. These scenes reflected all of us who are enduring today and who need to endure tomorrow.
5. The soundtrack is hugely popular as the sentimental melodies really go well together with the amazing performance of the cast as well as the beautiful mise-en-scène. I heard that it was your idea to employ the song Secret Garden, sung by Onestein, in the soundtrack. What about the song appealed to you?
One day I was getting ready for shooting and overheard the song Secret Garden sung by Lee Sangeun on the radio. I was familiar with the song but since my head was filled with Woojoo and Dongjin at the time, the lyrics came to be in a different light.
Every day it’ll get better little by little. You’re watching me. I gotta get it together. I’m going to be happier. I was hooked on this line. You start loving someone and don’t just want them to make you happy, but rather, you want to make yourself happier because you know that person is watching you. I thought that chain of thought was quite like what Woojoo and Dongjin would have felt.
And what they do to get happier is nothing fancy – just eating lunch together at a newly-open place. As a director, I also wanted to bring to the viewers the experience of cherishing every ordinary moment of your life after falling in love with someone. That’s why I thought this song was the one for our show; I called up the composer right away and asked him to “use this song no matter what”.
Since the original song is so famous and unique, I thought a distinctive voice would do this song justice. I was very happy and grateful that we could have Onestein sing this song.
6. At the press conference you mentioned that the five actors are all very different. So these five actors who each have their own charms got together for Call It Love. What do you think are the strong points of each of them? Or something about them that makes them unique? Could you also talk a little bit about how you cast the actors?
Since I have the chance to talk about Dongjin and Woojoo in the questions below, let me comment on the other three here.
Yoon Jun is probably the most fantastical character in our show because he is the perfect guy friend. My intention was to convey a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary story, so I was a little unsure of this character as he might come off as a perfect someone who wouldn’t exist in real life.
On the other hand, I think we’ve all had in our school years a guy friend who was on a very fine line between a lover and a friend. I nagged on and on saying I need to meet Sung Jun and when I did get to see him I knew he would be the perfect embodiment of Jun because he was sitting there looking perfect, but with a no-frills attitude.
I thought that a person like this could actually exist in real life, not just in a drama series. So I told him that I wanted exactly this and he did an impeccable job pulling off a perfect guy friend who actually can exist in real life. He’s a guy friend with frizzy hair who lives in a picture-perfect house and says the bluntest things. If he’d been my friend, I’d definitely be confused about my feelings toward him.
Kim Yewon is just an absolutely loveable person. With every word she speaks and the way she speaks, we find her to be adorable. Haesung is someone who expresses her inner wound in a way quite different from that of Woojoo. Because of that, I was worried that she might seem a little over-the-top compared to the other characters, but at our first table read all my worries disappeared in a snap. Whatever line she says, you can never dislike her.
Whatever line she says, it seems perfectly down to earth. I actually have a friend like that and while we all have different friends, I’m sure she is someone you can find in real life.
There is a scene in the first episode when Haesung is heartbroken and crying at the karaoke. When I was watching her perform, I was reminded of my own cringe memories. She is definitely a seasoned actor who can portray her discouraging reality in an extremely loveable manner.
Minyoung is a character who might not be so loved by anyone in the show because she is the one who broke Dongjin’s heart and hurt him so badly. But I wanted her to be someone who was so loveable that Dongjin couldn’t move on after their breakup. I wanted her to be someone who makes everyone fall for her, so that the viewers can understand how Dongjin feels.
The first time I saw Ahn Heeyeon, while I thought she was so pretty, I also somehow felt an urge to protect her because she felt like a puppy left in the rain. If it was her, Dongjin would have had no choice but to love her and fail to hate her no matter what happened. I felt quite certain so I persuaded her to take this role. She has a lot of solo scenes which are very lonely so if you continue to watch the show I’m sure you’ll be able to put yourself into Miinyoung’s shoes and start feeling bad for her.
7. Sungkyung has played many perky, cheerful roles in rom-com. Is there a reason why you chose her for the role of Woojoo? What side of her did you think resembled Woojoo? Why did you choose her and what do you think of the Woojoo that Sungkyung has created?
There are a lot of scenes in the script when Woojoo can’t hold back what she’s got to say and just bluntly spits out words. She doesn’t dare to stand up for herself, but for the person she likes, she would spit out harsh words without even thinking. I hope this side of her wouldn’t look vile but rather, charming. And Sungkyung was just beyond my expectations.
When her innate cheerful vibe was met with those blunt words, it just created a totally new blend. I see the same scene dozens of times when editing, but every time I see the same scene I would chuckle. She thinks she’s the most hopeless person on Earth and cuts herself off from the world but when people see her they see her careless and loveable side and actually want more to do with her.
We’ll have more scenes with Woojoo taking a step forward from her indifferent attitude toward life and towards Dongjin, breaking down her walls – and Sungkyung does a perfect job portraying that process so I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
8. This is your second collaboration with Kim Youngkwang. Since the show was released, Youngkwang’s “lonely back” that we’ve never seen before has become the talk of the town. Did you think of Kim Youngkwang from the get-go when you thought of the character? Did you give him some advice when shooting?
I always thought that Youngkwang’s got a very lonely vibe to him behind the fancy image he has. I still don’t know the reason why. He looks so gorgeous – why do I sense loneliness from him? That’s why he was perfect for Dongjin.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve worked with him before, but I have infinite trust towards him. He is never in disguise when he’s acting. He really deep-dives into the character to truly understand him. So instead of giving him advice, I would talk a lot with him about the feelings Dongjin has. I trusted the Dongjin Youngkwang created and made a storyboard to follow through with his flow of emotions. On the other hand, when there was a scene I wanted to portray in a certain way, Youngkwang would also ponder on it and help me create the scene. Whenever I was unsure of something, I would leave for the set thinking, “Dongjin will work something out!”
9. Which scene do you think truly embodies the emotions of Woojoo and Dongjin? What are some scenes in Call It Love Disney+ Hotstar fans should keep their eyes on?
While I definitely tried in every single episode and every single scene to convey the personalities and emotions of the characters, let me choose a few.
For Woojoo, there is that one scene in the first episode when she is walking and holding an umbrella after learning of her father’s death from a text message. If you look closely enough, Woojoo is walking one way but all the other characters and the background flow in the opposite direction. I thought Woojoo is a character who is stuck in the past and walks backwards instead of moving forward. So when we were shooting this scene, everyone else walked the usual way and Sungkyung had to walk backwards. While it was a difficult scene to shoot, I really liked this scene because it shows how Woojoo cannot move forward and is just barely carrying on with her life.
My favourite scene with Dongjin is the shadow scene in the motel room in the fifth episode. Due to his breakup with his girlfriend at the camping site, he doesn’t dare go camping, which is pretty much the only thing he enjoys in life. So he also just barely lives on with an unhealed wound inside him. But his shadow, like Peter Pan, would go on a trip on his behalf. Get away from work, go camping, and drink beer – that’s what Dongjin really wants. But when the shadow is drinking beer the chair he’s sitting on breaks down and the shadow falls back into reality where we see a down-at-the-heels Dongjin falling asleep on the motel bed without even getting changed. I felt this scene really captured the lonely and desolate reality Dongjin is in.
I think the first scene in the first episode embodies the overarching message I wanted to convey through this show. It starts off with the lonely back of Dongjin who’s at his vacant office even before sunrise. The sun rises, he works, the sun goes down, and he’s still at the office working. Through this scene, I wanted to paint the picture of what viewers are going to see in this show – the story of any one of us living on and enduring on. I think Park Hasun’s special narration perfected the scene.
10. At the outset this show seems to be a romance story between two people who are brought together by revenge, but looking inside, it seems it is really all about the consolation and empathy of different characters with their hurtful past finally getting to understand each other. What was the main message you wanted to get across to the audience?
Living life comes with emotional scars and loneliness. Despite being so, we live on. I wanted to tell the audience, or myself, that this is how we all live. But as Woojoo meets Dongjin, and Dongjin meets Woojoo, they take a step forward. We also can take a step forward with the smallest trigger. This is the consolation and hopes that I wanted to bring to the audience.
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