@Greta Lee Credit: Courtesy of A24
Synopsis : Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are separated after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they are reunited in New York for one fateful week as they confront ideas about fate, love, and life-making choices in this heartbreaking modern romance.
rating: PG-13 (Slightly Strong Language)
genre: Romance, Drama
Original language: English
director: Celine song
Producer: David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler
Writer: Celine Song
Release date (cinemas): June 2, 2023 Limited
Execution time: 1h 46m
manufacturing company: Killer Films, CJ ENM Co.
@Greta Lee, Teo YooCredit: Jon Pack
Exclusive interview with director Celine Song
Q: What was the genesis of this story – said to have come about through an experience at a restaurant or diner?
CS: I was in a bar, sitting between my childhood sweetheart and my American husband, and I found myself translating between them – in a way, I was moving between two worlds. It inspired me so much that I felt something special was happening to us. It really made me think that maybe this is a film I want to make.
Q: You introduced people in the US to the Korean concept of “inyeon” (the connections between two people over the course of their lives). What made you decide to include this in the film?
CS: The concept of inyoun is a common idea in Eastern philosophy. I’m sure there’s a word for that in Japanese. I know there is certainly a word for it in China or India. This is not an exclusively Korean concept. It’s a word we say to describe when someone just walks into your life or you have encounters where it seems like it’s such a small thing, a really insignificant thing, but there’s some weight to it.
Anyone you meet in the world can be inyou. Even someone who brings you a glass of water or just greets you on the street. Even a stranger can be inyou to you. The reason I wanted it to be part of the movie is because I knew Hae Sung and Nora weren’t exes, right? They’re not like lovers or anything. It’s really hard to describe who they are, because not all connections in our lives are so clear—a lot of them are inexpressible, or it’s just hard to find a word for them.
I knew I had to introduce the word inyoun because it’s the best way to describe who they are to each other. You could say they’re childhood friends, but I think it’s more than that in the end, because they’re not just childhood friends, they’ve been connected for over two decades, right? This is clearly a relationship that endures across time and space. By doing this, they are truly in love with each other. That was the only word I could think of that described who they were. I knew we had to bring the concept to the American audience in this.
@Seung Ah Moon, Seung Min YimCredit: Jin Young Kim
Q: Greta, the lead actress, initially turned down your script. Then you approached her again – what was the experience of approaching her again? and wwhat was the difference from the previous script?
CS: I was really stuck on finding the right actors of a certain age group, where they’re in their 20s or early 30s—something like that. I thought that since this bar event between my childhood sweetheart and my husband happened when I was 29 and when you’re 29, you think being 29 is really interesting and special. I thought the actors and characters were supposed to be 29. And Greta is a bit older.
So I didn’t think she would be right for the role because I felt she was older. Then I turned 30 and then 31, and once I started to go into my 30s, I realized that it didn’t matter that the heroine was 29. What mattered was that she was the right actor for the part. I think when I went back to Greta, I said to myself, it doesn’t matter how old you are, I think if you’re right for the part, that’s all that matters.
Q: Talk about how you assembled this cast? What conversations did you have with Greta, Theo and John before filming? What did you talk about during the Zoom meetings?
CS: I put them all over the place on Zoom because it was during COVID. I had to do it that way. This sometimes made it difficult to know chemistry or things like that. It ended up being helpful in different ways because the film is about so many extraordinary greetings and many extraordinary goodbyes. It was great that Hae and Nora or Theo and Greta met through Zoom, because that’s how the characters in the movie meet each other again from their childhood.
We tried to make it match what we hoped would match the story of the film. The process should reflect storytelling. So we tried to make the best of it, although of course it was a limitation. When Nora and Hye Sung — the characters — and when Greta and Theo, the actors, met in person for the first time, they weren’t allowed to touch because I wanted to capture the moment when a person becomes physical with someone else. Until that scene where they meet for the first time in Madison Square Park, they weren’t allowed to touch until we started shooting that scene.
@John Magaro, Greta Lee Credit: Jon Pack
Q: Although you have worked in theater productions in the past, this is your first feature film. What was a challenge you faced that was different from this experience?
CS: Coming from the theater, there are certain things you can control because the theater itself is an enclosed space. It’s an abstract space, but it’s a space where you go into the same room every day and do the show over and over again. This is the idea. While directing a film, I realized that sometimes the location where you shoot the film is not under your control. Sometimes it will rain, it will be uncomfortable, and sometimes the sun will set so you won’t have any light.
I can’t control the world or the weather or anything like that, those are the things that really mean that to me. It changed the way I think about how to do something that lets go of some of the control. On the other hand, I knew I had more control when it came to editing. With the post-production part, I had more control than in the theater. In the theater it’s a live performance, the actors have to do it over and over again. I don’t have much control over that. But when I was making a film, I felt like I had so much control, which I loved.
Q: John Magaro married a Korean-American in real life. How much of his experience was brought to the table? Did he do any off-script improvement? Did you allow him to do anything from his previous experience that was added to your script?
CS: The script was scripted from the beginning and the actors were not asked to participate. They were asked to come to the script and do nothing else. I realize that’s how I work. The script didn’t change because of John, but I think he related to the role he saw on the page because of his experience of being married to a Korean-American woman.
Of course, I didn’t even know he was married to a Korean-American until I cast him. Then he said to me, “Oh, that’s why I’m so passionate about being able to play this role.” It really had more to do with how passionate he was about playing Arthur and how hard he worked to play the character. His personal history did not influence the script.
Q: Talk about the reception at Sundance because it was one of the favorite films of the festival.
CS: Before the Sundance premiere, this film was a secret I shared with my cast and crew. All of us who worked on the film and I had a secret that was this film. I felt it was like revealing a secret to a room full of people around the world. I was so happy to be able to share this thing that I held. It was a really exciting thing to learn that people are connecting with it and enjoying it and wanting to watch it and watch it again. I think that’s the feeling, that’s the best part, and you can’t expect that. But when it happens, it’s just amazing and joyful.
@Celine Song, Greta LeeCredit: Jon Pack
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