An air of sad inevitably fills the awkward silences of Scattered Night as the young Su-min (Moon Seung-ah) and her older brother Jin-ho (Choi Joon-woo) struggle to understand why their family is in the process of falling apart at the seams.
Though the film serves primarily as a child’s eye view of a middle class couple’s divorce, Kim Sol and Lee Jihyoung’s understated drama still succeeds in channelling the messy complexities and quiet resentment of the adult world. As the domestic atmosphere sours and the kids come to realise the flawed humanity of their parents, a widening rift develops not just between spouses but between generations as well.
With Scattered Night screening at this year’s London Korean Film Festival, we sat down with co-director Kim to discuss her insightful new feature.
What was the inspiration for this story?
There’s a co-director, Lee Jihyoung, and it was scripted by her. She did say that this is not 100% autobiographical, but she thought a lot about her family history around the time she was writing the script. She wanted to reflect on the complex issues that came out of her family. At the beginning, it was more focused on the grownups of the story, but later on as it developed, it shifted to the perspective of the children.
How would you describe your collaboration with your co-director? How did you divide up duties and where do you think your strengths lie?
It was scripted by Lee, who asked me and another friend of ours at the university to give feedback to the script once a week in the process of development. But we shared the other processes together – casting, location hunting etc.
One of the most famous co-directing pairs is the Dardenne brothers, the Belgian directors. So we studied how they collaborated on their films together, and we decided to divide our labour loosely into two halves. Directing the actors and performances was done by Lee, and I was focusing on cinematography, how to shoot the scenes, and also continuity. We shared a monitor, of course, and each of us were focusing on the area that we were responsible for.
I think the strength of Lee is that she can keep a very objective stance throughout the process, because it’s a long time, you develop, and when you’re just thinking about the story, you kind of lose your perspective on the project. She can really stay cool, which was very helpful. My strength, I’m not so sure, but I think I can say that I am a very keen observer of the movements of the actors and how to frame things. So this was something that I focused on, and I thought it worked out quite well.
What were the challenges of making your first feature film?
The challenge was the fact that this was co-directed. We’re working on one project together and we have to sustain the tone and colour throughout the film but there are two people involved. So we had to constantly negotiate and one of us had to compromise. That was difficult, but at the same time, there was a great learning curve for me. I honestly don’t think I would’ve made this film by myself, so I have kind of mixed feelings about it.
When you working on this film, did you find yourself making any moral judgements on the characters, or was it important to you that you didn’t take sides?
We tried to keep a certain distance from all our characters, even the children. Because they’re going through their parents’ divorce, they could easily have been sentimentalised, but we tried to avoid that. Also, these two adults are causing these problems for their children. They’re responsible, so they could’ve been characters who were held up for blame, but we didn’t want to do that, because they’re all entangled in the situation. They’re trying to deal with the situation the best they can. So that’s something that was very important for us.
The two siblings seem to spend a lot of time together discussing the separation and trying to work out why their parents are divorcing. So while Su-min is worried at the end of the film that she and Jin-ho will eventually drift apart, do you think that this very emotional situation has in some ways brought the two of them closer together?
Yeah, I agree with your reading. They discuss and think about how to deal with the parents’ divorce and what they would do if they lived separately. They have a shared concern and that helps with their bonding. But equally, as they eat ice cream together after school and recycle together, I think all these moments are also very important for them to build and maintain their bonds.
How was Moon Seung-ah guided for the role of Su-min? Was she directed differently from the adults?
There wasn’t a huge difference between directing the grownups and the children. We did lots of rehearsals, and there was preparation during the shooting as well. I also worked intensely with just the two children together. We first tried to explain reasons why certain things happen this way, how things happen and why etc. But then later on, I think we tried to focus on each moment and how different emotions rise for particular moments.
I tried to use metaphors to explain things more easily, like using a musical melody to represent different emotions. So at a particular moment, she’ll feel more like a C, but then she’ll feel better and she would feel more like a higher F. It was a reference she could understand. I remember my co-director asked her how she was approaching the role, and after a long process, she said she would just follow her mind for that particular moment. So I think we did a good job directing her but she’s an extremely talented actor. We were very lucky.