Now in theaters, Lionsgate’s The Last Stand marks the triumphant return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a leading action hero. What’s more, it marks the first English-language film from rapidly rising Korean director Kim Jee-Woon. Kim, who has directed films like A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil and made headlines with his 2008 Western, The Good, the Bad, the Weird. The biggest South Korean production ever, the film is also the country’s second-highest grossing release of all time.
Stepping behind the camera for The Last Stand meant that Kim, who doesn’t speak any English, was directing an international cast, many of whom were acting in a second language.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Kim (and a translator) to talk about working with Schwarzenegger, directing through acting, his first foray into American filmmaking and what he’s got planned for the future. You can check out his thoughts below and, if you missed them, watch our video interviews with the cast of by clicking here.
CS: There are distinct similarities between “The Last Stand” and “The Good, the Bad, the Weird.” Was that a factor in drawing you to this project? Kim Jee-Woon: That’s not why I decided to work on “The Last Stand,” but I think that that might be why the producers came to me. I think Lorenzo [di Bonaventura] had seen “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” and decided that I would be perfect. There’s a big difference between the two films, though. “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” is about individuals fulfilling their desires and just going the distance to fulfill that desire. Of course, “The Last Stand” has a villain who is traveling to the border to fulfill his own desires, but it’s more about the main character. The Sheriff putting a stop to this villain and defending his town. “The Last Stand” is more about protecting something. About protecting a value. It’s about putting a stop to a villain who is trying to selfishly fulfill his own desire.
CS: When the project came your way, was Arnold Schwarzenegger already attached? Kim: Arnold saw a bunch of my films and he decided to choose “The Last Stand” as his comeback. I heard rumors that Arnold wanted to be in this film, but I didn’t know that he was so enthusiastic about it. When I came over to the states, I met him in person and we talked. I realized that Arnold and my idea about the project coincided and that’s what made me want to make it.
CS: Because Arnold is sort of his own sub-genre, I’m curious to know if “The Last Stand” is something you could imagine having made without him in the lead. Kim: To answer your question with a question, “Isn’t it because of Arnold that we have this film, ‘The Last Stand’?” I think that, if not for Arnold, we wouldn’t have this film. One thing I like to do is mold the film depending on the character and the actor. What Arnold brought to “The Last Stand” is an intelligent Sheriff with added humor. That’s something that Arnold brought to “The Last Stand.”
CS: A number of the cast members have explained that there wasn’t a language barrier with you directing, because you like to act out the scenes for them. What was your favorite role to act? Kim: (Laughs) Well, I spent the most time acting with Arnold, but I loved working with all the characters, because each has their own unique color. I really enjoyed acting our Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville’s scenes. That was just so much fun. Zach Gilford, Jaimie Alexander and Genesis Rodriguez were actors that I wasn’t really aware of before I came to the United States and I had a blast working with them and discovering how great they are.
CS: Language aside, what’s the biggest difference moving to an American film set? Kim: The biggest difference is just the system itself. In Korea, the director has the final word. If the director makes a decision, that decision is final. In Hollywood, every decision needs to go through the producer, the studio and sometimes even the main actor. There is a certain procedure that needs to be followed. The assistant director’s role is very different, too. In Korea, the assistant director is basically someone who fulfills the director’s vision. Here, the AD is basically a regulator and tries to keep things flowing. He or she is concerned primarily with efficiency. The director is lonelier in Hollywood, but I can’t say that that’s entirely negative. Going through other people and having to convince the studio allows for a movie that appeals to a wider audience. That was perfect for “The Last Stand.” One quality that a director needs to acquire in Hollywood is to understand the system and figure out how to work within the system to express one’s own ideas. Ang Lee said something very similar. He said that a director in Korea is a king and a director in the United States is a President. While there is a vertical hierarchy in Korea when it comes to filmmaking, here in the United States, a director needs to convince various branches and departments to make certain decisions. I think that phrase appropriately describes the difference.
CS: What’s next for you? Kim: This year I’ll be working on both a short film and a feature-length film in Korea. I’ll be back early next year, though, in Hollywood. I’ll make further decisions about that project soon.
CS: Are you hoping to strike an ongoing balance between Korea and Hollywood? Kim: Yes. Right now I’m working on a short film in Korea and whenever I give direction to my crew they say, “Oh, is that the Hollywood system?” I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or if they’re making fun of me! (Laughs)