Top Korean film producer says how Koreans keep their films heartwarming

The Lamp's Park Eun-kyung and director Lee Yeon-hwa open the Korean Film Festival at the SM Mall of Asia Director's Club

Park Eun-kyung (left) is the CEO of The Lamp, the company that produced "Life is Beautiful". Beside her is Lee Yeon-hwa, the movie's production director. (Photo by Nikko Dizon)

South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Lee Sang-hwa gave the opening remarks at the opening of the Korean Film Festival 2023. (Photo by Nikko Dizon)

A top Korean film producer believes that the South Korean film industry is now “recovering” after the pandemic practically ground the world to a halt three years ago.

“During the pandemic and after, Korean cinema has been experiencing a lot of hardships, as well. And I would like to believe that it is recovering at this stage and there are a lot of movies to be released next year. I hope a lot of people can watch them, as well,” Park Eun-kyung, CEO of the film production company The Lamp, said at the opening ceremony of the Korean Film Festival 2023 last September 22.

Park and film production director Lee Yeon-hwa spoke in the event at the SM Mall of Asia Director’s Club on Friday night, September 22. The film festival ran from September 21 to 26 at select SM Cinemas in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

In his opening remarks, South Korean Ambassador Lee Sang-hwa described the film festival as the “grand finale” of the Korean Tourism promotion month, which is also part of the South Korean government’s “Visit Korea 2023-2024” program.

“After a long hiatus brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is heartwarming to see all of us to be coming to the theaters finally to enjoy the movies on the big screen,” Ambassador Lee said.

Indeed, film industries around the world suffered greatly during the pandemic, but he said, “Even the most dreadful virus could not deter the indomitable result and innovative power of mankind.

“It was pioneering minds and innovative industries that developed ways to bring people back together, fortunately,” the ambassador said.

He also noted how the Filipinos’ fondness for Korean dramas and films “has become a vehicle for stronger cooperation and friendship” between the Philippines and South Korea.

This year’s Korean Film Festival was aptly themed “Ka-ja! Korea Through Films,” as the event highlighted the beautiful filming locations of the movies in different parts of South Korea—from Seoul to Busan to Gyeongju, from Jeju to Gangwon to Jeollanamdo. There are so many special places to visit, food to enjoy, and scenery to fall in love with in each city and province showcased in the film fest.

Park’s The Lamp, which she founded in 2012, is known for having produced the blockbuster 2017 film Taxi Driver. This seminal movie revolved around the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, where more than 2,000 people, mostly college students, were killed in their fight for democracy against authoritarian rule. It starred veteran actor Song Kang-ho, who also played the lead role in the award-winning Bong Joon-ho film Parasite.

Lee has also worked in several remarkable movies like I Can Speak, which used drama and humor to tell the important story of Korean comfort women’s fight for justice.

Park and Lee worked together on South Korea’s first jukebox musical, Life is Beautiful, which was the featured film at the film festival’s opening ceremony.

Life is Beautiful stars veteran and versatile actors Yum Jung-ah, who many would know from the hit 2018 Korean drama series Sky Castle, and Ryu Seung-ryong, who we can watch in the current hit Korean drama Moving that’s streaming on Disney+.

Completed in 2020, “Life is Beautiful” had to wait two years before it could premier because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie is South Korea’s first ever jukebox musical, where popular songs are used in the film. It stars the country’s veteran and versatile actors Ryu Seung-ryong and Yum Jung-ah.

The movie wrapped up in 2020, but the pandemic delayed its premier for two years.

In Life is Beautiful, Kang Jin-bong (Ryu Seung-ryong) finds out that his wife Oh Se-yeon (Yum Jung-ah) has lung cancer. Having quite a temper, Jin-bong yells at his wife in a packed restaurant, telling her that she is sick and has only little time left to live, instead of gently breaking the news to her.

Se-yeon is a beautiful, devoted wife and mother, but is unappreciated by her husband, son, and daughter. They even forget that it’s her birthday—her last, she pointedly tells her husband—with that the feeling of being unloved making her want to find her high school sweetheart, her first love.

She drags her husband to a weekend road trip for the search. The trip brings the couple from Seoul to Mokpo to Busan and other cities along the way, and down memory lane. The adventure provides snippets of a loving and caring Jin-bong, even as he often snaps at Se-yeon. He does love his wife, after all, and he knows he has taken her for granted. Ultimately, we are made to understand that his anger and indifference towards her are his ways of coping with the thought of losing her, the love of his life.

The music in Life is Beautiful features some of South Korea’s best loved songs. The musical is also laced with enough humor. You’ll cry throughout the movie and laugh in between, especially at the unexpected twist in the story.

Se-yeong’s family gets a chance to show her their love before the inevitable happens. When Jin-bong tries to replicate the morning rituals of his wife and realizes she’s truly gone, he asks his boss for a day off. Alone in their house, with the children in school, Jin-bong lies on the couch to cry softly. Even now as I write this, I still wipe away my tears.

“As a producer, it gives us a lot of reasons to make movies for you all as we want to produce and make something that all of you can enjoy. One of our biggest happiness is everyone [showing] us your excitement and interest in our films,” Lee said.

Below is the media question-and-answer session (edited for brevity) with Park Eun-kyung and Lee Yeon-hwa. Both spoke through a translator:

How can you describe the entire production of the film Life is Beautiful, especially because it is a musical genre?

Park Eun-kyung: As our life consists of a lot of stories, we wanted to show our story as well through music and the beautiful songs that we chose. This movie is about a couple who goes on a trip and through this trip, they were able to look back on their lives, so we wanted to showcase that as well.

How can Filipinos relate to the film?

Lee Yeon-hwa: This movie is not unique just to Korea. The storyline itself can be relatable to anyone of you who has a mother, who has a family.

Korean love films always have this element of heart. How do Korean production companies manage to maintain these heartwarming elements while still staying fresh?

Park Eun-kyung: I think first, I think you need to have a heartfelt type of personality. It is true that a lot of Korean films have a topic of humanity, and through that we just really want to give out a good message to everyone.

What message or emotions do you hope the audience would take away from Life is Beautiful, and from this event as a whole?

Park Eun-kyung: Although it is heartwarming, this movie is about the topic of death. So, with that, it is a topic where we want to consider how do we think of death in terms of living life.

This is a road trip movie. What was the decision process for picking out which locations you wanted to include in the film?

Lee Yeon-hwa: As this is a musical genre-based film, it is a bit different in the way we picked the places, as compared to regular films. One reason for picking the places is we wanted to consider if the choreographies were possible as in this film, we encounter a lot of choreographies.

For this musical film, we want to give a transition from a dramatic scene to a fantasy where the audience can relate to the experience. For the fantastical scenes, we wanted to use that consideration as well in choosing the places.

Is there any Filipino director or actor you would want to work with in the future? And do you have any projects you want to pursue here in the future?

Park Eun-kyung: I would really, really love to have any project here. Yesterday, I was able to lecture and have a time at a university. And because the Philippines is so welcoming even if it is my first time here, I would really like to have the time making projects in the future.

Lee Yeon-hwa: As long as I have the opportunity, I would also love to have a project here as well. We did have an experience filming here in the Philippines with a Korean scenario, but I would love to have an experience where we can also work with Filipino staff and Filipino scenarios as well.

About author


Nikko Dizon worked as journalist specializing in security and political issues for nearly two decades. She is doing consultancy work during her time-off from journalism and remains immersed in the Korean Wave, in particular with BTS, actor Ji Chang Wook, and K-drama

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