[or when Mini Mini (MM) met Kim Kkobbi (KK)…]
Kim Kkobbi, the actress & star of many varied films such as Ghost Theatre, Breathless, Jealousy Is My Middle Name and the forthcoming release, Ashamed talks to Mini Mini Movie.
A bit of background. After missing Kkobbi at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival but fleetingingly meeting her at a screening of Breathless at the Happy Soul Festival, I thought it time to approach Ms Kim for an interview. This was after a few exchanges via Twitter, where we spoke of many things including music festivals, such as Glastonbury. It was these conversations which lead me to include a varied array of questions, including music. Kkobbi was very obliging, although mentioning that music isn’t her field. I was fortunate enough to meet Kkobbi several times around this interview, including on a film set*, for a film Premiere and to say goodbye prior to her taking off to her homeland. That’s it, except to say that a beautiful interview took place. So, without further ado…
“Flowerain Is My Middle Name”
MM: You are currently working on a short film here. Can you tell us a little of what it’s about?
KK: It is about a girl in a toilet who is attacked by someone, a stranger outside the cubicle. It’s a very short film… 5 minutes.
MM: I understand that it’s just a small project with friends & you obviously enjoy making shorts. What do you like about working on short films, aside from helping friends?
KK: I don’t think I’m helping friends. My attitude towards the project is that somehow it should always be as a professional actor, and not that it’s helping someone. If I think I’m helping someone my attitude & result will be worse. Although, in this case it’s for both, for him [Erlend Palm] and me – because for him, this is his very first film as a director. For me, it’s kind of an International reason… as he’s a Norweigan, and there’s a French girl, a Korean girl & American as well. So this International, multicultural project is helping me to experience these non-Korean language projects. I can improve my career or my experience in non-Korean language projects, so that later I can more easily get into further non-Korean projects.
MM: Would you say that you learn more about the technical side of film-making this way? And… What is the chance of one day using this knowledge to directing a film yourself?
KK: Yeah. I have desire to make short films because I have passion to tell people the story. I have some ideas and I want to see them realised. I would like to see the ideas become short films and I want the audiences to emphasise with my films.
MM: You seem very willing & happy to do so many smaller films and help out wherever you can. Why is this? I mean, some actors don’t – they do at the start of their career and then that’s it.
KK: I am actually opposite. I start with bigger films, even though just a small role… like Ghost Theatre. It was not an independent film but a mainstream one. I don’t blame those who start with small films and move up to mainstreams. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just the way they work. I’m just carrying my career the way I want & not following money & fame. I’m just continuing to do my work & trying to keep myself real.
MM: Even when requesting & arranging an interview with you it was very warming for me, and you seem accommodating in general. Why do you think you are so down-to-earth, compared to some other actors (both Korean & worldwide)?
KK: I think this is from my character & personality. My personality ‘is’ like that. I am positive minded and am always trying to think twice or more. Is that really right? Why is that right? Why is that wrong? What is real to follow?
BREATHLESS (Ddongpari / 똥파리)
MM: I’m a relatively new fan of Korean cinema and in fact I believe it was Breathless that was my first full-length feature. The film resounded in my mind & brought back memories whenever I read things about it. Which film do Koreans associate you with most, aside from Breathless?
KK: Ghost Theatre and some short films. There is a film named “Isahu [?] (이슬 후 / Not A Girl)”… it’s Korean but I cannot translate it. This film is the one which director Yang [Ik-June] watched, and discovered me from… so he contacted me to work with him on Breathless.
MM: It had been over a year between my first viewing of Breathless (at the ICA) and seeing it recently in Kingston. Hence I didn’t recognise you at that “Happy Soul” screening – Apologies again but I hear that happens a lot? Is that a good thing? I mean, is it good because you are such a down to earth individual & so do you not mind either way?
KK: Yeah, yeah [it happens alot]. Both, I think both. I don’t mind. Also, it’s good for me that it doesn’t interrupt me in my personal & ordinary life. Even though I look around, I don’t see that they are looking at me. I cut that part of me off.
MM: Like the Happy Soul festival here in the UK, were there similar occasions in Korea, where the film has been used to highlight mental health, family abuse or lost souls?
KK: In Korea, we have a family media festival. I don’t know the English name of it, but it’s a family media, film & movie festival… Kind of. This is more for family rated films where children and every family member can see it. There is not one for a particular, or mental cause. We do have women film festivals [in response to London’s “Birds Eye View” being mentioned]. Maybe there are some mental themed festivals, but ‘I’ don’t know… Not to my knowledge. There are family film festivals and we screened it at one. That was a bit ‘real’, because the age rate is really for 19 year olds and over. Normally, in family film festivals they have family-rated films but this film is for adults or over 15 years of age. Also, at the Happy Soul festival they also considered hard if it was ok for them to screen it or not, because in some ways it could be helpful to mental causes but in some it could be harmful, and bring back bad memories.
KOREAN / WORLD FILM
MM: As you’ve probably guessed, I’m still discovering so much Korean cinema and looking forward to eventually seeing “Ashamed”. Will I be impressed? The style alone looks different. Am I right?
KK: It hasn’t been released yet in Korea. Maybe people have already watched it illegally or at the Busan festival or Berlin. We screened it at Busan and Berlin, & the New Body festival, in Japan. I think and hope that you’ll be impressed. It’s pretty. It’s also quite back & forth… there is the present and the past & they are mixed together.
MM: What would you say is the film you’d enjoyed making the most, from your career so far? And why?
KK: I’ll say… it’s Breathless. First of all, working with Yang Ik-June was a very great experience for me because ss you know, he has been acting for 10 years before he made films… so he’s more actor than director. He knows actors very well and he’s a very sensitive & considerate person when it come to acting and directing. Yang Ik-June has some idea about what is the best way to direct or deal with actors. When I’m performing, he knows how to lead me or give me a hint or clue. After this experience, I feel I have improved.
MM: Did working with Yang Ik-June, an actor-turned-director make you think more about doing film-making?
KK: I had been thinking about making films before but it’s true that this experience did encourage me more. Incidentally, the actor who plays my brother in Breathless also makes films.
MM: I read in an interview by Paul Quinn (from Hangul Celluloid) that you did some animation voicing recently. How different was this, compared to screen acting? I imagine it would be slightly more relaxing?
KK: Actually… I found it is much, much harder than screen acting because when you perform ‘in front’ of a camera you can do anything you want, but there is a limit when you act with your voice over the animation. That was quite difficult. I need to adjust my voice or tone level. If you do it technically, its fine but I do it sincerely – I have to do the full acting to make my voice real. They had professional dubbing actors there too, who have their own technique but some [animation] directors want actors.
MM: If I had an idea for a short film which involves a female, or a Korean voice would you be interested?
KK: Yes, sure. As long as I have time and the conditions are right.
MM: “Ashamed” has some lovely music in the trailer, partly piano-driven. I find that sound of piano an almost soundtrack to many Korean films I’ve seen. It’s Quaint and Quintessentially Korean. Why do you think the piano plays such a large part in Korean cinema?
KK: Before you mentioned it, I’d never thought of it. I didn’t notice that there was a lot of piano in Korean films.
MM: Is the piano or the style itself some kind of Korean musical heritage?
KK: The piano is not traditionally Korean but I think that it is the most well-known and popular instrument in Korea.
MM: Talking of music, I know you’re a fan of live music and attending festivals. From your experience, how do festivals here in the UK differ to those in Korea? Are there many in Korea?
KK: In Korea, they have adopted many good music festivals from abroad. They are very similar to these UK festivals. Before, I didn’t know, since I’d never been to any UK festivals… but now I’ve been I found that they’re very similar. Many international artists feature [at Korean festivals]. Of course, it depends on the festival but especially in the big festivals they stand three big, famous artists on the main stages.
MM: What are your thoughts on KPOP and it’s popularity? Do you think that it doesn’t allow real exposure for genuine talented bands or artists out there in Korea, like the competition here with programmes such as X-Factor, Pop Idol etc?
KK: In my opinion… In Korea we have real bands or real music which are almost underground, or indie-scene and not in the mainstream. About twenty years ago they had good bands and musicians in the mainstream, but now it’s getting more and more manufactured & idols.
MM: Do you think that’s a bad thing, because you lose the talent?
KK: Yeah… But what I see is this… In any bad thing there is a good side. For example, nowadays in Korea we have all these manufactured idols… young K-POP dance music. Whenever this happens, great music comes out from this. I mean, if the situation is bad, one great band suddenly comes up – Every band becomes the same, but then one great artist comes up… whether this be any kind of singer, musician, band or songwriter. Audiences are getting bored with manufactured bands, like K-POP and they need new and different things… so they found some good bands, which are getting fame & popularity. I don’t think it will turn around but maybe the percentage will be more towards non-KPOP.
MM: How do you pronounce your name? I’ve seen it spelled many different ways.
[Mini Mini proceeds to show off his knowledge of Bob Dylan & a certain one of his music videos, proceeding to get ready to pick up a handful of large cue-cards]
“Kkobbi; Kot-bi; Khot-Bi; Kobbi” – We’ve seen it more in writing than in conversation.
KK: Kkobbi. Kkobbi. I understand that it’s difficult for foreignors, so I don’t really mind how they pronounce my name, since they’re not familiar with the pronunciation of it. But if it’s mispelt, I care…I mind. I know this is not the best way to let people know how to pronounce my name, but I’ve been using this spelling for a long time and therefore I’m now trying to correct all the mis-spelling on the web. I have placed my middle name [Flowerain] instead to make people understand more about my name.
[Incidentally, Mini Mini called those Kkobbi Kards… and the Bob Dylan video spoken of, was “Subterranean Homesick Blues”]
MM: Sorry to dwell on your name but I do have a confession. When I heard that the actor from Breathless was going to be signing at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival (and it having been such a long time since seeing the film) I thought this Kim Kkobbi was the male lead [Yang Ik-june] and not you. Well… you have to admit that Kim is a popular man’s name in Korea, although often the family name.
MM: Leading on from the Terracotta signing I know you’re essentially spending this time in UK as holiday but how many times have you visited England?
KK: Three times. The first time was just for two days, but almost like one day. It was kind of promotion… It was way back and for the Dublin Film Festival. I visited England to have some interviews and I spent most of the daytime doing interviews & things… so, that time I couldn’t see much of London.
MM: What have you found appealing about the UK, if anything?
KK: Fashion… but there are many things. I love fashion and I love to make myself up. Also – and maybe I think this because I’m a foreigner here but – I feel more comfortable in London than Korea.
MM: Because of fashion… or lifestyle?
KK: Everything. For example, in this park they stare at me because I’m Asian, but I feel more comfortable… because Asians care about each other a lot and so when in Korea & I make myself up I am more conscious about others. In Korea, I care about their point of view and think to myself ‘what do they think about me?’, but here I feel very comfortable. I can wear what I want, go out where I like etc. Not only London but abroad, especially in Western countries… non-Asian ones. There are more reasons. I was very impressed and enjoyed very much the cinema. My favoutite cinema here is the PCC, the Prince Charles Cinema… especially downstairs. Have you been there?
MM: Yes, I went for the Terracotta Far East Film Festival. That was my first time.
[There followed a discussion about the Prince Charles Cinema and it’s seating]
KK: I went to a few screenings there. One was a silent film, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. It’s cinema from Germany and the 1920’s. It’s a pretty old silent film and I thought ‘who would be interested in this film?’… this is what I would think if I were in Korea. I was interested in this film, because I knew this film from before – some of this film is in “Ghost Theatre”. As the film’s background is theatre, the owner watches this film alone. So… I was very interested in this film, because I hadn’t seen it yet. I went there and expected there to be not many people but there was a full house! I enjoyed it very much… and also they played it with a live band. It was a very good experience and I enjoyed it very much. After that, I went to the sing-along Rocky Horror Picture Show and again it was full of people, and wearing costumes.
MM: Another item I read, thanks to the wonderful Hangul Celluloid website, you currently have a project involving recording yourself and your life in general.
[We all realise at this time that we haven’t video-recorded the conversation, as originally intended]
Therefore, I feel it fitting to ask whether you’re aware of Twittamentary, a docu-film by Tan Siok Siok? Especially as you’re an avid Tweeter…?
[It should be stated at this point that since writing the questions, Mini Mini had attended the UK premiere of Twittamentary with Kim Kkobbi, hence the response…]
KK: No, not before you told me about it. But thanks to you, that film was helpful to me. I found some ideas & clues to make my own films, from it.
MM: Lastly… I have to ask. The Orange top you were wearing for the Happy Soul screening – was this coincidental or did you realise the event’s logo and it’s colour & therefore wore it to tie-in with that?
KK: Ah… yes… that was orange. Ah… no… that was not [intentional]. No. Now I just noticed it! Maybe subconsciously I wore it.
MM: Thank you Kim Kkobbi – you are indeed a Happy Soul.
* The day at the filmset is briefly documented here:
Kim Kkobbi – “Is There Anybody Out There?”