While not a common name in Hollywood, Yim Soon-rye (or Soon-rye Yim) is a director from Incheon, South Korea. She is one of the few female filmmakers to be considered part of the Korean New Wave Cinema, along with directors like Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy).
The Korean New Wave is made up of a generation of Korean directors who came of age as the newly democratic South Korea started to bloom culturally and artistically. Yim studied English Literature at Hanyang University, earning her B.A. in 1985 and went on to earn a master’s degree in Film Studies from Paris 8 University.
In 1993, she returned to Korea and worked as an assistant director on Yeo Kyun-dong’s film, Out to the World. A year later, she directed her first short film, Promenade in the Rain and three years later, made her first feature, Three Friends,which explored Korean masculinity and marginalization through the lives of three young men who have difficulty fitting in and adjusting to Korea’s social system.
Her work on a documentary, Keeping the Vision Alive, focused on women in Korea’s film world. Yim says it was partly an homage to peers such as Park Nam-ok and Hwang Hye-mi and partly to recognize contemporary directors like Byun Young-joo and Sang Hee-sun. Yim let the women discuss their experiences and struggles to survive in the male-dominated, conservative, and often sexist Korean film industry.
Yim told Twitch Film last year about how she was able to gain a foothold in the Korean film industry. “Ten years before I made my debut, there was quite a gap in the number of female directors. In the past, if you wanted to become a director, you had to go to a prominent director and start as a production assistant and go up the later for 10 or 20 years, uncertain of where you would go.”
“That film system sort of changed as I came into filmmaking, and also in the late 80s and early 90s, new producers came on board to produce new films, namely Shim Jae-myung, who is a very influential film producer today. Also, there started to be more film festivals that were screening short films: Actually, I had gotten my start because I received an award for one of my short films and that gave me a boost in my career, as well,” Yim said, referring to Promenade in the Rain.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this film really deviates a lot from my style of filmmaking. If you see the editing, the speed of the editing is very fast cut. There’s a lot of movement of the camera, and even the music, it’s more like dramatic music that’s being used, different from what I usually do.
The reason I did this was because, as you can see, there’s a lot of technical terminology going on and also the subject matter is heavy, so I felt that if I was going to go for that deep, dark mood and just go with it, that would drag the film down too much. In order to counter the weight of the subject, I made the choice to make it cinematically a little lighter; so, like a lot of close-ups, the music, a lot of movement in the camera.”
When asked what aspiring female directors can do to break into the film industry, Yim’s advice can apply to either the Korean film industry or Hollywood, as she advises future directors to create their own vision. “I do feel that female directors are at a disadvantage when it comes to networking, because it’s very male-dominated. The activities that are involved in networking are usually male-oriented activities, so we are at a disadvantage, but I feel that always, investors and producers are still looking for films that can have a certain type of artistic excellence to them, and not just films that are geared toward making money.
So, I feel that if you can get your hands on a screenplay that is creative and that is new and fresh, or if you are able to write a screenplay that is new and interesting, I feel like if you start from that point, you’ll have more luck in being able to create your own vision.”