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Finding a way out of ‘Duck Town’

Director Yoo Ji-young captures the struggles one faces in their 20s
Apr 19,2018
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Director Yoo Ji-young’s debut feature “Duck Town” arrives in theaters today. [INDIESTORY]
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“Duck Town” offers comfort to young people who feel like they have lost their direction in life. [INDIESTORY]
Director Yoo Ji-young, 33, explores the theme of suicide in her debut feature “Duck Town.” Ironically, audiences will leave theaters feeling comforted by the movie’s efforts to reassure youth struggling to find direction in life.

Partly autobiographical, the drama, released today, was screened at a number of film events last year, including the 18th Jeonju International Film Festival and the 19th Seoul International Women’s Film Festival.

The toned-down drama takes place in Daegu, where Yoo grew up and currently lives. The film revolves around a highly-motivated female protagonist Hui-jeong (Lee Se-young) in her early 20s, who studies hard to transfer to a university in Seoul while supporting herself by working as a part-timer at a stall that rents out paddleboats in front of Suseong Lake. She is very different from her younger brother Hui-jun (Nam Tae-boo), who has no goals in life. Refusing to enroll in university or even to work, he always indulges himself in reading.

Hui-jeong is a reflection of the director when she was in her 20s. Like the main character in the film, Yoo also prepared to transfer to a university in Seoul in her 20s. She ended up getting accepted into Hongik University in western Seoul.

“Like a racehorse, I only ran forward,” Yoo told the Korea JoongAng Daily during an interview held in central Seoul last week. “Since I was so driven to do everything, I was always short of time in my 20s.”

But Hui-jeong’s life shifts when she gets brought into a mystery disappearance case after a middle-aged man, who secretly took out a duck boat for a ride while she was on duty, goes missing. Taking advantage of her situation, Yeong-mok (Kim Hyeon-jun) tells Hui-jeong to do what he demands, which involves tagging along with him to meet people who have attempted suicide. Despite Yeong-mok’s seemingly bright personality, the character suffers from depression and plans a group suicide with people he met in an online suicide club that he leads.

“Yeong-mok is not a typical depressed character often portrayed in mass media. Depressed people are not necessarily always depressed, and I wanted to show that,” Yoo explained.

The director said that she did not aim to cheer youth up. “Instead, I hope to tell young audiences that encountering a series of failures in their 20s is natural, so hold onto your lives.”

The following are edited excerpts from the interview.



Q. The film is set at Suseong Lake. What inspired you to make a film based around the lake?

A
. I often went to Suseong Lake when I was younger to organize my thoughts. Since then, I have thought about writing a film set at the lake. Back then, I saw myself in the duck boats, which were stuck in the lake. In “Duck Town,” Suseong Lake is a metaphor for Daegu while the duck boats represent youth [struggling to leave Daegu].



You wanted to leave Daegu when you were younger, but you have now returned to the city. What does Daegu mean to you?

I don’t necessarily feel a sense of belonging to Daegu, but I do have affection towards Daegu because it is where my family and boyfriend live.

So it feels like a place where I can relax and rest, while being in Seoul makes me feel stressed and tense since I usually come up to the city for work.



The movie is divided into two types of people - passionate and lethargic. But the lives of both types don’t turn out the way they had hoped and worked for. What were you thinking about while you were writing the script?

My emotions and thoughts at the time have a major impact on my creative work. When I chose to work on a movie set at Suseong Lake, I decided to write an autobiographical story. In my 20s, I only looked forward. I didn’t even attend my aunt’s funeral because I didn’t want to skip class in Seoul. But looking back, I encountered the most failures in my 20s. I was clumsy and didn’t have much knowledge about what I was doing. I worked so hard, but it turns out that it was in the wrong direction. I knew that it would be inevitable for my feature to have a gloomy ending. Without knowing what you really want, you’re doomed to fail.

I hoped that young and excessively busy people can see themselves in the movie and ask themselves: “Am I going in the right direction in life?” If you compare it to driving, life in your 20s is like being a novice driver. You have to practice, so it is inevitable for you to encounter failures. But when you get older, you realize that your 20s is only a small fraction of your life.



You said you lived a competitive life in 20s. How are you living your life now in your 30s?

I changed a lot after I started dating my current boyfriend. Unlike myself, who tries to perfect everything in advance, my boyfriend, who I have been dating for seven years, starts working just before the deadline. The biggest difference between me now and then is that I now know what matters to me. In my 20s, everything seemed so important so I never had enough time, but now I only do what matters to me.



What are some of the things that matter to you now?

For me, thinking, organizing my thoughts and writing are crucial. Only when you seriously think do you get to realize who you are. Everything these days is consumed so quickly.



Though lethargic, Hui-jeong’s younger brother Hui-jun gives the audience a strange comfort, as if he’s showing that it’s O.K. to not have something you are fanatically passionate about. How was the character created?

Hui-jeong and Yeong-mok are sick in a way. While Hui-jeong isn’t able to objectively see who she is and where she is, Yeong-mok is overcome with depression. Though Hui-jun may be jobless and passionless, choosing not to do anything demonstrates that he has his belief and thoughts. The fact that he is aware that his life is not going forward shows that Hui-jun is aware of where his life stands. Though he may look pathetic to some, I believe escaping from the obsession of always advancing forward is the kind of attitude people need these days.



You’re currently writing a script for your next film. What’s it about?

It’s a family story, except that it’s not. While it features a family, the story is more about how a seemingly peaceful family collapses after each member of the family encounters an individual issue.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]