The only thing Jaemin (Hwang Je-sung), an entertainment manager, cares for other than his ex-wife Koo Hara (voice by Kong Hyo-Jin) is his job — caring for his clients (the actors and the actresses), coaxing them into making decisions, and generally suffering for them. One of his clients, Hyuk-Kwon (Park Hyuk-Kwon), is obsessed about whether he needs to say teat or nipple while auditioning (it’s a long story so don’t ask why that became his main concern, that’s what he is and that’s one of many reasons why Jaemin’s life is so hard). Jaemin’s sisters and their spouses, who are gathered to celebrate his birthday, keep telling Jaemin to reunite with Hara in a very nonchalant manner (since they are also very busy with their own personal relationship issues). And, of course, Hara doesn’t seem to care about Jaemin even though she never cuts Jaemin’s call off.
This is you’ll see from the first two episodes of the first season of Indie Sitcom Read My Lips. The first season of Read My Lips was released on vimeo for free begining in May with the last episode released in July. Every character, every situation, every moment, and every line in Read My Lips is awkward, weird, and sometimes even bizarre. Yes, it is hard to watch people doing these stupid things but it is not easy to hate any of them, or to look away from the screen during any of these moments. Through brief interviews inserted during the episodes, we can understand more about their real mind, which is honestly (and endearingly) embarrassing. As many of you may notice, Read My Lips is Korean indie film version of the television series The Office but has its own charming sense of humor and world.
The following article is from a twitter interview with the director Yoon Seong-Ho, conducted in July. Ten official questions and answers (and additional sister questions and answers) were asked, each question and answer was contained in one twit in Korean and later translated into English.
Q. How much has The Office influenced the style of Read My Lips? Plus, who is your favorite Office character?
A. What I wanted to learn from The Office was its sophisticated balancing act between timid feelings and sense of humor, which was created by actors’ glances, reacting to the camera moving. Although I don’t feel any guilt about using such a style since I believe that style is public domain, it still leaves me something to delve upon. I adore Michael. [Editor’s Note: I knew it!]
Q. Where did the budget come from and was there any plan about making a profit?
A. This project was started from my suggestion to IndieStory [Editor’s Note: the only and oldest independent film releasing / producing company in South Korea], and ended up being featured by Indie Plug [Editor’s Note: An independent movie download site in South Korea]. There have been several profit models, such as releasing it as a re-edited version of the whole season on IPTV, which is paid download service. However, most related parties believed that all these attempts (and all data regarding PR and releasing) itself will turn out to be a good investment for the future.
Q. How much was the budget and how many days was the shoot? Were there any role models you followed in terms of its new way of releasing?
A. The budget was 15,000,000 won (around 12,700 US dollars as of 2010 September) and was shot in four days. It wasn’t exactly a role model, but I was encouraged by several other digital serials to base the story on a fixed character.
Q. As its mode of release seems quite different from the old fashioned way of doing things, I assume the production process itself might have also been different.
A. Actually there was not that much difference since I’ve always released my previous works in such a tiny size. Even my first theatrical feature film, Milky Way Liberation Frontier, gained its main audience online rather than the theatrical release. However, there was a big difference in the way that Read My Lips was able to obtain more reviews by encouraging the audience to download and to upload the contents in any legal/illegal way and that I was able to check the audience’s character directly from their comments and website statistics. This would have been impossible if it were done in the old fashioned way of release.
Q. Was there any difference to your editing process if you could check the audience reaction while editing?
A. All of the shooting was done by mid March and editing was done by late April. Post production, which was being done while the series was being uploaded, was re-touching the opening/ending credits and inserting subtitles. So editing was not changed by audience reaction.
Q. English subtitled versions were released alongside the plain Korean episodes, which must be an attempt to attract a foreign audience. Was there any notable reaction from abroad? And if so was it, do you think, because of this new way of release?
A. The English subtitle version was watched by only 100 or so users on average so I don’t think there was any distinguished reaction from abroad. However, I still believe that English subtitles should be provided for users abroad, given the fact that its main release platform is online and there isn’t any extra fee for doing it. It was interesting though to know that non-US countries seem to more responsive.
Q. [Editor's Note: The existence of four additional episodes to the ten main episodes, which were released under the name of ‘sister product’, was another new-ness about Read My Lips. These loosely connected additional episodes sometimes uncover each character’s covert side; provide background history; or simply introduce the director’s previous short films. Basically, all of them are an additional explanation about the director himself. As many of indie directors have the same problem of keeping their films shown to the public, this seems also very innovative.] How did you contrive the idea to do these sister products? How were these sister products different from the main episodes?
A. I needed to recycle the already made short stories in meaningful way. Even though every sister product was made during a different time, upon different demands such as to celebrate IndieStory’s 10th anniversary, each of them seems to have some of the prequel-ness of this series in some ways.
Q. Oh, even the episode, “Pit-pat Dream of Science”?
A. Aw, no, except that one. That story was originally written as the part of the main stories but couldn’t be shot because of the schedule, and eventually was able to be shot a bit later. Thus it was a little awkward to be inserted in the main story and ended up being the separate product.
Q.1. Which character do you feel the most attached to; 2. which line do you feel the most proud of; 3. which scene do you feel like you obtained for free, so you feel very happy about?
A. 1. The main character’s ex-wife, Hara. 2. Rather than the line that I feel proud of, I just feel it was not bad when the indie director (played by me) was flattering Kim Yaeri, saying that she looks like Lim Soo-jeong (famous Korean actress). (I guess it was not exactly a call from a director, btw); 3. The very last scene when everyone is boxing.
Q. Where the title came from?
(Editors Note: You should know what its original Korean title means to fully understand Read My Lips. The title is translated to “Anyone who can help, help it”. As much as it sounds very aphoristic, it also reminds many South Korean people of the currently famous idol from a fancy girl group in Korea, whose name is Koo Hara (in Korean, it means, ‘help!’ in the imperative) This ambiguous or equivocal titling is one of Yoon’s typical traits which you can find from almost all of his previous works.)
A. The Original Korean Title: Although I love Godard’s movie which has the same title(Sauve Qui Peut[Every Man for Himself]), this title was not exactly from it. I like its weird, canny nuance, which almost sounds like the bible. I originally thought of it as the title for If You Were Me 4 project [Editor’s Note: The Korean omnibus film project on Human Rights. Yoon directed the short The Theory & Practice Theory of Teenage Drama], which I didn’t use it eventually but used it instead as the title of the column that I write every week for Cine21.[Editor’s Note: the weekly movie magazine in South Korea, which this writer has been working for] So I ended up naming Jeamin’s ex-wife, Hara Koo.
The English title is the alternate English title of Milky Way Liberation Frontier, but that film was not called that often, so it ended up being recycled here. As there is a phrase, “read between the lines”, I also hoped this could sound similar.
Q.Would you tell us the reaction or comment from the audience which makes you the most proud?
A. I always prefer the review relating my work with their own daily lives and experiences to the review only focusing on writing beautiful sentences and on showing off how intelligent the reviewer is. For instance, this review from http://toxicalice.tistory.com/ [Editor’s Note: If you can understand Korean, you can notice it is such an adorable review filled with personal and honest comments not only about the sitcom itself, but also about how the writer’s personal life has changed because of this sitcom] and most of the fan comments from the official website.
Q. What’s next?
A. Dunno yet. Some ideas are being discussed but every project has its own pros and cons, and it’s too early and unstable yet to tell. Anyways, I want to make a real feature film by now… but one thing for sure is that I do also want to keep doing this type of work. I do feel sort of a responsibility for my community, such as my crew, my actors and actresses. I want to make something with a good circulation, which can provide them with decent economic support, leaving no one behind… I know it may sound kind of too vague… but it is really urgent to create such circumstances, which can make everything possible.
During the interview Yoon also commented on several other small productions from both Korean cable television and internet, which had certain levels of success in several ways. Also, the official Read My Lips website introduces itself – “Since May 24. 2010; Milky Way Liberation Frontier is Mom; The Office is Dad; Byung-wook Kim [the most famous and talented television sitcom producer in South Korea] is my honorable uncle; Yong-ae [the main character from a cable sitcom in South Korea] is my dear aunt; Lucky Louie is my adorable uncle; Seongho, the Right Wing Boy is my friend; Thanks to indie band [its sound track is made and performed by Korean indie band]; the ideal type is Hara Koo; now, it’s your turn to adopt me!”
Using different ways of production and release must have caused big differences than these ‘related’ works, as much as different form creates different content. Every week or so, a new 4-5 minute long episode was uploaded online. Each episode was short enough to be watched at anyone’s work place during a short break, and it was released in a way that was convenient for the audience to leave their brief comments and to spread the news using social networks such as Twitter. This created a culture of live feedback between the director and the audience on a daily basis. If you go to its website, you can see the comments from all around the world, since its weekly releases also provided English subtitles.
Not only is the style and form of Read My Lips buoyant, but also is the production process itself. As a productive professional indie director for last almost ten years, Yoon has tried various types of productions — from the fake documentary about himself (Seongho, the Right Wing Boy) to the theatrical feature film (Milky Way Liberation Frontier). Read My Lips will be placed as one of his most enjoyable experiments.
However, any complement about its brave attempts at a new format cannot give you details about the exceptional and unusual fun Read My Lips offers. It is awkward but fun, uncanny but enjoyable, and sometimes a dirty but guilty pleasant. The chance to meet the director’s character, acted and created by his-own- awkward-self is an additional enjoyment.
Frankly speaking, Yoon is an easily-distracted, very desultory guy. His works, which usually contain many lines from talkative and excusing characters in very desultory style, must have come from his own personality, I can tell. One of the biggest sources of the charm of his movies comes from the fact that he is exactly aware of what and how he is. In many ways, he could be called the Korean Indie film version of Woody Allen. Although in his short film career (and even shorter career as theatrical feature filmmaking), he already succeeded in casting decently famous figures from actor/actresses/filmmakers in Korean film industry (many of them voluntarily work for him with very modest payment), he is not afraid of presenting himself as a comic character (he even plays himself, which he seems to enjoy). Once upon a time, he used to pretend to hate being serious, now he hates pretending to be serious.