Director Lee Sang-geun, actor Jo Jung-suk discuss “Exit” in Busan


Each year at the Busan International Film Festival, a handful of Korean blockbuster hits from the previous 12 months make a final cinematic swansong in domestic theaters.  “Exit” (엑시트), starring Jo Jung-suk (as Yong-nam) and Lim Yoona (as Ui-joo), was one of the titles that made a big splash this past summer.  They play once optimistic rock climbing club mates who are later reunited as down-on-their-luck individuals with dim viable employment prospects.  Those burdens, however, are cast aside when a toxic gas envelops the city during Yong-nam’s mother’s birthday party held at the very hotel where Ui-joo works.  The only way to escape the gas is to keep moving towards higher elevations…and that is when Yong-nam’s and Ui-joo’s past climbing skills take over the disaster comedy, drawing sweat from the palms of many a viewer.

Jo and “Exit” director Lee Sang-geun appeared at the Oct. 4 screening at the CGV Centum City to discuss the film through a translator.  Excerpts from their Q&A session follow below:

Lee Sang-geun, director

On how he came up with the idea for the film: I coincidentally, accidentally came up with the idea.  I came up with some information about toxic gas…when this white cloud toxic gas encompasses the city, and then it can only go so far as to a certain limit.  I was wondering how the people who are involved in this cloud can survive in this toxic gas, and I also wanted to depict the people who survive in this toxic gas, like in the clouds. And it’s kind of a metaphor for the Koreans, especially for the young people living in the present hwaiting.

On why there is so much climbing in the film: At first, this film is about the people who are above this toxic gas.  It just intuitively came to me that you need climbing in this film…I was not, at first, much interested in climbing itself, but as I was writing this screenplay, I felt the need to do some research, so I enrolled in climbing classes.  As I was taking the lessons, I learned that climbing is about orientation, and it’s about [the] will…[to] have to go to the top. I felt like it’s something very similar to life itself and I felt there could be a lot of stories that you can tell with this climbing.

On how the casting came to be: When I was writing the screenplay, I really wanted to find the right actor and actress for the roles of Yong-Nam and Ui-Joo. Jong-suk came to my mind first and unfortunately, because he was in a predetermined schedule, we had to wait for him for about a year…We were very delighted to wait for him for a year and fortunately, he could play the role in this film.

Jo Jung-suk, actor

His thoughts on the script: When I first read the screenplay, I felt this screenplay was very novel and unique, and it was fun in like no other way [I had seen before]. And I’m a big fan of Jackie Chan and his films, so I wanted to try this kind of genre for some time and this was the right one that I could try.

On doing his own stunts: I really wanted to do everything myself.  Actually, I did about 90 percent of the scenes, but with a little bit of help with wires. But, you know, even fairly small scenes, I really wanted to do myself because I am the one who’s playing the role, so I am the one who knows the detail of my character. So that’s why I really wanted to do almost everything myself. And actually, I got hurt. My right shoulder got hurt in the film, so I can say I traded the success of this film with my shoulder. It’s getting very expensive.

On working with Lim Yoona of Girls’ Generation: So, in the production stage, everyone in the film was like me: the role of this Ui-joo is very important…[she] will have to tie a rope around her, and she would have to jump, run, and climb with me, so I thought this chemistry was very important. And if somebody who doesn’t know how to move her body was cast, then that was going to be difficult for me as well as the staff.

When we heard that Yoona was cast for this film, everyone was really thrilled because she is a good dancer.  She knows how to move her body, [but] I really didn’t know she could run this fast as well… sometimes, it was even hard for me to catch up with her. I think that’s why there was no problem in shooting this film and I really enjoyed working with her.

On a potential sequel for “Exit,” which Lee said he had no plans to shoot: So if there’s any new complete plan developed by the director for the next film, there is no any reason not to say yes. I’ll be more than glad to take his offer.  I was really loved with this film and I almost shed my tears. And really, I was really happy. I’m really happy for this and thank you for your support and love.

“Exit” screens at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival on Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.