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[Herald Interview] 'K-occult master' Jang Jae-hyun explores 'invisible' concepts in 'Exhuma'

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : March 4, 2024 - 09:24

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Director Jang Jae-hyun (Showbox) Director Jang Jae-hyun (Showbox)

Director of "Exhuma," a supernatural mystery thriller that became the quickest film to attract 1 million theater-goers so far this year, aimed to discuss "invisible" concepts through the movie, such as religion and belief, at a time when addressing such topics is increasingly shunned.

"While engaging in society, there was nowhere else but the church to discuss intangible concepts like love, loyalty and righteousness," said Jang, during an interview held with reporters in Seoul on Feb. 22.

"In modern society, such topics are never discussed. People only talk about practical matters like how useful or useless someone is, or how much something costs. I felt that discussions about invisible things were gradually disappearing and only taking place in churches, temples or cathedrals. I felt a sense of rebellion against that, because I think those things are important to humans," he said.

As for why he chose exhumation as the main theme for his latest film, Jang said that attending an exhumation ceremony felt to him like an act of prying into the buried past and eradicating the evil things that lie underground.

"When approaching a subject, I try to look beyond the surface and try to see the underlying core (of a phenomenon),” said Jang.

The director attended 15 to 16 exhumations in preparation for the film.

“During one, the workers accidentally hit a nearby water pipe, causing water to flow into the grave. The workers had to pull out the coffin, open it up, and quickly cremate everything with torches they had on site. They just burned everything, on the spot. What I felt that day was that the act of exhumation was like digging up a wrong thing and removing it to eradicate it. I tried to convey this sentiment in the movie, as the central theme,” he said.

"If you consider the Korean Peninsula as a person, Korea is a huge victim (of history). The land has a slew of wounds and traumas, and I aimed to exhume these things via ‘Exhuma,’” said Jang.

Going forward, Jang said he will continue making films that ask questions about intangible concepts. Jang's filmography includes supernatural horror flicks such as "The Priest" and "Svaha: The Sixth Finger."

"I find it enjoyable to see interesting characters enter dark and eerie worlds. That's why I plan to continue creating works in this genre," said Jang.

"It's saddening to see humans living more and more like machine parts. Because I care about people, I want to talk about what we are gradually losing. I believe humans are precious," he added.

A scene from A scene from "Exhuma," starring Yoo Hae-jin (left) and Choi Min-sik (Showbox)