The creative process is complicated. It often brings artists on the brink of depression. This is what happened to South-Korean filmmaker Baek Seungbin (1977). “I was a happy person, but then several of my film projects weren’t working out well. That’s when I decided to make a movie that would restore my fading optimism.”
I Have a Date with Spring takes this fading optimism quite literally. In the film, Baek confronts us with a director who’s trying to make a film about the end of the world. "I wanted to show that it is always interesting to observe artists who suffer from the process of creating."
But the film is more than an epic about a director in a crisis. After a woman asks the director what he is writing about, we end up in a trilogy in which three protagonists meet strange people on the day before their birthday. The world will perish on their own birthday, as these characters know.
“I started thinking about the apocalypse when I became an adult and began to lose my optimism. I now see myself as a pessimistic and a sceptical person. This film, however, assumes that positivity is necessary to move forward in life. When we made this film, a quote from Virginia Woolf was always in my head: ‘The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.’”
Baek Seungbin was on his way to becoming a teacher, just like his father, when his mother died. Baek decided that he did not want to follow in the footsteps of his father. He made the decision that he was going to do what he really wanted: to study at the film academy. Since then, Baek has been writing screenplays and novels, and has been making his own films.
Humour and tragedy
“As a child, I used to read a lot. Victorian and American Southern Gothic literature were my first favourite genres,” Baek says. “I found comfort and was completely taken by the crazy and deranged characters in those books.”
Baek's first short film was titled The French Lieutenant's Woman, after a novel by John Fowles. For his first feature film Members of the Funeral, he was inspired by Carson McCullers's Members of the Wedding.
“Both films have these tragic stories with complex characters placed in bizarre situations, but actually they are meant to be funny. The combination of tragedy and humour is, in my opinion, the best way to tell a story in the current world. I Have a Date with Spring can also be seen as a comedy but more ambitious than my earlier films.”
“I believe there are two types of artists. The first find material in themselves. The others find stories outside of themselves. I am more of the former. I start with my own experience and then relate it to the complex outside world. I prefer to tell these types of stories in low budget films. Sometimes I like to make films about novels that I have read.”
“I wanted to show that it is always interesting to observe artists who suffer from the process of creating.” – Baek Seungbin
When asked if he has a Korean filmmaker as his example, Baek replies that he likes Park Chanwook's films. Park is one of the most famous Korean filmmakers.
"His films are funny in a strange way. The main reason I appreciate him is his elegance. You do not see that in other male Korean filmmakers. This makes him original”, explains Baek.
“Park also once sat in a jury of a film festival where I received a prize for best short film from a student. I'm not sure if he, as a jury member, liked my film, but what he said to me was of great influence: ‘Your dark side may become much darker in a much more complex way.’”
After seeing the three bizarre stories in I Have a Date with Spring, the film returns to the worrying director. Behind his laptop he is typing an endless story about the apocalypse. After Baek's stories about his own lost optimism, it’s almost impossible not to see Baek in his character.
“The apocalypse in this film is truly a global catastrophe. In that context, the mysterious characters in the film are a kind of aliens, who know that the world will perish the next day. What I want to convey to the public is that the protagonists of these stories are dejected people. I ask the question: is the apocalypse the godsend that these people might dream of?”
The answer might be ‘no’. Even the most depressed person looks for some light, Baek thinks. “Rather keep a little hope for some clarity before the world fades, then seeing a vague sense of optimism in the end. That attitude in life is essential, also for me.”
Photo in header: Interview: Sophie van Leeuwen & Pieter-Bas van Wiechen