Talent On Tap – Jerome Yoo Presents Gong Ju at VSFF

How many of you remember your first big amazing thing? I think mine was the time I broke my moms kitchen table when my brother and I were horsing around in the kitchen and he wanted to see some judo. I didn’t think it through but I knew I had to do the right thing and replace it. After all she was a single mom that worked long hours to provide for us and didn’t deserve the burden of buying another one with her rent money. I was 17 and it was the first thing I ever financed. I felt like I grew a little more into a man that day.


Everyone has a different story of their own big amazing moment when they took a great giant leap forward into greatness and Jerome Yoo has his own now too. The Vancouver Short Film Festival has a way of discovering new blood ready to make their mark on the entertainment world. After all, great filmmakers are not born they’re made. I ran into Jerome Yoo at the VSFF closing night party. He had won four awards that night and took a 15 minute pause from his celebrating to talk to us about his film Gong Ju (Princess).  


“How did this film come about?”

“My good friends Miomi Masheda, Lawrence Le Lam and I had been talking. Lawrence Le Lam was the director of 2017 Crazy 8’s Cypher, which I was a co-writer and lead actor in. He is in my opinion one of the best filmmakers coming out of Vancouver and I’m so fortunate to have him as a creative partner. He’s mentored me through this entire process and I’m so thankful for him sticking with me through thick and thin.”


“You knew each other before this film?”

“Yes, I come from an acting background and I got to know Lawrence and his film The Blue Jet when I acted in it. We collaborated again on Cypher and we’ve been inseparable friends ever since.”


“Is this your first soiree into filmmaking?”

“Yes it is.”


“You won many awards tonight. How many did you win and in what categories?”

“We won four awards. One for best screenplay, best film, best actress and best director.”


“What is the name of your film?”

“It’s called Gong Ju. It means Princess.”


“How was this story inspired?”

“I was born in Korea and moved to Canada at 1 yr. old. As I was growing up I felt like the first time I had my first heavy Korean influence was in middle school when I started hanging out with some International Korean students. Before that I had known of my heritage and was well cultured from my parents but I didn’t know how to read or right it and spoke very loose Korean. From my friends, I started learning more about the culture and began speaking the language more fluently. I began to read and write and during that time I started discovering that there’s this Confucianism system in Korea. One of the big topics is seniority and school bullying. Because of the academic situation in Korea where there’s so much immense pressure on students to succeed, a lot of the students feel they need to relieve the stress or have an outlet. That outlet is unfortunately bullying. When I was in high school I met a recent immigrant girl who was a tough rowdy 10th grader. She had just moved from Korea with yellow hair and she would pick a fight with anyone and everyone. When I first got to know her she told me to bow to her, which is a courtesy you would do if you were younger than someone. After I got to know her I soon realized that she wasn’t just a person that wanted to fight everybody, she was this person that was afraid. She didn’t know how to speak the language and she came from a place where she was high status in her school. Coming to Canada, all of a sudden she is low status. Having to go through that was such a big impact on her ego/pride that she had this urge to defend it somehow. That was through violence and picking fights with people. That was loosely the inspiration for the film.”  

“How did you finance this film?”

“The financing came from Storyhive. They gave a 10,000.00 grant to 20 winners in the 2018 Digital Short edition. We worked with that budget and due to my extremely talented and supportive cast and crew we were able to bring the story to life.”


“After VSFF where does the film go from here?”

“We were actually hoping to get a festival cut in but we showed a Storyhive cut instead. We couldn’t get the festival cut completed in time for the deadline but once it is completed we will be sending it off onto its festival journey.”


“How many people worked on the film?”

“We had a crew of approx. 40 people. We were very fortunate to have all these people volunteering their time because they were all very passionate about the story. When they came on board it was a mixed bag. Half of them were very experienced and half were very green like myself and at the end of the day we were just excited to go on this journey together. I’m talking about the crew but when considering the cast we had numbers up to 60-70.”


“Was the script read by many people that drew the numbers or did you have a large network of people you knew?”

“I’m very fortunate that through my acting work I’ve gotten to know a lot of talented filmmakers over the years. I pitched it to them and if they couldn’t come on board they would pitch it to their friends.”


“Can you tell me about the lead actress?”

“Her name is Iris Hwang and she just turned 16 when we went to camera. She’s a K-Pop star back in Korea. She’s from Burnaby but went to Korea to pursue a career in K-Pop. With Burnaby being her home town I loosely pitched it to her and somehow it happened to line up that she was coming back to visit after four years. I knew she’d do a great job after we started working through the material together. She came on board having never acted before but tonight she won the best actress award.”


“Did you do most of the casting yourself?”

“Yes it was an interesting casting process because we were looking for Korean actors. If you’ve seen the film, in the beginning the story takes place in Korea before shifting to Canada. For the Korean scenes, we held auditions and even asked people on the street if they’d like to be a part of it. In the story Gong Ju does something horrible and gets kicked out of her Korean school and sent to Canada by her parents. She’s basically exiled and has to come to terms that she’s not at the top of the hierarchy anymore in Canada.”


“What types of stories do you want to tell moving forward?”

“I love stories of youth and coming of age genres because I feel like I get to reminisce about my childhood and my adolescence. I didn’t have the smoothest adolescence so I think a lot of my imagination likes to go back there and fill in the gaps with things I would’ve enjoyed. Although I’m a very new filmmaker I don’t always believe in traditional Western story structure.  I’m really inspired by filmmakers that have used a combination of images and sounds and don’t have to rely so heavily on the story to get something across.”


Jerome had an amazing night and probably felt like he grew 2 inches after his film received the four awards. He is an incredible inspiration to others embarking on filmmaking. He was also very fortunate to have such a talented first time actress and an incredible crew. Everyone has an epic story to tell, what is yours?  


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