USA | 15 minutes | 2018
Drama short film by Yongmin Hwang, Judith Park
Starring Joyce Kim
Hannah, a young Korean American, clashes with her mother as she begrudgingly prepares a traditional ceremony table.
CineAsian Films (CAF): What was the inspiration behind such a touching Korean-American mother-daughter story?
Yongmin Hwang: My friend Joyce, the actress playing Hannah, and I are both Korean-Americans, and we’d often discuss our experiences with our parents. We found a similar thread of feeling disconnected from them as a teenager, but more understanding as we got older. I wanted to add this element into the story for Jesa.
Judith Park: I don’t know why…but there was a time when Tuesday Matinee was determined to produce a horror anthology. I love all things horror, so maybe it was me (laughs). I originally pitched a similar story about a girl, a ghost, and the language barrier between them. This sparked a conversation within Tuesday Matinee. Yongmin wanted to explore more of his background as a second-generation Korean-American. And this kind inspired me to explore my own. To a degree, I believe all families, no matter their language and background, experience a form of generational disparity. It’s kind of inevitable. A lot can happen within a generation, and a lot more can happen if those generations speak two different languages.
CAF: What was it like to direct a very bilingual and bicultural film and finding the right balance?
Park: I think more than directing, the writing was a challenge for me. Allie, my wonderful co-writer, and I, we actually wrote the entire script in English first. Then I would go home and rewrite the dialogue in Korean and puzzle the two languages together so that it sounded natural in both languages. I didn’t necessarily want to translate English to Korean because sometimes, certain phrases make more sense in Korean than they do in English, and vice-versa. And I didn’t want to lose that. I can’t tell you how many times I paced around my apartment, reading the script out loud in both English and Korean, to make sure the Daughter and Mother expressed what they really meant and felt.
Also, Eliza is a superstar. Due to our budget, Joyce and Eugene only had one day to rehearse their lines, but Eliza. Oh boy, we had so many private rehearsals due to the script’s bilingual nature. Not once did she complain. In fact, she was determined to nail her dialogue and it really shows. I think that’s why directing Jesa came easier than it should.
Hwang: Eliza is an amazing actress!
CAF: Jesa was made on a shoestring budget. Did you encounter any difficulties during the production process and how did you overcome it?
Hwang: Trying to shoot everything on time and within schedule was really hard. Thankfully, we rehearsed in advance with the actors, which helped establish the blocking and the chemistry among the actors. Our friends volunteered on set, and were lifesavers!
Park: Who told you Jesa was on a budget? Because it’s true (laughs). We were a true skeleton crew. A lot of us were wearing multiple hats…I think I was even crafty for a second.
Like Yongmin said, staying on time was our main difficulty. We kind of overestimated ourselves, which I’m not too surprised when looking back at it. Thankfully, our crew was more than understanding. Honestly, they were so nice about it and even offered guidance when we needed it. Unlike Yongmin, I’m an amateur when it comes to filmmaking, so this was a great learning experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better crew!
CAF: What other collaborations do both of you have planned for the near future?
Park: We actually worked on a few more short films after Jesa, including Ethicool (which you can also find on Cineasian Films!). I’d be lying if I said the pandemic hasn’t affected my productivity. Things were slow in the beginning, but I think I’ve got my groove back. I’m focused on writing for now, since it’s impossible to film anything at the moment. Hopefully, we’ll get to make more films next year! Fingers crossed.
Hwang: Due to the pandemic, we’re mostly focusing on weekly writing sessions. But I’m sure we’ll start cooking up a film sooner than later!
Jesa is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.
Directors: Yongmin Hwang, Judith Park
Writers: Judith Park, Allie Bevacqua
Producers: Allie Bevacqua, Judith Park, Yongmin Hwang
Cinematographer: Andrew Hodgdon
Editor: Yongmin Hwang
Composer: Scott Francisco
Also featuring: Eliza Shin, Eugene Young
More from Yongmin Hwang: Ethicool